AskDefine | Define hippocras

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A cordial made of spiced wine, etc.
    • 1882: Spiced wine, sweetened with sugar or honey, perhaps the original of the modern liqueur, was employed occasionally under the name of hippocras. — James Edwin Thorold Rogers, A History of Agriculture and Prices in England, Volume 4, p. 641.

Extensive Definition

Hypocras (various spellings include ypocras, hippocras and hipocras) is a drink made from wine, possibly heated, and mixed with spices, most notably cinnamon. Its invention was traditionally attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates (5th century BCE), whose name would have been given to the concoction. Actually, the drink is first mentioned in texts from the mid 12th century, and the word is encountered for the first time two centuries later.


The Romans were already familiar with spiced wines and drank them often (Pline, Apicius). Since the 12th century, a spiced wine named "pimen" or "piment" has been mentioned by Chrétien de Troyes. During the 13th century, the city of Montpellier had a reputation for trading spiced wines with England. The first recipes of spiced wine appeared at the end of the 13th century (recipes for claret and piment found in the Tractatus de Modo) or at the beginning of the 14th century (recipe for piment in the Regiment de Sanitat of Arnaldus de Villa Nova). The recipes of piment mainly come from Catalonia or France (Occitan language). Since 1390, the recipes for piment have been called ipocras or ypocras (Forme of Cury in England, Ménagier de Paris or Viandier de Taillevent in France), probably with reference and tribute to Hippocrates.
Apparently, the recipe for hypocras was brought back to Europe from the Orient, following the crusades. The drink became extremely popular and was regarded as having various medicinal, or even aphrodisiac properties.
Since the 16th century, the word has been generally spelled hipocras or hippocras in English and hypocras in French. We are able to find these recipes until the 19th century. This wine is made with sugar and spices. Sugar then was considered to be medicine and the spices varied according to the recipes. The main spices are : cinnamon, ginger, clove, grains of paradise and long pepper. An English text specifies that sugar was uniquely for the lords and honey was for the people. Since the 17th century, spiced wines, in France, have been generally prepared with fruits (apples, oranges, almonds) and musk or ambergris. In England, in 1723, there was a recipe for red hipocrass containing milk and brandy. The drink was well liked during medieval and Elizabethan times. Moreover, doctors prescribed it to aid digestion. It was served at most banquets all over Europe.
The drink was highly prized during the high and late Middle Ages. In France, it has been noted as the favorite drink of notorious baron Gilles de Rais, who reportedly drank several bottles every day. Later, King Louis XIV of France was also known to enjoy it. In those times, the drink was a highly valued present item, like jam and fruit preserves. Hypocras fell out of fashion and was forgotten during the 18th century.
In France, Ypocras it is still produced in the Ariège and Haute Loire areas, though in very small quantities. It may be used either for drinking, when it is served chilled before meals, or it may appear as an ingredient in sauces. We also find it served in numerous medieval feasts all over Europe.

A recipe

Medieval sources are extremely imprecise, as is always the case with cooking recipes, so there's no one fixed way to prepare hypocras. Cinnamon and ginger are necessary, but other spices, and the amount used, are highly variable. The need to heat the concoction is also subject to debate.
For three quarts/liters of hypocras
  • 3 litres of white or red wine
  • 180 grams brown sugar, or alternatively, honey
  • 3 large soup spoons of honey, or alternatively, some fruit syrup
  • 30 grams powdered or grated cinnamon
  • 2 large soup spoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 coffee spoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 coffee spoon mace (spice), plus cloves and cardamom, everything being crushed to powder
  • 1 pinch black pepper
-Crush all the spices in a mortar, and put it in a large bowl.
-Moisten the mix with a small amount of wine.
-Add the sugar. (If you use honey, heat it in a bain-marie to make it liquid.)
-Heat the wine on a very low fire. Do not let it boil.
-Add the spice soup to the hot wine.
Pour the mix into jars and let it rest for a week, then strain and filter before bottling.
Let the hypocras rest for at least a month before drinking. Sealed bottles will keep for years, but once opened, the contents are better drunk within the week.
hippocras in French: hypocras
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