Canelazo is a hot alcoholic beverage that originated in Ecuador and is popular throughout Central and South America. There are a number of ways of preparing the drink, but its primary ingredients include cinnamon, sugar, and fruit juice, topped off with a strong alcohol derived from sugar cane. Canelazo is most popular in the colder winter months and is often incorporated into traditional Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Colombian Christmas celebrations.
Ecuadorians are believed to have begun making the drink centuries ago in the Andes. The drink's warmth and potency made it an attractive accompaniment to many winter nights — benefits that are still celebrated in modern times. There is no single canelazo recipe, as cooks have always been free to experiment with different flavors, proportions, and variations. Most iterations follow a similar pattern, however.
Cooks typically make the drink by boiling sugar in fruit juice, traditionally naranjilla juice. The naranjilla is a South American fruit in the nightshade family that resembles a pale tomato, but tastes a lot like a citrus. It is common practice to add a cinnamon stick, and sometimes also cloves, to the juice as it boils.
Once the sugar is incorporated, the drinks are splashed with warm aguardiente, a local liquor, and served in tumblers or mugs. The word aguardiente is a generic term for distilled alcohol with a high alcohol-by-volume percentage. For canelazo, the aguardiente required is derived from cane juice, often spiced during fermentation. It tastes vaguely of licorice to many people. Home fermentation is popular, but the liquor can be purchased commercially in many outlets, as well.
The beverage is most popular during the winter, and is frequently served to guests and visitors as a means of warming up after a journey. It is served alongside Christmas foods in many Andean celebrations. Children typically partake, as well, often by sampling the drink just before the alcohol is added. In some cities, canelazo may also be served by street vendors. This is most popular in the weeks between Christmas and Epiphany.
Although native to the Andean region, canelazo is popular in many communities. It can sometimes be hard to find all canelazo ingredients outside of South America, however. The naranjilla, for instance, is hard to grow in many places, and does not export well. Aguardiente, if not made at home, can also be difficult to locate outside of South America.
Cooks hoping to recreate the general taste and feel of the mixed drinks often rely on substitutions. Citrus juice, particularly orange or lime, is a common addition. Orange juice often resembles the sweet, smooth flavor of the naranjilla, while lime imitates its bite.
Light rum is the most common aguardiente substitute, in large part because it, too, is distilled from sugar cane. Rum is widely available in most parts of the world. The taste is different, but complementary.