Interested in organic cocoa or coffee? Have you ever heard of Mama Juana or a hugueros? The DR is rich in natural resources and produces some wonderful products that are special to the island. Buy from talented local artisans; generational tobacco and cacao farmers; and even some expat transplants . Open markets and local shops feature unique items for tourists to take home , and for us “locals” there are often special markets whereby handmade items are available for sale. We just enjoyed the Perla Marina Christmas Market, where local artisans sold everything from jewelry to soap to chocolates. Check out these local products made in the Dominican Republic:
Also called “Stefilia’s Stone”, Larimar is a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite found only in the Dominican Republic. Its coloration varies from white, light-blue, green-blue to deep blue. Miners work 700 feet (213 metres) deep in the mountains to obtain this beautiful stone. Local artisans make the most intricate jewelry and most shops abound with incredible necklaces, rings, bracelets and more. The jewelry below is made by an expat named Kathy Bentley and her company Larimar Blu.
Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap), which has been appreciated for its beauty since Neolithic times. Dominican amber differentiates itself from Baltic amber by being nearly always transparent, and it has a higher number of fossil inclusions. Amber is considered a gem, but is not a mineral. Dominican amber can be found in many colors, besides the obvious amber, yellow and honey colored are fairly common. There is also red and green in smaller quantities and the rare blue amber (fluorescent). The north coast of often called the “Amber Coast”. When in Puerto Plata, be sure and visit the Amber Museum.
Mama juana is an indigenous drink of the Dominican Republic. It is a brew of twigs and bark and herbs, with rum and red wine and honey. Some love it, some hate it! The specific herbs that make up Mama juana were originally prepared as a herbal tea by the native Taino Indians; post-Columbus, alcohol was added to the recipe. Besides being rumored to be an aphrodisiac, with many natives of the Dominican Republic claiming that the drink has similar effects, Mamajuana is also consumed for its medicinal value. The alcohol is said to act as an extract base that pulls the herbs’ curative properties, creating an herbal tincture often served as a shot. The reported positive effects on health vary, ranging from a flu remedy, to a digestion and circulation aid, blood cleanser, sexual potency, kidney and liver tonic. (from Wikipedia and TripAdvisor). Almost all restaurants here will serve Mama Juana as complimentary after dinner liqueur, and each has their own “secret” recipe for making it!
The DR is known for its rich, incredible coffee. I usually bring some Santo Domingo coffee back with me when I go to Canada, but then I found it in Superstore, and you can buy it on Amazon! Coffee was first introduced in the Dominican Republic in 1715 and began to be exported in 1872. In 2013, according to FAO statistics, coffee production was 10,100 short tons (9,200 t), which was about 0.1 percent of world production. It was grown in an area of 22,400 hectares (55,000 acres) with a yield of 451 kilograms (994 lb) per ha. (Wikipedia)
DR coffee farms are usually less than three hectares, and although many farms are not certified, a lot of the production is organic. The majority is also shade-grown under a canopy trees. These small DR farmers do most of the work themselves, including processing in mills called “beneficious humedos”. Most coffee is wet-processed, cherries are de-pulped within 24 hours, naturally fermented, washed and dried in the sun. The beans in parchment are then transported to large dry mills where the coffee is prepared for export or for sale in the domestic market. (from coffeehunter.com).
The DR has a long history of tobacco production and making cigars. It is supposedly the oldest DR crop and was cultivated by the Taino Indians long before Columbas arrived. Many people consider them as good as the loved Cuban cigar. Some famous brands are Montecristo, Davidoff, La Aurora and Romeo and Juliet. The US is the biggest importer of DR cigars.
The DR’s prime tobacco growing area is close to the north coast. It begins at the edge of the city of Santiago and continues northwest about 25 miles. The Yaque Valley is named for the river that runs through the area and is about six miles wide and lies between two mountain ranges. There are 10 medium and large-sized manufacturers in the country, employing over 15,000 people. When counting the smaller factories and the workers preparing the tobacco and the farms it is estimated that there more than 70,000 Dominicans that make a living from the crop according to the Association of Cigar Producers (Procigar). Dominican Republic produced more than 1.7 billion cigars for the 2012-2013 cigar harvest, as reported in Diario Libre.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Cocoa (or as its called in the DR: cacao) is a tall tropical tree that can reach up to 12 metres in height. The tree produces about 150 fruits per year in a yellow to orange coloured pod. Inside are on average 30 cocoa beans which must be dried. The DR is a great place to grow cocoa due to its rich, fertile soil and warm climate. The best place to grow cocoa is around the mountainous area of the north coast in the Cibao Valley, San Francisco de Macoris, and Santiago.
Cocoa is considered a “superfood”. The cacao bean is full of antioxidants, fat, carbohydrates, protein, polyphenols like flavanoids cacao nutrition that are antioxidants, minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc and potassium, oleic acid which is a heart-healthy essential monounsaturated fat, fiber and vitamins E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9. (Read more at superfoods.net). In 2009, the DR exported over 62,000 tons of cocoa! The country ranks first in the global ranking of production and export.
What Caribbean island doesn’t have a long history with rum? Pirates traded it and stole it, movies have been made about it, and we all love it in a fruity drink with an umbrella. The DR has several award winning rum brands including Brugal and Barcelo. I am no rum expert -though I have been known to partake in a “cuba libre” (rum and coke) or rum punch! It is said that DR rum is different because more importance is given to its smoothness than other rums. The rums here are made with a natural process of distillation and aging done in American white oak kegs.
According to reports, one of Christopher Columbus’ first companions on his trips to the island was Don Diego Bermúdez, who brought sugar cane to extract alcohol, the basic ingredient in rum processing. Thus, the first Dominican spirited drink of repute was born and the first industry established in the then recently created Dominican Republic. (Wikipedia)
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