Since learning about spilanthes aka the “toothache plant,” I’ve started noticing it referenced all over the place. (isn’t it funny how that happens??)
Another way spilanthes are used commercially is in a trendy Brazilian beverage called cachaça de jambú. Cachaça is a spirit distilled from fermented raw sugarcane and is one of Brazil’s most popular alcoholic beverages. Known as Brazilian rum, the raw sugarcane gives it a lighter, more herbal-y flavor than rum, which is made from cooked sugarcane (also known as molasses).
The addition of infused spilanthes lightly numbs the lips. According to the drink’s creator, Leo Porto, “Although the first sip may feel strange, fascination follows.”
Color me intrigued!
Unsurprisingly, I was unable to locate a bottle of cachaça de jambú in North Idaho, but I did find a bottle of plain cachaça at a nearby Total Wine and infused it with real spilanthes to create my own homemade cachaça de jambú.
I filled a 2-quart mason jar about 1/3 full with chopped spilanthes and covered it with cachaça. I let the cachaça infuse for nearly 3 weeks before declaring it ready to sample.
I’m not the biggest fan of drinking liquor “neat” without ice or mixers, so I looked for an interesting cocktail recipe that would showcase my cachaça de jambú.
The natural choice was to make a caipirinha (pronounced kai-pir-in-ya), the national cocktail of Brazil made with crushed lime, cachaça and sugar.
Caipirinha translates to “ little country girl,” and likely originated in rural São Paulo, Brazil. A variation of the modern cocktail containing garlic, lime, honey and cachaça is said to have been used to help treat the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.
It would have been an effective remedy – remember that splilanthes is similar to the medicinal actions of echinacea as an immunostimulant (immunity booster), antiviral, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory:
As you might expect from a drink heavy in lime juice, a caipirinha is rather tart, but the sweetness imparted by the sugar balances it out. To my palate, the cachaça resembles saké far more than it does rum.
Then the buzz buttons kick in.
Our friend Leo Porto is not wrong — this stuff is indeed fascinating. After a few sips, your entire mouth is numbed and tingling (buzzing? 🐝) Remember my fellow apprentice’s reaction to nibbling the tip of a spilanthes flower?
That times 10. What an odd sensation!
Caipirinha is a bit of an acquired taste, and I while doubt this will be replacing my beloved Titos and Tonic any time soon, it’s such a novel and interesting drink, I highly recommend you try it once!
Perhaps the “bumble bee butt” drink will make an appearance at our next New Year’s Eve party.
Have you tried a caipirinha or cachaça de jambú? What did you think?