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Pot-Pourri: Weird Things People Drink

Pot-Pourri: Weird Things People Drink

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  13 Feb 2019 12:12 PM GMT

Parag Phukan

How would you react to on being served whiskey with a fully preserved cobra in it? Or a glass of wine made of human placenta or that of a pig? Weird, isn’t it? But in some countries of the world and among certain races, these are considered rare delicacies! People would pay through their nose to relish such weird drinks. Actually, food habits and the taste buds of people living in one climatic or cultural condition can vary so much that at times can become beyond the imagination of people living in some different location. Food and drinks relished by a lot to their hearts’ content might be obnoxious to some others. Availability or local history also plays its role. Without looking at elsewhere, our own country, a conglomerate of innumerable culture and heritage, diversity in food habits is astounding.

During the process of evolution, humans learnt to eat and drink variety of things from parents, family members or society, some emulated from other culture, some discovered accidentally and some others by experimentation. Availability of certain edible things in a particular area also played a role. Before humans learnt to create and use fire for cooking, scientists believe that they were largely vegetarians, sustaining on fruits or similar. But evidences of humans eating raw meat and bone marrows of animals and birds also have been found. Discovery of fire and learning to eat cooked or roasted meat and other items was definitely one of the greatest turning points in the evolution of homo-sapiens. Cooked food provided more calories and the human brain started developing fast and civilizations started flourishing. Human beings learnt to create fire some 700,000 year ago.

Knowledge about fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages was indeed another important turning point in human evolution. Probably it was discovered accidentally. Brewing alcohol from locally available raw materials and enjoying drinking dates back to many centuries, world over. Reference of som-rasa in old Indian mythology is a case in point. In early 2700 BC, beer was a major beverage among Babylonians who even worshiped wine goddess and deities. Wine brewing was done very religiously. During old Greek civilization, alcoholic beverages were widely used. Alcohol became a universal beverage from time immemorial and beverages like tea and coffee came at a much later period. But the process of brewing and raw materials varied from culture to culture, location to location.

People in different locations of the world also started experimenting in brewing and drinking beverages, alcoholic or otherwise, using bizarre raw materials like the two mentioned in the beginning. In South East Asia and China snake, scorpion or lizard wine is believed to have many health benefits. To improve performance, Chinese athletes used wine made from the private part of a male deer. Peruvians are fond of frog juice. People in Arctic drink wine made from dead seagulls. In Canada, a mummified human toe dipped in alcohol is very popular. Apart from these there are many weird beverages brewed and relished in different countries of the world, like wine made from tender bodies of baby mice, tequila (a Mexican alcohol) with silver and gold, whiskey infused with reindeer horn etc. The list is endless. In this context, Indians taking cow urine (gau-mutra) based ‘medicines’ also need mention.

But the weirdest beverage that people greatly relish probably is Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world. The raw material for this great Indonesian beverage is virtually animal excreta. In Indonesian language, Bahasa Indonesia, ‘kopi’ means coffee and ‘luwak’ is Asian Palm Civet. Civet is also referred to as ‘musang’ locally. Hence, Kopi Luwak is also known as Civet Coffee. Asian Palm Civet is a cat like animal with a long furry tail, a native to South East Asia, mainly found in the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi. Kopi Luwak was first prepared from partly digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by Civets in wilderness. The wild civets chose and eat the healthiest coffee cherries. Fermentation occurs to the coffee cherries in their intestines and when defecated after a day or so with other fecal matters, the poop is collected, cleaned a multiple times to recover undigested seeds. Those were then dried, roasted and ground to make this now world famous beverage that has a unique aroma and an extraordinary taste.

It all started when the Indonesian archipelago became a Dutch colony for a long time. The Dutch people found the climate suitable for coffee plantation and did it in a big way as a cash crop with imported Arabica seeds from Yemen in eighteenth century. They employed native laborers in the plantations but debarred the natives from plucking coffee cherries for their personal use. But the natives found an alternative way to relish the beverage. They found that wild civets roaming in and around the plantations eat and poop out some undigested coffee seeds, actually to mark their operational areas. They collected the droppings, cleaned and prepared their own brew. The fame of the improved aroma and taste of the coffee brewed that way reached their masters and soon became their favorite too.

As on date hardly 500 KGs of this genuine brown gold is produced, not from wild civet poops but from caged ones in farms. A lot of spurious product is also available in the market. Sumatra is the world’s largest regional producer of Kopi Luwak. Some of it is also produced in Philippines and Vietnam. The price of the brew is extraordinarily high, can cost up to 1200 Dollars a KG. Price of a cup of average coffee in a regular shop is around 2 to 5 dollars against 35 to 100 dollars a cup for this special brew. But people who can afford it swear by its taste! We live in a crazy, crazy world indeed!

(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at paragphukan13@gmail.com.)

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