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  • Writer's pictureSiti Syazreen Mahdzim

Discovering One Of Southeast Asia's Bizzarre Drink: Snake Wine

Writer: Siti Syazreen Mohd Mahdzim

Editor: NorFara Faziera Moh Razali


Photo Source: Google


Vietnamese snake wine is renowned for its odd production process and uses venomous snakes and rice wine or grain alcohol as its primary ingredients. Traditional Chinese medicine claims that making wine from a snake's "essence" may treat everything from arthritis to hair loss. Although poisonous snakes are thought to be particularly potent, the ethanol in the wine dissolves any venom. The beverage is frequently promoted as an aphrodisiac that boosts testosterone. Each bottle of wine normally contains one big snake. To enhance the flavour or add medicinal qualities, they might add herbs, roots, fruit, or tiny snakes, scorpions, or geckos. They will pour rice wine into the bottle and let it steep for months (whisky is a common substitute in Thailand and Laos). The flavour of rice wine is frequently characterised as as woody and mildly sweet, while the taste of fish or meat is added by the snake. The addition of different herbs or spices might occasionally give the wine a vegetal medicinal flavour and scent.


However, you might not get such a great response if you ask tourists or those who have never had the beverage. Even though most people are able to swallow it, they often seem to regret it later. According to them, the odour is strong and somewhat suggestive of rotting meat or a dead animal. It has a strong, overall bitter, sour, earthy flavour. You might want to follow it up with something to make the aftertaste more bearable because it does not get any better.


The History of Snake Wine


Photo Source: BBC News


In certain parts of the world, snake combined with alcohol has long been known to provide therapeutic benefits. During the Western Zhou dynasty, snake wine was first noted in Chinese history (771 BC). The oldest Chinese traditional medicinal system still in existence, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, describes the therapeutic uses of snakes. In between 300 BC and 200 AD, it was put together. Chinese medicine and natural history encyclopaedia Bencao Gangmu, published in the 16th century, goes into great detail regarding the use of various snake body parts, faeces, and preparations.


Chinese journalist and revolutionary historian Yang Jisheng was treated with snake bile for illnesses he contracted while imprisoned in 1554. Ancient Greeks have used snake wine to cure retained placentas, and European traditional healers and herbalists have infused vodka with calamus roots and tiny snakes. However, in Brazil, snakes are steeped in fermented sugar cane juice for religious reasons as well as to treat rheumatism, impotence, and insect bites. While alcohol-based snake medications have been utilised for centuries in a variety of contexts across all continents, Asia, notably Cambodia, China, and Vietnam, is currently where the practise is most common.


Production and Preparation of Snake Wine


Photo Source: BBC News


Snake wine can be made in a number different methods. You can ferment the entire poisonous snake while it's still alive, only the blood and bile after it has just been dispatched, or just the meat.


The live snake is initially submerged in alcohol, preferably at a concentration of 50%, before being sealed for preservation. Given that the ratio of live snake to wine is 1:10, 5 kg of alcohol must be steeped with 500 grammes of snake. After then, it is kept for at least two months before being consumed. However, marinating for six months or longer improves the medicinal impact. The snake can also be killed directly and its blood and bile mixed with the selected distilled liquor. Another choice is to marinade the snake's meat in rice wine or another alcoholic beverage. Fresh snake flesh is cleaned with water and then sterilised with white wine for about five minutes before being soaked in the alcohol. The ratio of wine to snake should be about 1:5, and the meat should mature for three months before consumption. If you'd like, you can enhance the wine's medical benefits and flavour profile by adding Chinese herbal remedies, as well as other spices and herbs.


The Negative Aspect of Snake Wine

While snake wine may be common and accepted in Asia, it may not be viewed favourably elsewhere. To begin with, snakes are required to create this beverage, and while the trade in wildlife does occur, it is not permitted in other nations.


According to a Brazilian study, the trade in snakes is widespread but sometimes unregulated, which could lead to overexploitation of these animals, particularly endangered species. To understand the effect of this practise on the snake population, it is important to know how many snakes are utilised for therapeutic purposes. However, accurate statistics are lacking in this area.


As Alice Hughes, Benjamin Marshall, and Colin Strine noted, the scenario is the same in Vietnam. They went into great depth in their research to demonstrate the damage that the unregulated wildlife trade poses to thousands of reptile species. Unbalance in the environment is one of the effects of this issue. According to a research from Vietnam, the issue of fewer snakes results in an increase in rats, which harm rice farms.


Additionally, considering that snake wine is not extensively distributed in other nations, you can consider making your own batch. However, because a potentially harmful living animal is involved, it is not safe. Granted, the snake usually dies because it was immersed in alcohol for a long time, but that isn't always the case.


The 2013 incident in which a Chinese woman was bitten by a snake that had been marinated in sorghum wine for three months is possibly the most infamous case of snake wine. According to reports, Liu from Shuangcheng suffered from rheumatism, which she attempted to treat with snake wine.


Despite the fact that most people consider snakes to be dangerous, some people find the practise of creating snake wine to be inhumane. Some people get agitated and scared just thinking about a live snake being sliced open to drain its blood or drowned in alcohol. Because of this, snake wine is illegal in other nations.

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