If you have ever met someone Hungarian, then it is highly probable that the impression they gave you is that pálinka is good for everything: before eating, for better digestion, to prevent illnesses, if you are sick, to live longer, to cheer up.
Dívány has collected everything you need to know about the positive benefits of quality pálinka on your health and how to know if the pálinka you are drinking is top-notch.
According to popular legend, the origins of the pálinka can be traced back to the 13th-14th century, more precisely to Charles I of Hungary and Queen Elizabeth. It is said that while they were on their way to Naples, the queen had fallen so ill, that they had to return to Hungary. All sorts of medicine were employed to improve the queen’s state, but only one did the job: an alcohol and rosemary infused concoction, which was named aqua vitae (water of life). Regarding the Hungarian jolly-joker drink’s name, Dívány writes that the word ‘pálinka’ did not appear until the 17th century, and its origins are the Slovak word ‘palenka’.
Good or bad – a guide
There are those who claim that good pálinka is the one that leaves your throat with such a burn that despair runs through your joints, but in reality, this is not what makes the drink actually good. Such strong pálinka’s will only knock you out real quick, and the next day you will wake up with such a hangover that makes you say ‘I swear I will never, ever drink again’. Here is what an expert, Attila Fabulya (head taster at Gyulai Pálinka Manufaktúra Kft.), has to say about this:
If you turn to good quality pálinka, with sufficient water intake while drinking, there is a high chance that you will not feel sick on the next day”.
What this means is that dehydration is still an issue even if you drink good quality pálinka, so make sure that you drink enough water, not just spritz or beer. But when push comes to shove, dehydration is not the major issue with bad pálinka: it is the badly brewed chemicals that give you a throbbing headache and sickness.
Boosts your appetite – a myth or truth?
Hungarians often drink or encourage you to drink a shot of pálinka before major meals, but pálinka as an aperitive might not be the best idea. Fabuly explains that what you feel after one or two shots of pálinka is not hunger, but it is the alcohol burning your stomach, so your organism will want to help this immediately.
“In western cultures, spirits are drunk after a meal, since alcohol boosts digestion. I would suggest drinking pálinka in the same fashion: after eating”
A cure-all or not?
A piece of advice from our grandparents that we often heard growing up in Hungarian communities is that you should bring pálinka with you on trips since if you get infected with something, the alcoholic drink will cure your stomach – but it also works to prevent illnesses, thanks to its antiseptic qualities. This is why it is also suggested to gulp down pálinka if your throat is sore or if you feel like you are coming down with something.
However, this is not the case in reality. Alcohol is antiseptic indeed, but only above 70 degrees. The strongest pálinka is usually around 60 degrees, which is not strong enough to possess antiseptic qualities.
“It was taken for centuries as a cure-all potion, and many still believe in this, but this has never been proven medically. On the contrary, it was proved not to help at all” – weighs in Fabuly.
Before you set out to make 70 degrees plus pálinka, you must know that it brings more pain than pleasure to your taste buds and throat. You will no longer be able to taste the fruit, and it will be so strong that your organs will be thrown off balance, so you should rather not try distilling or drinking such pálinka.