What is rum?

Rum is an alcoholic spirit made from sugar cane. First produced in the 1600s in the Caribbean, rum can be made from sugar cane juice or from molasses, a rich, dark by-product of sugar production that provides an earthy flavour note.

In both cases, the liquid is left to ferment, and is then distilled to draw off the alcohol. The alcohol is then diluted with water. Rum is naturally clear, but colour and flavour comes from storage in barrels. However, some cheaper rums get their golden colour from the addition of caramel.

Rums of all kinds are used in popular cocktails, especially those with tropical names and ingredients. Rum and cola is the best known drink, popularised by the Andrews Sisters' WWII song, 'Rum and Coca-Cola'.

Mix up some delicious drinks with our top rum cocktail recipes.

How to cook rum

Darker Caribbean rums work in many sweet or savoury dishes. Chicken and tomato stews benefit from a splash of rum, especially when combined with lime juice or zest. Dark rum also works well in barbecue sauces and marinades, again with lime juice and/or zest. A splash of dark rum and lime over grilled seafood or stir-fried prawns is also delicious, with or without chilli sauce.

Dark rum can also perk up marmalade and a tropical fruit salad, but be careful not to overpower the fruit.

Sliced fresh pineapple with a little rum, Angostura bitters and/or lime zest is wonderful grilled and served warm.

White rums are slightly too fragile to use in cooking, but can be used in creamy desserts like panna cotta, or in jellies that contain tropical fruits like mango. Remember not to add pineapple, though, as this will keep the jelly from setting properly.

How to store rum

Once opened, the flavour and freshness will deteriorate over time. Seal well and keep in a cool, dark place to minimise the effect of air on the rum. Or, decant into smaller bottles and keep sealed until you're ready to drink.

Where can I buy rum?

Widely available in a variety of styles, strengths and flavours.

Choose the best rum

While rum was traditionally associated with sailors, there's now a sophisticated variety of rums available for any drinker, including aged and flavoured rums.

To choose the rum that best suits your tastes, first decide if you'll be drinking it with mixers or on its own.

Caribbean rums are generally the darkest available, and usually have clear notes of molasses.

French-Caribbean rums are sold as 'rhum', and most as 'rhum agricole' – this signifies that they've been made from sugar cane juice, and have light, vegetal notes of sugar cane.

Rum from Spanish-speaking regions, sold as 'ron' or 'ron anejo', are generally thought to be smoother-tasting than Caribbean or South American rums.

White rum is simply young, fresh rum that has not been coloured by ageing in oak barrels.

Golden rums are neither white nor dark, but often have a mellow flavour due to being aged in bourbon casks. This also imparts sweeter, fruity qualities. These rums can be very expensive.

Each area has different regulations concerning strength and ageing, details of which are usually found on the bottle. As with other spirits, rum does not mature further once bottled.

Other rum-making locations have different rules: in Australia, for example, rum is sold as dark, red or white. Red rum is overproof (or over 40% proof – a 100% proof spirit is 50% alcohol, so a 40% proof spirit is 20% alcohol, and so on).

Now read our rum taste test for expert reviews on the best rums out there.