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A Caribbean drink

As long as consumed in moderation, rum can be beneficial to the heart.

NAVY NEATERS: If imbibed judicially, alcohol raises the blood levels of "good cholesterol."

Fifteen men on the dead man's chest-

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil had done for the rest

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

— Treasure Island

WHEN A French sniper at the battle of Trafalgar (1805) killed Admiral Horatio Nelson -- the legendary, one-eyed British naval commander of HMS Victory, his grieving shipmates brought his body home in an oak cask full of rum.

Since then, Nelson's Blood became an epithet for rum, which itself is a contraction of rumbullion- Devonshire slang for "great tumult".

Other sobriquets include Pirate's Drink, Navy Neaters, Kill-Devil, Grog, Barbados Water and Demon Water. Each nickname tells a tale about rum's associations with the high seas and the Caribbean.

Grog, for example, is a mixture of limejuice, rum and water that the British navy rationed to sailors to keep scurvy and mutinous discontent at bay.

Slave traffickers paid for the slave ships with rum, and mercenaries fought for wages in rum rations.

BARBADOS WATER: Temperance is the key.

The sweltering heat of the Caribbean is ideal for growing sugarcane, and rum is a fermented distillate of molasses -- a by-product of sugar manufacturing.

The strain of yeast used in fermentation, the quality of the oak used for aging, the distillation and blending method and the added flavours influence the colour, taste and quality of rum.

Dark, heavy rum has strong molasses flavour, while the lighter-coloured rums have flavour that is more neutral. Caramel sweetens rum and lends it an amber hue. Bacardi Rum is the world's largest selling spirit brand. The calorie count of rum depends on more than just the alcohol content.

Additives like caramel, leftover unfermented molasses and other sugars make it higher in calories than other hard liquors.

A gram of alcohol contains seven Calories: this makes hard liquors like rum, which can contain more than 45 per cent pure alcohol, dieting pitfalls for the weight-conscious.

Unless diluted, they irritate the lining of the gullet and the stomach.

Chronic irritation of this sort can lead to cancer. They can aggravate existing gut ulcers, and they tend to overwhelm the liver's alcohol-mopping systems. In the end, alcohol abuse destroys the liver, raises the risk of heart disease, damages the brain and weakens the immune system.

Small doses, on the other hand, have disease-preventive properties. A unit of alcohol a day will lower the risk of heart attacks, according to a recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine. If rum is your favourite poison, there is no reason to stop drinking yet, as long as you do it sensibly. In moderate amounts, alcohol raises the blood levels of "good cholesterol" (High Density Lipoproteins), which protects blood vessels from fats that can damage them.

Alcohol also prevents platelet aggregation-thereby preventing clots from forming in the first place.

This lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

According to some studies, drinking alcohol in such moderate amounts confers health benefits that beat even a tee-totalling lifestyle. Let the grog flow!


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