Spring brings birch sap delight to east Europe

Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:43am EDT
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By Patrick Lannin

BALTEZERS, Latvia (Reuters Life!) - Gourmet chef Martins Ritins holds up a jar filled with a crystal clear liquid and says "wow" after taking a sip.

Like many people in Latvia and other northern and eastern European countries, Ritins was sampling some birch tree sap, tapped from a tall silver birch tree in his own back garden.

The sap, which pours out like water from the trees during a few weeks in the early spring, is said to be one of the healthiest and purest drinks, full of minerals that the tree has sucked up from the ground.

"It cleans our system, it is like a detoxicant, it is absolutely pure, you can't get anything purer," said Ritins, who is the best known chef in the Baltic state of Latvia.

"The Latvians don't have a monopoly on this. I know the Finns do it, the Lithuanians do it, the Estonians do it and the north American Indians did it," he added. The drink is also found in Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

Other natural foods such as berries and mushrooms are also widely gathered in this part of the world.

In North America, maple syrup is popular. In Alaska, birch syrup, made from birch sap, is also produced.

Ritins has taken the use of birch sap to a new level in his five-star restaurant in downtown Riga, the Latvian capital, but it is a drink which many people appreciate.   Continued...