A bitter sweet alcoholic beverage
Like pretty well every other Mediterranean region Mallorca has its own aniseed flavoured drink, the liqueur Hierbas which is well known as an after dinner 'chupito' or shot. However, less well known are two darker brews common to the island; Frigola made from thyme and Palo, the subject of today's article.
It has an interesting history, having been made in Mallorca for over 200 years and with its roots in herbal medicine practises. It had been known for some while that quinine helps with malaria, a disease which was occasionally prevalent in the Mallorca of many years ago because of the many marshy wetlands where mosquitoes bred like wildfire.
The antidote for that was to drink a brew of chinchona bark (cinnabar) and gentian root which coincidentally also helped with appetite, digestion, fullness, wind, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, diarrhoea, gastritis, heartburn, enlarged spleen, muscle spasms, parasitic worms and many, many more, but sadly not male pattern baldness!
Now both of these vital ingredients were exceedingly bitter, so to make it more palatable in a Mary Poppins style, the herbal experts started to add concentrated sugar made from grapes, figs and carobs, all plentiful in Mallorca. Soon after, they started to caramelise the concentrate to produce a rich dark liqueur whose sweetness almost masked the taste of the bitter quinine and gentian.
These days Palo is drunk more as an apertif as the demand for malaria cures has lessened quite substantially in Mallorca. Normally drunk ice cold, it has such a distinctive flavour that, like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it. I rather like it, cough medicine like though it is, and like to quaff it in a tall glass with crushed ice, peppermint and soda – a Palo Mojito - whilst watching the world go by in one of Palma's lovely Cappuccino grand cafes.
If you'd like to buy some Palo – it's name comes from the Spanish palo de quina (quinine stick) – it's on sale in supermarkets, at the airport and can be bought online by clicking this link – Palo Liqueur.