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Photo by Korena Darnelle

WE FOOD

Mauby Magic
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By Korena Darnelle

21/03/2021                               12 min read

Whether you know it as Mavi, Mabi or Mauby, this sweet, slightly bitter drink is a staple across many Caribbean islands. From Bahamas to Trinidad you will find variations in the taste of each glass of Mauby, and Barbados is no exception. So, what makes a glass of mauby truly Bajan? It just might come down to the recipe. 

A typical Bajan is likely to boil their mauby bark with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and some good old-fashioned Bajan brown sugar like Plantation Reserve Sugar. Some may even add a little orange peel as shown in this recipe. But what many people don’t know is that mauby’s Caribbean history is as fascinating as it is varied. 

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Did you know that mauby was also called 'soap bush'

in Turks & Caicos?

(Photo by Korena Darnelle)

Revealing the Mystery of the Mauby

 

Scientifically known as Colubrina elliptica or Colubrina arborescens, the latter was initially called bastard-mauby or soap bush in Turks & Caicos due to its historic use as a natural washing-up detergent’. Earlier settlers in the Caribbean were thought to have given the name ‘mauby’ to a drink made from sweet potatoes. However, due to the ready availability of the bark from the trees, the name was reassigned to the aromatic dried bark we know and love today. Over time, the bark was hailed as a multi-purpose staple that was critical to communities for numerous reasons. 

 

In some islands mauby provided financially, serving as the bread and butter for many female entrepreneurs. Akin to a roving bar, a mauby vendor would travel through villages with a small vat of the delicious mixture balanced atop her head to serve her thirsty patrons.  Each pail had a little tap to disburse the frothy mixture to customers, and, due to excellent balance, no doubt, these ladies managed to serve mauby without spilling any. In these days, mauby vendors probably would be some of the worthy female entrepreneurs celebrated on International Women's Day.

Sonia Peter

Dr. Sonia Peter, natural products chemist

(Photo courtesy Dr. Sonia Peter)

The Evolution of Mauby

 

These days, younger people are more familiar with the ready-made syrups prominently displayed on the shelves of many supermarkets in Barbados, which are loved for their ‘just add water’ convenience. The beverage has also been added to many menus around Barbados and is readily available in restaurants and even in fast food chains such as Chefette.

Dr. Sonia Peter, a natural products chemist, proposes that “our history speaks to us only if we listen” and even the presence of mauby on Chefette’s menu “illustrates how integral it is to our tradition”. Dr. Peter’s work involves the examination of natural agents and properties a plant produces in addition to the cultural aspects of plant life in communities. According to Peter, the history of using plants for medicinal value dates back to the 1600s. “This knowledge came over with our ancestors as they were heavily dependent on plant life” and used it to survive the many diseases that plagued them in earlier days. A local manufacturer of mauby bitters, Country Foods Inc, producers of the popular Country Boy brand, also indicates on their label that mauby “can be used as a diuretic, to ease hypertension, lower cholesterol, relieve arthritis pains and according to Caribbean folklore, it can even be used as an aphrodisiac”.

Adding coconut water to mauby can help control hypertension

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She further suggests that mauby could be reshaped as one of our new tourism products and that Barbadians could investigate growing the trees locally in a green sustainable model. This would allow Barbadians to explore additional drinks, food additives or even works of art or tools from the bark. 

Medicinal properties of Mauby

 

Dr. Peter explains that “saponins and tannins are what contribute to the bitterness and colour of mauby”. She goes on to explain that “bitterness is like a double-edged sword - while it is an indication of medical value, it is also associated with toxicity”. In terms of mauby specifically, she touts the studies of her Trinidadian colleague, Professor Trevor Alleyne who explores ‘The Control of Hypertension by the use of Coconut Water and Mauby’. In Alleyne’s study, he found that while coconut water and mauby both individually had some effect on reducing hypertension, the reduction was more effective when the two beverages were first combined and then consumed. Dr. Peter points out that “mauby is also linked to haemolysis” or blood thinning and cautions that while the mauby is delicious, persons should still be mindful not to drink too much. 
 

So now that you know a bit more about the magical mauby bark, we hope that you’ll take the time to explore more of its history for yourself.

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