3 facts about Latvian Black Balsam you didn’t know

3 facts about Latvian Black Balsam you didn’t know
09 July 2024

Often referred to as the national drink of Latvia, Balsam is a popular liquor that has received over a hundred awards. Balsam was invented by the pharmacist Abraham Kunze in the mid-17th century and became one of the most iconic Latvian delicacies. Renowned for its healing properties, Balsam is often added to tea, coffee, hot chocolate and to cocktails. Here are 3 interesting facts about Latvian Black Balsam.

1. It once helped Catherine the Great recover from disease

According to an old legend, yet popular among Latvians, Catherine the Great would have been ill while travelling to Riga. If the empress probably suffered from stomach infection, some argued someone tempted to poison her. Running out of ideas after having tried everything, her physician decided to try Black Balsam, then presented as a “Miracle Elixir” by its inventor. The Balsam appeared to be miraculous enough to heal the Empress and thus gain popularity across Europe as a healing liquor.

2. The recipe was lost during World War II

The outburst of World War II forced many Latvians to flee the country, some of whom worked at the Balsam production factory. In 1939, the recipe was lost after its keepers were sent to Germany. But former employees later returned to Latvia, including the technologist Maiga Podracniece who held information as to how to prepare balsam. Thanks to the collective effort of former employees, the recipe was restored in 1950 and the production re-started. Maiga Podračniece passed away in 2011, aged 87, after she was awarded the Order of Red Banner of Labour.

3. Black Balsam is made of 24 natural ingredients

Among the 24 ingredients, 17 components are herbs, berries and roots. It includes for instance raspberries, peppermint leaves, ginger root, oak bark as well as black pepper. These components mature in oak barrels for approximately a month. They are added in a specific order and quantities are measured very precisely. The water used to make Balsam is also particular and comes from a private well owned by Latvijas Balzams. Other ingredients include caramel and honey. It gives Balsam its strength and brooding pallor.

Anyone visiting Latvia should at least bring back traditional Balsam. To know where to buy it, you can read this article published on our blog a few years ago.

This article was brought to you by Theo, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga.

All pictures displayed in this article were taken by the author. 

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