Food & Drink
Mama Juana: What It Is and Where to Drink It
Mama Juana for sale at Calle El Conde, Santo Domingo
Photo: Giuseppe Crimeni / Shutterstock
Unless you’ve spent time in a Dominican neighborhood or traveled to the Dominican Republic itself, you’ve probably never heard of Mama Juana. Arguably the most important national drink of the DR after rum, and as omnipresent as Presidente beer, we think you’ll want to know what all the fuss is about.
What is Mama Juana?
Mama Juana is an amber-to-bright-red syrupy liqueur made from rum, red wine, honey, and medicinal fruits, herbs and spices. It’s usually around 30% alcohol, and tastes more or less sweet, fruity, spicy and fiery depending on the recipe. Every region has its own unique twist on the traditional Mama Juana recipe, but you might recognise basil, bitter ginger, cinnamon bark, maguey leaves, sarsaparilla, star anise or sweet cloves.
Dominicans trace the origins of Mama Juana back to pre-colonial times, when a version of the liqueur was brewed as a healing tea by the indigenous island people of Hispaniola, the Taíno.
Originally created as a cure-all, this elixir is purported to have healing properties, including curing the common cold, cleansing the blood, liver and kidneys, aiding digestion and blood flow - even increasing sexual potency. While we can’t say that Mama Juana’s reputation as an aphrodisiac checks out, the drink’s many monikers in Spanish and English suggest the popular view is that it does.
The name mamajuana has French roots, and corresponds to the perhaps equally obscure English word ‘demijohn’, meaning a large glass bottle with a short neck, made for brewing, steeping, storing or transporting alcohol. The word ‘demijohn’ is believed to be a warping of ‘dame Jeanne’ (meaning Lady Jane), although the reason these glass bottles are named after said Lady Jane are now lost in folklore.
How to drink Mama Juana
Drink it warm like mulled wine if you want, or like a local, with two cubes of ice. Goes well with a Dominican cigar, if that’s your thing.
Visit the La Aurora Dominican Cigar Factory in the province of Santiago for a look into the history and production of tobacco in the DR.
Now, we never recommend that you drink Mama Juana on an empty stomach - which is why we suggest that you accompany your swig with some savory Dominican Street Food.
Where to buy it
You can buy Mama Juana in two ways: a ready-to-drink version made by an artisan producer or one of several certified producers, or as a DIY kit - a bottle with the traditional mix of bark and herbs, ready for you to add the rum, wine and honey of your choice in the proportions you want.
To buy ready-made Mama Juana, look in gift shops - especially in the Colonial Zone. Shopkeepers will often offer you a sip of the Mama Juana on offer so you can try before you buy. A premade bottle will cost you US $25-50.
How to prepare your own Mamajuana
You can buy DIY kits in gift shops, from street-side souvenir hawkers, and from many supermarkets, including the La Sirena national supermarket chain you're sure to find in any major city.
If you want to DIY your own Mama Juana:
1. Purchase a bottle of any special blend of Mama Juana herbs and roots.
DIY bottles start at 400-800 Dominican pesos depending on the size and quality . A small bottle shouldn’t set you back more than US $10.
2. Purchase 1 liter or more of select Dominican Rum like Brugal Añejo, or Barcelo Añejo, 1 bottle of wine (Vino Campeón or Vino La Fuerza), and 1 little bottle of honey.
For extra strength try using Brugal Extra Viejo or Barcelo Extra Viejo.
3. Mix 3/4 of Rum, 1/4 of wine, and just a shot or two of honey. Make sure you let it sit several days to let the herbs and spices infuse before you drink it.
The longer you leave it, the better and stronger the flavor.
Need help figuring out prices in the DR? Check out our Guide to Cash, Costs, and Money Saving Tips.
Both ready-to-drink and DIY-ready bottles make excellent souvenirs. It’s difficult to say which one is the better choice - on the other hand the DIY bottles are lighter in your luggage, and the herbs can be reused by topping up the liquid when it runs out. On the other hand, customs staff are generally much less likely to let dry herbs and vegetable matter come through than the same products infused in liquid. Plus the premade mixes guarantee an authentic flavor in the finished product.
Top things to see in the Dominican Republic
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