Habu Sake or Habushu is an alcohol beverage from the Island of Okinawa.
While stationed in Japan and doing my share of bar hopping you could not help but come across a jar of Habu Sake. The first time I saw it and was told what it was I thought to myself why in the world would anyone want to drink sake that has a snake in. I myself have never had Habu Sake. Just could never get past the snake.
While Habu Sake or Okinawa Snake Wine is named after the Habu snake. The habu snake belongs to the pit viper family and is closely related to the american rattler and copperheads. If bitten by a habu snake it can cause nausea, vomiting, hypotension, and possibly death.
The awamori is first mixed with herbs and honey giving the clear liquid a yellow hue. A Habu is then inserted into the liquid and stored until consumed. Most brands of habu sake come with the snake still inside the bottle.
There are two methods of inserting the snake into the alcohol. The maker may choose to simply submerge the snake in the alcohol and seal the bottle, thus drowning the snake. Alternatively, the snake may be put on ice until it passes out, at which point it is gutted, bled and sewn up. When the viper is thawed and awakens, it will quickly die in an aggressive striking manner, which is what most producers look for. The manufacturer will then put the habu in an ethanol bath for a month to preserve it. To continue the process, the habu is put in a 59% alcohol mix for 40 days and finally put in a 35% awamori mix to prepare for consumption.
A main distributor of habu sake uses around 5,000 habu snakes per year. It is a very popular item amongst Americans in the military stationed in Japan. The distillery uses crushed rice and Koji mold to produce the awamori that goes into the habu sake. It is a typical practice to age the awamori for a longer period.
Appreciated since ancient times, habu sake is believed by some to have medicinal properties. A habu can go without eating anything for as long as a year and still have immense energy. Another desired trait that is thought to be passed on is the positive effect on the male libido. A habu snake is able to mate for as long as 26 hours, which causes some to believe that a drink of habushu may help sexual dysfunction in men. It is thought that these strengths get passed on to those who drink habu sake.
Some Okinawans who know where Habu snakes are found collect large numbers of them and use their bodies to make Habu sake. This strong liquor is often drunk from bottles containing the remains of a Habu snake itself. It is also believed to have medicinal qualities.
The toxicity of Habu snake venom is neutralized by alcohol during the process of preparing habu sake. A jar or a bottle of Habu sake may contain a complete snake that has been submerged in alcohol and may have a strong smell, but the drink has a less obnoxious smell when the snake’s guts are removed before it is submerged.
If it is true that Habu sake has a positive affect on health, then it is also possible that its consumption has contributed to the longevity of the Okinawan population. The potent drink is also supposed to increase virility, having a similar effect to taking Viagra, a belief probably having its roots in the fact that habu snake take hours when they mate.
Some of the oldest living people are in Okinawa. So maybe I should have tried some that sake while I was living in Japan.
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