Arrack with soda in Yala National Park

The Historical Significance of Sri Lanka’s Famous Arrack


The beverage known as Arrack might not be familiar to you but, it has been around for quite some time. Over the years, there has been some doubt as to where exactly this unique drink was developed. The word ‘arrack’ is commonly used in different parts of Southeast Asia. The term is often used to define local beverages made from various sources of fermented sap. In Sri Lanka, this much-loved local drink is made by distilling the sap of the coconut flower.

History of Sri Lanka’s Arrack

Bottles arrack on a market shelf in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

 

Speaking about where arrack originated from, there are various explanations. Indians claim that the name was derived from the areca nut. This nut is a type of palm seed originating from India. This too was used in the production of various types of arrack. However, Arabs also claim that the word arrack was derived from the word “araq.” Believe it or not, this is the Arabic word for perspiration. Others believe that arrack originated in Sri Lanka where it was found when tapping for toddy. Many Sri Lankans believe, the word arrack was derived from the word “arrakku” in Sinhala.

There’s a clear difference between toddy and arrack as when the distillation process is done on toddy that’s when it converts into arrack. Nevertheless, whatever the origins may be, tapping for toddy is something that Sri Lanka has a rich history in. Sri Lanka is now well known as the main palm sap-based exporter in the world.

But how long has it been since arrack was first used as a beverage? Well, historical records date back to the 5th century A.D. However, it can be confirmed that this spirit has existed since much earlier. All in all, there are many stories, and tales of days gone by. There are even some paintings that depict ancient Kings in Sri Lanka consuming toddy. Not only among kings was this drink popular but it was a well-known beverage among warriors as well. When it comes to kings, they had their own coconut plantations for their own personal consumption of toddy as well as arrack.

Toddy Tappers

Toddy tapper walking the tightrope in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka

 

In most cases, the process of converting fruit to alcohol requires yeast to be added. But the ancient Sri Lankans had a slightly different method for the fermentation process. They would take the extracted coconut sap and store it in the morning. The heat of the day would then spark the airborne yeast. This process eventually leads to fermentation. With time the arrack industry developed after the colonization of Sri Lanka in 1658 by the Dutch.

Coconut plantations were then established along the entire coastal plain when the British took over in 1802. These plantations necessitated a skilled toddy tapper in order to produce toddy and arrack. This production further increased in the year 1802-1803 as exportation was encouraged by the British. However, due to certain restrictions such as tariffs and excise duties the industry experienced a steady decline and by 1910 it completely came to a stop.

Sri Lanka’s Beloved Beverage Final Call

As you have read, the story behind arrack is actually quite fascinating. Especially the fact that it has managed to remain popular to this day. With a tradition-rich history, is it any wonder that this famous Ceylon beverage is still enjoyed by many? The Skycap News™ team would like to take this opportunity to remind all of our legal age readers to please drink responsibly. Not only in Sri Lanka but in the country of your residence as well. Cheers!

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