Unless you have a knack for all things dangerous, bizarre or weird, you’ll most likely find this popular alcohol beverage from Okinawa (沖縄) pretty scary.
After all, who in their right minds would intentionally breed poisonous snakes only to gut them out and preserve them for weeks just so their venom can be mixed with the popular local wine? It’s unthinkable!
But then again, Japan’s always been a stunning hub for bizarre things that will either blow your mind in amazement or make you squirm in discomfort. It’s part of what makes the country a must-see destination for global tourists. It seems that sake, being a popular traditional drink, is no exception to bizarre upgrades and experimentations!
A habu snake is a venomous, native snake that popularly resides around the southeast Asian region, including the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom (琉球王国), now known as Okinawa. People in the past saw the potential of the habu snakes to minimize the rising population of the mongoose, which while helpful in eating insects, rats, and pests, also causes significant destruction to the land’s natural fauna.
However, allowing the snakes to hunt down mongooses also paved the way to the increase in their own population which has proven to be dangerous in the long run. Habu snakes are, after all, venomous. Local residents have started to worry about their own safety, which may be in danger if the snake’s population isn’t contained.
Eventually, the locals managed to contain these poisonous creatures and used them for some practical purposes such as an added attraction or effect on their local Awamori (泡盛) wine. From there, certain wine distributors have specifically hunted and bred these habu snakes for wine-making purposes.
In a nutshell, it’s basically gutting out the snake and preserving them in an ethanol bath for a month. But the actual method of creating them takes more time than that. There are two known methods on how the wine is created.
For the first method, the snake is submerged in a large bottle of alcohol which is then sealed. The snake will perish inside. The second involves placing the snake on ice until it passes out. From there, winemakers can gut them, and remove their blood.
From these two procedures, winemakers then prepare the secret mix of herbs and wine to create the smooth and unique taste of the drink where the snake is supposed to be submerged, ready for public selling. While both of these methods are practiced by habu sake creators in Okinawa, the second method is preferable as it removes the strong and foul smell that the habu snake emits.
A number of people who drink this unique beverage have argued that habu sake has some astounding health benefits.
One is the increase in stamina and physical energy. They attribute this to the fact that habu snakes have an immense tenacity and can live for weeks with just water. One buyer has also reported that drinking the wine helped her sleep soundly through the night in contrast to her usual insomniac issues.
While these may seem like enough of a reason to give it a try, there are no proven medical findings that the claimed medicinal benefits of the said drink actually exist. Moreover, experts warn drinkers to be cautious, especially if you have some stomach problems.
While your stomach acid and the alcohol mixture can ultimately dissolve the snake venom, there is no guarantee that you’ll feel well after drinking a glass or two if you happen to be suffering from a stomach wound.
Prices vary depending on the size and the distributor. Of course, if the point is to get something that’s entirely unique, then having the wine and snake-filled choice is the best way to go, but it’s also the most expensive pick at around 130,000 JPY (1,100 USD). Cheaper choices can be priced at 80-84 USD depending on the content volume and concentration.
Wine might be your favorite company beverage to relax and enjoy a good chat with your friends. But will you still feel the same with an added snake ingredient? There’s only one way to find out!