The Cashew Apple
India’s smallest and most beautiful state: Goa, is renowned for its stupefying beauty which is bejewelled with beaches, waterfalls, springs and other forms of natural treasures. This land of scenic landscapes transforms into something magical every year in the season of Summer. The pristine beaches turn golden under the Sun, the small dams are opened for the locals to freshen up, tourists head to have a swim in the sea and above all, it is the season of Goa’s most loved fruits, the cashew. Yep, we’ve all loved cashew nuts and this probably one of the most famous part of the cashew plantation but there’s more to that than you might know.
For us Goans, Feni has always been our favoured alcoholic drink. If there are certain things that define a Goan then they are, undoubtedly the three “Fs”: Football, Fish and Feni. These are a few gems that have a special place in every Goenkar’s heart. And Feni is the brew that almost every tourist has to try out when they visit Goa. But there is more than just Feni that is up on offer from the Cashew Apple, and that is the Urrak.
While Feni is distilled three times in the refinement process, Urrak is the first distilled product obtained on fermentation of Cashew Juice also called as Neero. As compared to Feni which has an alcohol content of around 45%, Urrak has a relatively lower alcohol content of about 15%. Urrak is also known as jungle juice simply because the Cashew Plantations are usually nestled well within the forests and in villages with a huge forest covered land area. These plantations have been a source of daily bread for so many locals in the villages and areas towards the outskirts of the state. The task of making Feni isn’t an easy one and requires precise techniques and a knack of knowing the fermentation and distillation process. Although, this is long process with hundreds of Cashew Apples involved, the end product is worth the effort.
When Summer arrives, the workers set out on their paths to collect ripe cashews that have fallen down along the vast Cashew plantation. It is important to note that only ripe Cashews that have fallen are preferred in the Feni making process. If you ever travel down south and make the trek towards Butterfly Beach, Canacona, you might be lucky enough to spot the locals and the other workers going about their daily business, collecting Kaju as we like to call it.
The Cashews are then taken to a small house or yard and are collected in one entire heap and sorted out. The Cashew Nut is then separated out from the Cashew Apple and it is this Cashew Apple which then goes under the hammer leading to its fermentation process. The men then began their task of crushing the Cashew Apple which is done by foot. The Cashews are placed in a small enclosure shaped like a basin with a small outlet towards the end of it. This stomping area is called as the “Colmbi”. The crushing process begins and the Cashews are squashed by foot leading to a juice that is drained out through the outlet and then collected. This crushing process is replaced by modern mechanisms in the form of cages which reduce the human labor.
The remaining pulp is then stacked to form mounds and are held together by tying vines around the mounds to hold them in place. Then, a heavy boulder is placed over the mound and the juice that is obtained from this second extraction is called Neero. Neero is a semi sweet and sour refreshing drink having its own zing and is preferred by a lot of Goans in the Summer.
Now, the juice obtained from the first extraction is used in the fermentation process. The juice is stored in huge earthen pots called Kodem. These pots were traditionally buried halfway into the ground and the juice was left to ferment for several days. In modern times, the Kodem is replaced by plastic drums due to the fragility of the earthen pots. No fermentation agent or artificial yeast is used to accelerate the fermentation process.
After the juice is allowed to sit for several days, the fermented product is then transferred into large earthen or copper pots known as Bhann. The Bhann is covered by a precisely selected piece of wood serving as the lid. The lid of the Bhann is then tightly sealed with clay on all sides and proper care is taken so that no heat or vapor escapes the Bhann. The Bhann is connected to a smaller pot called the Launni and the distillate produced is collected in this Launni.
On heating the Bhann, the juice inside begins to boil and the liquid vaporizes simultaneously increasing the pressure inside the Bhann. Traditionally, cold water is poured over the Launni to condense the distillate, which is now replaced by allowing the distillate to pass through a coil immersed in cold water. The heating and distillation process takes up to 6-8 hours. Continuous checks are done to make sure that the pressure inside the Bhann remains at optimum levels. This is done by controlling the heat supplied to the Bhann.
The end product is a rich condensed juice called as Urrak. A second distillation of this product would lead to production of and then another distillation process produces Feni.
And that is how Urrak is formed. Now all you have to do is make some lemonade, grab your bottle of Urrak, add a tinge of green chili to your glass and enjoy this amazing drink. It is indeed a much needed drink to beat off the summer heat.
For supreme quality Urrak, you should head out to the distilleries where you will get the drink at exceptional purity value but also at a cheaper rate as compared to other liquor stores and bars.