For those who love the sweet goodness of Bailey’s Irish Cream — who doesn’t? — I’m pleased to introduce Amarula Cream Liqueur. During a trip to Johannesburg I sampled a glass on the rocks, and after one smooth sip I was hooked. Here’s the deal with a liquor made from the most delicious fruit you’ve never heard of.
The Amarula cream liquor hails from the sub-Saharan plains of South Africa, the only place where the marula tree grows wild. Only the female marula tree produces the exotic fruit. This fruit grows for just several weeks of the year and is harvested — by hand, by locals — in the summertime. Located outside of Phalaborwa in Limpopo Province is the Amarula facility, where each fruit is checked to ensure it is fully ripened prior to beginning the Amarula-making process. The fruit is then destoned, fermented, then double-distilled, first in column stills and then in copper pot stills and aged in oak barrels for 24 months. Finally, it’s mixed with fresh cream and bottled at 17 percent ABV. The result? A velvety, rich, nutty-caramel flavor with a hint of citrus. Think: Bailey’s, but way better.
The marula fruit is also a favorite among safari animals such as rhinoceroses, giraffes and monkeys, but no creature is as crazy about the marula as the elephant. In addition to ramming the tree to dislodge its fruits if none have already fallen on the ground, they also eat the bark and branches. The marula tree is therefore also known as the “Elephant Tree.” Locals also call it the “Marriage Tree,” as they say that it contains aphrodisiac elements, and some believe that the tree bark can help pregnant mothers in determining the gender of their soon-to-be-born child.
However, my absolute favorite legend of all time is the tale that elephants intentionally get drunk from eating the fermented marula fruit rotting on the ground. Can you imagine getting tipsy with giant, floppy-eared elephants? “Even if, under very peculiar circumstances, an elephant was exposed to alcohol, how much would it take to get it drunk?” ask scientists in this National Geographic story. “Producing a liter of marula wine requires 200 fruits. So an elephant would have to ingest more than 1,400 well-fermented fruits to start to get drunk.” Despite definitive evidence that the legend is simply a myth, I still secretly believe could happen IRL. You never know.
In addition to maintaining the deliciousness of the cream liqueur, this company is also heavily involved in conservation efforts to save the African Elephant, which is the brand’s symbol. Since 2002, the Amarula Trust has worked to protect this majestic creature from becoming extinct. An example is the 2016 “Name Them, Save Them” campaign, which allows participants to name, design and share a virtual African elephant online as a means of raising awareness to the predicament of these animals. Phase two of this campaign rolled out earlier this year, in which the digitalized elephants are brought to life by putting a named elephant and information regarding the animal on the labels of 400,000 individualized Amarula bottles — one bottle for each of the earth’s remaining African elephants, according to its website. Amarula will donate $1.00 to WildlifeDirect for every digital elephant created on the site.
So what are the best ways to use Amarula? When it comes to dessert cocktails, there’s literally no wrong way. After dinner cocktail recipes include the refreshing Amarula Mint Martini or the pomegranate-infused Grand Delight. Or you can always pour the cream liqueur in a coffee or hot cocoa and call it a night. If you’re looking for an actual dessert, I highly recommend the Amarula malva pudding with an Amarula crème anglaise. I’m not joking when I say I had this for dessert almost every night of my trip to South Africa. Malva pudding is a South African dessert staple that’s similar to southern-style bread pudding. Another recipe that won’t disappoint is the Sudanese Amarula Crème Caramela.
They say an elephant never forgets, and whatever your serving style of choice, Amarula is a liqueur to remember.
Hailing from California, Chelsea is an inquisitive dessert enthusiast and Golden State Warriors fan. Since graduating from Columbia University, she has amassed a colorful professional background, with experiences in industries that include news production, radio, public relations & media communications. Upon realizing that her true passion revolves around traveling the world, immersing herself in new cultures and eating, she is now a full-time freelance journalist, based in New York City. Chelsea’s work has been featured on Thrillist, The Daily Meal, Yahoo! and MSN, among other nationally recognized outlets. Follow her on Instagram and her blog .