Dibs el `inab (grape molasses)

 

Dibs el `inab (grape molasses)

  Slow.Food.Beirut

Definitions and Traditions

image002Dibs el `inab, or grape molasses, is a thick syrup, usually derived from white grapes. It is common to the mountainous regions of Lebanon, and is a central component of the food stock that Lebanese households traditionally put up for winter, known as mouneh.

image004 Before refined sugar was introduced some 150-200 years ago, households in Lebanese villages relied on grape molasses as a generic sweetener.  The grape harvest was a communal activity that was welcomed with festivals-- essentially moveable feasts that would start in the vineyards, then proceed to the presses for an initial processing.  The celebrations would continue at the homes of participating families, who would enjoy desserts prepared from fresh dibs el ’inab, as together, they completed the processing and bottled the molasses under the direction of the eldest women of the household (Riachy, 1998, Al-Ghazi, 2001).

 

Ingredients, Characteristics and Techniques

Their high sugar content and low acidity makes most local Lebanese white grapes suitable to produce dibs el `inab. These include the obeidi, saraani, shamouti, mikseissi, mirweih, magdoushi and salti varieties.

Choueri (2002) describes the basic procedure for making grape molasses as follows:

  • The grapes are juiced and placed in a large barrel;
  • Pulverized howara, (marl, a calcium carbonate clay-sized mineral) is added to the juice at a weight to weight ratio of 1:50;
  • The mixture is left to rest for 8 hours. The suspended solids resulting from the juicing (skins, pits and other residues) will cluster around the fine howara particles and settle to the bottom;
  • The juice is filtered and moved to large pots for boiling. At this stage, it is called ain el deek, “the eye of the rooster” because it is very clear (this refers to a common Lebanese simile: “clear as the rooster’s eye”);
  • The juice is boiled for an hour, during which it is periodically lifted out of the pot with large wooden spoons by broad, vigorous strokes. This cools the liquid by exposing it to air so that it will not bubble and foam. Any foam that rises to the surface is skimmed off;
  • The process is complete when the mixture coats the spoon;
  • The mixture is transferred to a cooling basin where it matures for a couple of days and releases any remaining air bubbles. It is then ready for consumption;
  • It is dark maroon in color, but if a lighter color is desired, then the molasses can be beaten manually or with an electric mixer. The consistency of grape molasses is like melted chocolate. A spoon running through the surface will leave a trail that will last for a couple of seconds. 

image 06

Dagher (1991) provides a different recipe:

  • The grapes are crushed and juiced;
  • The juice is filtered and then heated and stirred continuously for a protracted period of time, until its viscosity increases. The froth is skimmed off as it forms;
  • A small amount of powdered dry clay is added and the mixture is allowed to settle overnight;
  • The clear supernatant liquid is collected and heated again until it reaches a syrupy consistency. It is then cooled and stored in glass or clay jars.

The quality of the molasses is a function of the quantity and total sugar content of the grapes. Increasing the quantity of grapes to compensate for their lower sugar content will paradoxically lower the quality of molasses, which will be slightly bitter due to the taste imparted by the non-sugar fraction of the grapes. This is why high-sugar grapes, such as mekseis, are more desirable than lower-sugar ones, such as maghdousheh or salti. Molasses produced at a ratio of 1 kg of molasses to 7-8 kg of grapes is considered desirable, but 1 kg of molasses produced from 12-14 kg of grapes is likely to be inferior.

Grape molasses can be consumed in many ways, and it is a constituent of many recipes for baked sweets. The syrup is also used to flavor drinks. A tablespoon of grape molasses and a few drops of orange blossom water are sometimes consumed as a drink with crushed ice and water.

Iman Abu Kheir and the dibs el `inab of Kfarnabrakh

High in the Shuf mountains, between the grape and olive terraces and the oak coppices, sits the village of Kfarnabrakh , also known in the region as Hayy el Kroum (the neighbourhood of vineyards). Although it is only 42 km from Beirut, one really feels that life here is slower, calmer and more peaceful. On the outskirts of the village, the ruins of the Druze religious site, Khelwat al Zanbakiyya, offer a breathtaking vantage point from which one can admire the whole upper Shuf region.

It is in these surroundings that Iman Abu Kheir has lived all her life. This is where she learned from her mother and grandmother how to process the sweet white grapes that grow in the miniature vineyards into dibs el `inab. In her childhood, sugar was still a rare commodity, and dibs was used in its stead to make drinks and desserts.  Mixed with fresh snow, dibs was eaten as a sherbet called yaksama.

Today, Iman Abu Kheir still makes dibs el `inab, but she uses a more modern procedure than the one her mother used:

  • Grapes (exclusively of the mirweih variety) are mechanically crushed;
  • The juice is released and filtered with a coarse sieve;
  • It is then filled in plastic barrels (200 liters capacity);
  • Howara (marl) is added and the mixture left to settle for 5 hours;
  • The supernatant juice is transferred to a large copper pot called a khalqeen and heated over strong fire;
  • As the mixture simmers and boils, the foam is constantly skimmed off the surface;
  • The boiling continues until testing by a refractometer (an instrument used to measure the concentration of dissolved solids in water) shows a water content of 18-20%;
  • The process is then ended and the product is allowed to cool;
  • The final product may be left as is (liquid) or beaten with an electric beater to form a more solid and paler substance. 

Iman Abu Kheir produces approximately 100 kg of dibs el `inab per season, which are sold from her house to neighbors and fellow villagers.

Compiled by Rami Zurayk. Editors: Imad Toufeili (technical), Deborah
Chay (English). Researchers: Sami Abdul Rahman.

 

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