Rakı or raki (/rɑːˈk/, Turkish pronunciation: [ɾaˈkɯ] (listen)) is an alcoholic drink made of twice-distilled grapes.[1] It is the national drink of Turkey.[2] It is also popular in other Balkan countries as an apéritif as well as in Kazakhstan. It is often served with seafood or meze. It is comparable to several other alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, e.g. pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak and aguardiente.

Country of originTurkey
Alcohol by volume40–50%
Proof (US)80–100
ColourTransparent (milky white when mixed with water)
IngredientsGrape pomace, Aniseed (flavouring)
Related productsArak, absinthe, ouzo, pastis, sambuca

In Crete, tsikoudia is a pomace brandy that is sometimes called rakı. It is used to make rakomelo, which is flavoured with honey and cinnamon. Rakomelo is served warm during winter months. Cretan Raki does not contain anise, so it is not to be confused with the Turkish version.


The term raki entered English from Turkish rakı.[3] The Arabic word arak (Arabic: عرق [ʕaraq]),[4] means "distilled", other variants being araka, araki, ariki.[5] The Teleuts, who are a Turkic ethnic group living in Siberia, use the term arakı for wine and other alcoholic drinks.[6] Additionally, in Ancient Greek the Grape (main ingredient for wine) was called ῥάξ (Greek pronunciation: [raks]).[7]


Where or when raki was first produced is unknown. It is first mentioned by the Ottoman explorer Evliya Çelebi during his travels in 1630. In his Book of Travels he reports that ancient people produced their own raki in small towns.[8]

Until the last decades of the 19th century, the production of raki was done exclusively "at home", ie there was no mass industrial production. Colorless alcoholic beverages had long been consumed throughout the Mediterranean, known by various names: tsipouro, raki, arak, grappa. These are distilled from the by-products of wine, exploiting the vineyard as much as possible.

In the Ottoman Empire, until the 19th century, meyhanes run by Rûm (Greeks) and Albanians[9] would mainly serve wine along with meze, due to religious restrictions imposed by various sultans. Although there were many Muslims among meyhane attendants, the authorities could, at times, prosecute them. With the relatively liberal atmosphere of the Tanzimat period (1839–1876), meyhane attendance among Muslims rose considerably, and raki became a favorite among meyhane-goers. By the end of the century, raki took its current standard form and its consumption surpassed that of wine.

During this period, rakı was produced by distillation of grapes pomace (cibre) obtained during wine fermentation. When the amount of pomace was not sufficient, alcohol imported from Europe would be added. If aniseed was not added, it would take the name düz rakı ('straight rakı'), whereas rakı prepared with the addition of gum mastic was named sakız rakısı ('gum rakı') or mastikha (Greek: μαστίχη).

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the modern-day Republic of Turkey, grape-based rakı began to be distilled by the state-owned spirits monopoly Tekel, with the first factory production taking place in 1944 in Izmir. With increasing sugar beet production, Tekel also began to distill the alcohol from molasses, and a new brand of raki made from sugar-beet alcohol was introduced under the name Yeni Rakı ('new rakı'). Molasses gave Yeni Rakı a distinctive bitter taste and helped increase the drink's popularity.

Today, with increased competition from the private sector, and the privatization of Tekel in 2004, several new brands and types of raki have emerged, each with its own distinct composition and production method, although the overall qualities of the drink have generally been kept consistent. These include Efe Rakı, Çilingir Rakı, Mercan Rakı, Fasıl Rakı, Burgaz Rakı, Ata Rakı, and Anadolu Rakı. Sarı Zeybek Rakısı, another recent brand, is aged in oak casks, which gives it a distinctive golden colour.


Raki is traditionally produced from raisin/grape spirit called suma that is distilled to a maximum of 94.55% abv. This spirit is not highly rectified spirit and unlike other flavoured spirits Raki producers consider that the suma has an important role to play in the flavour of Raki itself.

The suma, or suma mixed with highly rectified spirit, is diluted with water re-distilled with aniseed and the spirit is collected at around 79-80% abv. The flavoured distillate is diluted and sweetened and rested for minimum of 30 days prior to sale in order to allow the flavours to harmonize.

Serving and drinking

Toasting with rakı, in typical rakı glasses

In Turkey, rakı is the national drink and is traditionally consumed with chilled water on the side or partly mixed with chilled water, according to personal preference. Rakı is rarely consumed without the addition of water. Ice cubes are often added. Dilution with water causes rakı to turn a milky-white colour, similar to the louche of absinthe. This phenomenon has resulted in the drink being popularly referred to aslan sütü ('lion's milk').[10] Since aslan ('lion') is a Turkish colloquial metaphor for a strong, courageous man, this gives the term a meaning close to 'the milk for the strong'.

Rakı is commonly consumed alongside meze, a selection of hot and cold appetizers, as well as at a rakı sofrası ('rakı table'), either before a full dinner or instead of it. It is especially popular with seafood, together with fresh arugula, beyaz peynir and melon. It is an equally popular complement to various red meat dishes like kebabs, where it is sometimes served with a glass of şalgam.

The founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was very fond of rakı, drinking up to a half-litre daily (he died from cirrhosis of the liver), and his late-night rakı sofrası sessions were his favourite place to debate issues with his closest friends and advisors.[11][12][13]

Types and brands

A bottle of Greek Rakı.

Standard rakı is a grape product, though it may be produced from figs as well. Rakı produced from figs, particularly popular in the southern provinces of Turkey, is called incir boğması, incir rakısı ("fig rakı"), or in Arabic, tini. Tekel ceased producing fig rakı in 1947.

There are two methods of Turkish rakı production. One method uses raisins and other grapes. Yeni Rakı is produced from raisins and Tekirdağ Rakısı is produced from grapes. Fresh grape rakı is like ouzo but has a higher alcohol content.

Suma rakı, i.e. distilled rakı prior to the addition of aniseed, is generally produced from raisins but raki factories around established wine-producing areas like Tekirdağ, Nevşehir, and İzmir may also use fresh grapes for higher quality. Recently, yaş üzüm rakısı ("fresh-grape raki") has become more popular in Turkey. The maker of a recent brand, Efe Rakı, was the first company to produce raki exclusively of fresh grape suma, called Efe Yaş Üzüm Rakısı (Efe Fresh Grape Raki). Tekirdağ Altın Seri (Tekirdağ Golden Series) followed the trend and many others have been produced by other companies.

The best-known and popular brands of rakı, however, remain Yeni Rakı, originally produced by Tekel, which transferred production rights to Mey Alkol upon the 2004 privatization of Tekel, and Tekirdağ Rakısı from the region of Tekirdağ, which is famous for its characteristic flavour, believed to be due to the artesian waters of Çorlu used in its production. Yeni Rakı has an alcohol content of 45% and 1.5 grams of aniseed per liter; Tekirdağ Rakısı is 45% ABV and has 1.7 grams of aniseed per liter. There are also two top-quality brands called Kulüp Rakısı and Altınbaş, each with 50% ABV.

Dip rakısı ("bottom rakı") is the rakı that remains in the bottom of the tanks during production. Bottom rakı is thought to best capture the dense aroma and flavour of the spirit, and is also called özel rakı ("special raki"). It is not generally available commercially; instead, rakı factories reserve it as a prestigious gift for large clients.


Aniseed-flavoured Rakı, has been celebrated as a festival in Adana and Northern Cyprus since 2010. World Rakı Festival in Adana, emerged from a hundred-year tradition of enjoying Adana kebab, with liver, şalgam and rakı. The event turned into a nationwide popular street festival, street musicians playing drums and zurna, entertain visitors all night long at the second Saturday night of every December.[14] North Cyprus Rakı Festival is a week long festival taking place in Girne, Lefkoşa and Gazi Mağusa.[15]

Other uses

In Crete tsikoudia is a pomace brandy that is sometimes called rakı but made from grapes. It is used to make rakomelo, which is flavored with honey and cinnamon and is served warm during winter months.[16]

See also


  1. "How to drink raki: A crash course in Turkey's signature drink - CNN Travel". CNN.
  2. "How to drink raki: A crash course in Turkey's signature drink - CNN Travel". CNN.
  3. "raki." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 2 September 2009.
  4. "rakı" (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  5. "Traditional Turkish Drinks". Archived from the original on 15 September 2008.
  6. L.T Ryumina Sirkaseva, N.A Kucigaseva, "Teleut Agzi Sozlugu", TDK Yayinlari, Ankara 2000
  7. "How did 14 popular drinks get their names". 27 October 2016.
  8. Gostin, Alina-Ioana; Bogueva, Diana; Kakurinov, Vladimir, eds. (2021). Nutritional and Health Aspects of Food in the Balkans. Academic Press. p. 268. ISBN 9780128207864.
  9. Music of the Sirens, Inna Naroditskaya, Linda Phyllis Austern, Indiana University Press, p.290
  10. "Get Cooking, Fine Living Fans!". Cooking channel. Archived from the original on 12 September 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  11. Gábor Ágoston; Bruce Alan Masters (2008). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. p. 60. ISBN 0-8160-6259-5.
  12. Geoffrey L. Lewis (1999). The Turkish language reform: a catastrophic success. p. 42. ISBN 0-19-823856-8.
  13. Kenyon, Peter (7 June 2013). "Not Everyone Cheers Turkey's Move To Tighten Alcohol Rules". NPR. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  14. "Rakıcılar bir kez daha "Dünya Rakı Günü"nde buluşuyor" (in Turkish). CNN. 27 November 2014.
  15. "Kıbrıs Rakı Festivali". kibrisrakifestivali.com (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 23 August 2018.
  16. Planet, Lonely; Averbuck, Alexis; Armstrong, Kate; Miller, Korina; Waters, Richard (1 January 2016). Lonely Planet Crete. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-76034-020-9.


  • Forbes, Robert, J. (1997). Short History of the Art of Distillation from the Beginnings Up to the Death of Cellier Blumenthal (hardcover ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-04-00617-6.
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