The Mysterious Origin Of The Bahama Mama Cocktail

Bahama Mama cocktail in a pineapple
Bahama Mama cocktail in a pineapple - Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock

There's nothing quite like kicking back with a tropical drink on or near the ocean to make you feel relaxed. And while you may not have a beach to hand, you can always make drinks like this in the comfort of your own home for that little taste of paradise. We're talking concoctions such as the Tequila Sunrise, the Piña Colada, or maybe the most classic of them all, the Bahama Mama: a mixture of pineapple juice, orange juice, rum, and grenadine (and maybe some other tropical flavors tossed in there depending on your personal preference).

But where did the Bahama Mama come from in the first place? It turns out that we don't know for sure, as this is another example of a disputed food origin story with multiple plausible explanations. It could've been named after a calypso singer who used the stage name "Bahama Mama" in the 1950s, or it could've been named after the Bahamas' use as a popular smuggling port for rum during the Prohibition Era. Heck, we don't even know for sure when the Bahama Mama first came into existence, and whether it was the '30s or decades later.

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The Cocktail Was Likely Named After A Caribbean Stage Performer

A Bahama Mama cocktail in a glass with pineapple wedges
A Bahama Mama cocktail in a glass with pineapple wedges - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

As noted, this isn't the only instance where a popular food has origin stories that range relatively broadly. Buffalo wings have different creation stories that come from the same source, and chicken à la king has no less than five plausible origin stories. Heck, we're not even sure where hot dog buns really came from. Even though it's a drink rather than a full dish, the Bahama Mama fits right into this same mold.

The most popular origin story is that the cocktail is named after the original "Bahama Mama": Dottie Lee Anderson, a Caribbean calypso performer in Nassau in the mid-20th century. Anderson actually went by several stage names, including "The Nassau Sizzler" and "The Calypso Hip Wiggler," but she was best known as "The Bahama Mama." Still, there's no evidence that the drink itself predates her career.

In fact, the hardest evidence we have is that it was created in the early 1950s. Interestingly, the dating here does eliminate another possible origin story: the claimed creation of the cocktail by Bahamian bartender Oswald Greenslade of the Nassau Beach Hotel, who started work in 1961. We can pretty safely rule that one out.

The Bahama Mama Could Have Also Been Named After Prohibition

A view of a Nassau harborside
A view of a Nassau harborside - Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

Then again, "Bahama Mama" is the sort of catchy, assonant phrase that feels like it was just waiting to appear in the lexicon, and Dottie Lee Anderson wasn't the first person to come up with it. The first reference we know of is from a 1932 song called "Bahama Mama: That Goombay Tune." In this vein, another compelling explanation is that the drink was actually named after Prohibition. In the Prohibition Era of 1920 to 1933, when alcohol was illegal in the United States, the Bahamas became such a huge base for rum smuggling and alcohol tourism that it actually transformed the country's economy almost overnight.

Prohibition spawned all sorts of culinary innovations (including, weirdly enough, the restaurant kids' menu), and it's easy to believe that the drink might have been named after (or even created during) that time. In the absence of any hard evidence, it's impossible to say when the first Bahama Mama was created or who it was named after. Ultimately, this is likely to remain one of the culinary world's great unsolved mysteries.

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