Mauby is a type of syrup made on many Caribbean islands that has a distinct flavor, mauby which can also be spelled mabi, maby, and mavi, tends to have a very bitter aftertaste. People who love the drink say the taste is an acquired one, but still quite refreshing. It’s by far one of the most popular beverages in the Caribbean, attesting that many people acquired a liking for the drink in childhood. On the other hand, many visitors to the Caribbean also quickly become fans as well.
The mauby bark comes from a tree belonging to the Rhamnaceae family, which is abundant in many Caribbean islands.
It is found growing in thickets and woodlands, in dry coastal and limestone regions of southwest Puerto Rico, Culebra, St Croix, St Thomas, St John, Tortola and Angola. It flowers in July and fruits from September to March.
The tree can also be grown in southern Florida, including the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles, the south of St Vincent, southern Mexico and Guatemala.
This bitter bark is known by more than one name, depending on the island where it is grown or consumed.
The Dominican Republic calls it mabi; Cuba, jaya jabico; United States, soldier wood and naked wood; Bahamas, smooth snake bark; Haiti, bois mabi and bois de fer; Guadeloupe, bois mabi and mambee; Antigua, mabi; and of course, T&T, mauby.
The sapwood is light brown and the heartwood is dark brown. The wood is hard and heavy, strong and durable. It is commonly used for posts in Puerto Rico.
The tree is evergreen, usually ten-15 feet high and less than four feet in trunk diameter, with a spreading crown of thin foliage.
The orange-brown bark is smooth on small trunks, but becomes fissured, splitting off the scales. The inner bark is light brown and bitter.
The drink or syrup for the drink is made by boiling a specific buckthorn bark, Colubrina elliptica, with sugar and a variety of spices. In looking at individual recipes on how people make mauby, you’ll note spices and flavorings vary exceedingly. Cinnamon is usually included, but then the drink flavoring diverges according to recipe. Some people add cloves, anise, vanilla extract. Many suggest you must add Angostura bitters, which helps to balance out the bitter aftertaste.
Mauby syrup is the concentrated form of the drink, which people add to plain water. The drink does not usually contain alcohol, Some people add rum to it. In almost all cases, you drink it chilled to augment its refreshing qualities.
There’s a great deal of lore regarding the health benefits of this beverage, but the jury is still out on whether it is good for you, bad for you or has no effect whatsoever. Certainly high sugar content may not be the best thing in the world, although the sugar content is usually lower than that in sodas made in the US. Some claim that mauby is an aphrodisiac, while others have asserted that the drink causes impotence.
Other claims about this drink are that it is good for arthritis, reduces cholesterol, treats diarrhea, and may help fight diabetes. Only one assertion regarding its health benefits has been clinically studied. According to the University of the West Indies, mauby, especially when combined with coconut milk, may lower blood pressure.
If you don’t have time to make your own mauby, you can buy the syrup. You can find mauby syrup in Caribbean grocery stores, and in the ethnic food section at most grocery stores. If you have the opportunity to visit different islands, you’ll note slight to major differences in taste on each Caribbean island. Each island appears to have different preferences regarding flavors that should be added to the bark in order to produce the best-tasting drink.