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Cauim is a kind of alcoholic beverage made in South and Central America, though it is usually associated with Brazil. Its production originated in pre-Columbian times and has continued into the modern era. There is some commercial cauim production, but most of it is made and consumed by indigenous communities. The drink closely resembles chicha, which is a drink made by the same groups of people.
Like most indigenous recipes, cauim can have many variations. Often, it is fermented from the root of the manioc, which is also called yucca or cassava. It can also be made using plantains, maize, rice or peanuts; however, manioc is generally considered to be the defining ingredient. Sometimes, other substances are added to the mash. These can include fruit juices and sugars to add flavor to the finished product and feed the yeast in the mash, helping it ferment.
One characteristic that unites all of the varieties of traditional cauim is the process by which it is made. First, caium makers, who are usually women, cook the starchy base ingredient. After it is cooked, they chew it and reform it into patties. They then cook the patties again. Next, they combine the twice-cooked starch with liquid and flavorings to create a mash, which they allow to ferment.
Chewing helps break down the manioc so that it can ferment; without it, the mash would go bad rather than turning into alcohol. The saliva that mixes with the manioc when it is chewed has substances in it called diastase enzymes. They act as catalysts, facilitating the transformation of the starch in the roots into malt sugar, which feeds the yeast that produce the alcohol during the fermentation process.
The chewing method is still used in rural production of caium. It is common in Brazil, where indigenous people use manioc to make the drink. In other places, the local recipe is based on available ingredients; for example, in Panama, the Kuna tribe uses plantains as the base for its cauim mash. The production using the traditional method occurs almost exclusively in tribal communities, so there is little documentation as to its extent.
There is also a commercial product called cauim that is made by the Colorado Cervejaria, a Brazilian brewery. This product is made using modern brewing techniques — no chewing is involved. Its link to the indigenous drink is that it, too, is a beer made from manioc; however, its starch base is imported Czech cassava powder.