Both drinks have a long, rich history that are  even intertwined. Both are similar, yet each has its own unique flavor that is treasured and loved by its devotees! The Turkish raki owes its name to the Arabic word “araq”, meaning “sweat”, while interestingly the Greek ouzo seems to refer to the Turkish word for grape, “üzüm”.

There is also a French-Italian version,”uso Marsiglia”. This italian name was written on the freight crates used for shipping Greek brandy to Marseille. It is easy to see how this abbreviation gave rise to the name ouzo, which has survived to this day. Ancient traditions combined with modern technology have made ouzo the iconic symbol of Greek culture and identity that is now popular in many countries around the world. Legitimate production is only permitted in Greece and Cyprus.

The aromatically refreshing summer drink gets its strong, slightly sweet taste and distinctive aroma from the addition of aniseed. Even though it is similar to other liqueurs such as anise from Spain, pastis and absinthe from France, sambuca from Italy, arak from the Levant and mastika from Bulgaria, the exact recipes are kept top secret and passed on as family treasures.


The production of ouzo is based on the traditional way of distilling pomace (grape residues) that remain after the wine has been pressed. This is then enriched with anise, fennel, chamomile, coriander and other spices such as cinnamon, ginger and mastica and brewed in copper kettles for hours. The mixture is distilled a second and often a third time in order to achieve good quality. The end product contains a strong average of 40% alcohol by volume.

In Greece, ouzo is usually served at room temperature, at most slightly chilled, and poured over with cold water that should be around 10 degrees. A good mixing ratio is 50 to 50. This not only creates the typical cloudy white look, it also releases the aromas and essential oils and really comes into their own. The ice cubes are only added at the end. How you drink ouzo is extremely important to the Greeks, as drinking is not an excess but an art form. The traditional way is to slurp it slowly. After all, it’s about good company, stimulating conversations, culinary delights, some mezze and relaxation.

Raki, the traditional Turkish spirit, was already produced and consumed by the population of the Ottoman Empire as early as the 11th century. Its roots lie in the borderlands of Syria, Israel, Iraq and Jordan, where a blend of distilled wine and aniseed has been produced for more than 2,500 years.

The drink is usually served chilled, either neat or with water to give it a milky appearance. In Turkey, this is called aslan sütü, which means lion’s milk! This so-called louche effect typically occurs with anise-containing spirits, and also pastis, sambuca or arrack. These spirits contain essential oils, which dissolve in alcohol, but not in water.

Read the full article in Issue 24

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