Is raki Greek or Turkish?

Answered by Michael Blake

Raki, also known as Lion's Milk, is a traditional spirit that holds a special place in Turkish culture. It is often referred to as the national drink of Turkey, and its origins can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. While there may be similar in other countries, the unique characteristics and cultural significance of raki make it distinctly Turkish.

To shed light on the question of whether raki is Greek or Turkish, it is important to note that both Greece and Turkey have their own versions of anise-flavored spirits. In Greece, the equivalent drink is called ouzo, which also has a strong aniseed flavor. However, raki and ouzo have distinct differences in terms of production methods and flavor profiles.

Raki is primarily made from twice-distilled grapes and flavored with aniseed. The grapes used in its production are typically sourced from Turkey's Aegean region, known for its fertile soil and optimal grape-growing conditions. The grapes are fermented and then distilled twice in copper alembic stills, resulting in a high-proof . This strong spirit is then diluted with , which turns it into a milky-white color, giving rise to its nickname, Lion's Milk.

In contrast, ouzo is made from a base of distilled grape must or molasses, and it is flavored with aniseed. The production process for ouzo differs from raki, as it involves a single distillation and a different combination of ingredients. This leads to subtle variations in taste and aroma between the two spirits.

While raki and ouzo may share some similarities due to their aniseed flavor, they are distinct beverages that are deeply rooted in the respective cultures of Turkey and Greece. Raki holds a significant place in Turkish traditions and is often enjoyed during celebratory occasions, such as weddings, holidays, and gatherings with friends and family.

Personally, as a sommelier and brewer, I have had the opportunity to taste and appreciate various spirits from around the world, including raki. The unique flavor profile of raki, with its distinct blend of grapes and aniseed, is truly a delight for the senses. It pairs exceptionally well with meze, a selection of small appetizers commonly enjoyed in Turkish cuisine, enhancing the overall dining experience.

Raki is undeniably Turkish, deeply intertwined with the country's cultural heritage and traditions. Its production process, ingredients, and distinct flavor set it apart from other anise-flavored spirits, including Greek ouzo. Whether sipped slowly or enjoyed in the lively company of friends at a cilingir sofrasi, raki continues to be a beloved symbol of Turkish hospitality and celebration.