What Is Rum and How Do You Cook With It?

T-bone steak rum flambe
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Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts like molasses, honey, or juice. Traditionally thought as originating from Barbados, enslaved people first discovered that molasses fermented into alcohol. Rum was the first branded spirit ever made and is known as the spirit that pirates drank in the Caribbean. Rations of rum were also provided to Royal Navy sailors along with lime juice as it helped to fight off scurvy.

How Rum Is Made

Caribbean rum is prepared by being aged in barrels for an extended period of time to get a strong flavor. Hints of spices and caramel can often be found in aged rum. Rum is often served in a mixed drink like a cocktail, classic mojito, or fruity daiquiri.

The flavor of rum can be sweet or dry depending on the aging process, barrel type used, and form of sugarcane used. For a more robust flavor in your recipe, choose a dark rum. Similarly, for a more subtle taste, choose a light rum. Rums are often understood through categories of color, such as the following:

  • Light or white: Signals mild rum
  • Gold or amber: Rum has spent time in a barrel.
  • Dark or black: Cask-aged for a long time and tastes like whiskey

Cooking With Rum

When using flavored or spiced rums, be sure the flavor or spice is complementary to your main ingredient. Jamaican rum is considered the strongest in flavor because of its longer fermentation process which utilizes previously-used yeast. 

Also make sure to review core information and tips on alcohol cookery by learning how to cook with alcohol. For example, before using rum in a flamed presentation, read about flambé cooking. Additionally, be sure to divulge your use of rum to guests as the slightest hint of alcohol in a dish can be harmful to those with allergies and recovering alcoholics.


Rum extract may be substituted for small amounts of rum (no more than 1/4 cup) in many recipes. Brandy or cognac may often be substituted for rum in equal amounts, but expect the obvious change in flavor. For other substitution options, consult an alcohol substitution chart.


  • 2 tablespoons rum = 1/2 to 1 teaspoon rum extract. If the liquid is an important part of the recipe, add enough water or apple juice to make up the difference.
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum = 2 tablespoons rum extract
  • 5 tablespoons light rum = 1 tablespoon rum extract.


Explore many delicious recipes like ceviche, sorbet, and tropical turkey that require rum for cooking. A few of our favorites include banana flambe, malibu rum cake, wassail, rum-runner chicken, and more.