Tuica, Palinca and Horinca


Although I have unabashedly written many times about tuica, it’s time to dedicate a whole post to it.

I grew up in cities and to me, alcohol was something other people made in some far-off place and then bottled it and shipped it to a store for me to buy. How alcohol was made was a mysterious enigma.

In Romania, however, making your own alcohol is virtually a national right. Therefore over time I began to understand how it was done.

There are two kinds of alcohol, those that are fermented and those that are fermented and then distilled.

“Fermented” means yeast was added to something (grain, fruit, etc) and converted some of the sugars into alcohol. Roughly speaking, drinks that are (only) fermented are wine and beer.

The problem with fermenting a big batch of plums is that you get a big barrel of stinking, rotting fruit mixed in with the alcohol. Therefore this mess has to be distilled, which can be done in a number of ways, but always means a process by which the alcohol is separated from the other components of the liquid.

The most common distillation process is to heat the liquid and then capture the alcohol vapors in a (usually) copper tube, which then drips down into a container.

Almost all Romanian traditional strong drinks are made from fruit, which technically makes them a “brandy”. The term “brandy” simply refers to any alcohol made by fermenting and distilling fruit.

The fruit in Romania is almost always the plum, confusing called prune in Romanian (proo-neh), referring to the fresh fruit. The dried version, prune uscate refers to what in English are known as prunes.

Therefore fermenting and distilling plums is how the nationally famous drink tuica (tswee-ka) is made. In fact, it is estimated that over 75% of all the plums harvested in Romania are used to make tuica.

In Romania the term rachiu (rocky-you) just means that it is the same drink but made with a different kind of fruit (such as pears).

The very best tuica is made with nothing but plums and yeast and has no sugar added. It usually comes out crystal clear, looking identical as water and having little to no taste in the mouth. It is only when it hits the stomach that you truly feel its gut-warming power.

Palinca is simply a term people use to refer to tuica that’s been distilled a second (or third) time, meaning it is much stronger and has more alcohol per volume.

In general, for some reason, Hungarians often prefer palinca (i.e. the stronger stuff) over “regular” tuica.

Horinca, Jinars and Fatata are other terms that generally mean “very strong” tuica.

The drink slivovitz however is slightly different, as ground-up pits or stones from the plums are added in the fermentation process, which gives it a slightly nutty overtone. This drink is less common in Romania than it is elsewhere in this region of Europe.

In all cases, these drinks are usually consumed as just a shot (or two) right before digging into the big meal of the day, ie about 10-20ml in metric.

Although a few store brands of these drinks are palatable, for the truly good stuff, (including wine), it is best to find a person who made them at their home. In fact, the only alcohol regularly made better by factories in Romania is beer.

Once you’ve sampled (and presumably enjoyed) a few glasses of tuica, you can learn to determine its characteristics simply by sight and smell alone. If you see a little old lady on the sidewalk peddling old Fanta bottles filled with tuica, simply remove the cap and inhale to see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

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11 Responses »

  1. The gorgeous sight of a pale-yellow tuica from Prahova makes my spidey senses tingle. It’s got this awesome aroma and, during winter time (or summer if you’re somewhere cool enough in the evening) it can turn into a comfort drink (think comfort food but with alcohol) when you boil it and add sugar or honey.

    It’s a custom in my family to have a small glass of boiled tuica before special dinners or during wintertime just for the heck, smell and taste of it.

  2. Rather I move back to Romania and have you and your gf over for a nice “degetar” of tuica :))

    • Long time I haven’t heard the term “degetar” :))
      If I `m not mistaking, it an elongated cilindrical shot :))

      Ohh…. I`m craving for a “degetar” :P

  3. Awesome :)

  4. hi there.
    sorry man, but you`re a bit wrong there.
    any guy from ardeal(transilvania) will tell you that there is a difference between tuica and palinca which i will not go into. what i will go into though, is the difference between a clear and waterlike “prune” palinca and a thick and yellow pear palinca. you cant compare a prune one with a pare one, simple as that. any palinca will get a bit of colour with age and a more distinctive taste; including the nasty apple one. when you say it doesnt have any taste it just shows you dont handle it properly yet. try t breath in before you drink it and breath out as soon as it hits the stomach, if you cant gargle it around the mouth yet. if you gargle(taste it properly) you will feel the distinct flavor and if its a proper one you should be able to pinpoint exactly the fruit used. now, from pears the yield will be significantly smaller and of a much better quality, resulting in a higher price all around the country. also the pear one will get quite thick with age and will develop a really yellow colour. i know that you must have been taught that the prune one is the best as its the most common but please go to your friends in maramures or satu mare and ask for a real pear palinca. once you go pear you wont go prune again :)

    nice blog, your romanian is great, quite amazing i would say but, please dont take it as a insult, you still sound like a hungarian; only saying this because of your article in which you proudly proclaim that you sound just like a native; not yet mate, you definitively sound from ardeal, but not romanian i`m afraid. again, please see this a constructive criticism and not one of those scolding replies; i do find your effort inspiring and i see a lot of parallels between your successful integration in the romanian society and mine into a different one.

    good luck mate.

  5. : Vai multumesc mult de tot :* Sunt forate flatata (desi nu ar trebui pentru ca stilistul meu a facut toata treaba )tare mi-ar placea sa-mi trimiti si mie o poza pe mail sa vad cum iti sta !! >:D<

  6. Sam, you really ARE more Romanian than us!!

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