What’s Cauim?

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Cauim is an alcoholic beverage made in South and Central America, often from cassava root. It is traditionally produced by indigenous communities using a process that involves cooking, chewing, and fermenting. Commercial cauim is also available, but it is made using modern brewing techniques.

Cauim is a kind of alcoholic beverage produced in South and Central America, although it is usually associated with Brazil. Its production originated in the pre-Columbian era and continued into the modern era. There is some commercial cauim production, but most of it is produced and consumed by indigenous communities. The drink closely resembles chicha, which is a drink made by the same groups of people.

Like most indigenous recipes, cauim can have many variations. It is often fermented from cassava root, also called yucca or manioc. It can also be made using plantains, corn, rice, or peanuts; however, cassava is generally considered the determining ingredient. Sometimes, other substances are added to the mash. These can include fruit juices and sugars to add flavor to the finished product and feed the yeast in the mash, helping it ferment.

One feature that unites all traditional cauim varieties is the process by which it is produced. First, the caio makers, who are usually women, cook the starchy base ingredient. After it’s cooked, they chew it up and make it into patties. Then they cook the meatballs again. Next, they combine the twice-cooked starch with liquid and flavorings to create a mash, which they allow to ferment.

Chewing helps break down cassava so it can ferment; without it, the mash would go bad rather than turn into alcohol. The saliva that mixes with cassava when it is chewed contains substances called diastase enzymes. They act as a catalyst, facilitating the transformation of starch in the roots into malt sugar, which feeds the yeast that produces the alcohol during the fermentation process.

The chewing method is still used in rural caio production. It is common in Brazil where the indigenous people use cassava to make the drink. In other places, the local recipe is based on available ingredients; for example, in Panama, the Kuna tribe uses plantains as the base for their cauim mash. Production using the traditional method occurs almost exclusively in tribal communities, so there is little documentation on its extent.

There is also a commercial product called cauim made by Colorado Cervejaria, a Brazilian brewery. This product is made using modern brewing techniques – no chewing is required. Its link with the indigenous drink is that it too is a cassava-based beer; however, its starch base is imported Czech cassava powder.

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