Liquor Can Al­le­vi­ate Heat Too

China Scenic - - Cover Story -

Ac­cord­ing to the records in Mis­cel­la­neous­morsels­fromy­ouyang (a Tang col­lec­tion of notes and sto­ries), the schol­ars and aris­to­crats of Tang times would pick lo­tus leaves, with the stem at­tached, and hang them above their ink stone case.

Then they’d use a hair­pin to prick the base of the stem, and pour liquor into the flower, so that the al­co­hol would flow through the flower and seep out from the hole in the stem. The scholar would then put the tip of the stem in his mouth and suck on it, so that the liquor and unique, cool sweet taste of the lo­tus plant would mix to­gether, hav­ing a re­mark­able cool­ing ef­fect. And af­ter hav­ing fin­ished im­bib­ing, he could even chew on the ten­der and crunchy stem, as a light snack.

But by drink­ing like this in the sum­mer to re­lieve the heat, most peo­ple may think that the ef­fect is com­pletely due to the lo­tus stem, as al­co­hol warms you up when you’re cold, right? Ac­tu­ally, this is a mis­con­cep­tion. Speak­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally, our bod­ies con­tain a kind of chem­i­cal called TRPA1, which acts as a pathway for pos­i­tive ions through­out our nerve cells. Chi­nese medicine de­scribes this as a “cold pas­sage”, and by stim­u­lat­ing this pas­sage, which can be done by al­co­hol. It will give one a sen­sa­tion of cool­ness.

In Jian­shui County, Yun­nan, there is a type of cold noo­dles made from creep­ing fig fruit, and when it is served half a bowl of sweet Chi­nese spirit is mixed in, and this is said to be very cool­ing in the sum­mer. In the north, al­co­hol is used to al­le­vi­ate the heat too, such as in In­ner Mon­go­lia: upon the birth of a foal, the mother will pro­duce milk, which the Mon­gols will fill their wa­ter pouches with, then af­ter be­ing shaken around as the rider is on horse­back for a while, the milk will fer­ment and be­come milk wine, which is not only sweet and tasty, but also helps al­le­vi­ate the sum­mer heat.

The key to us­ing al­co­hol to re­lieve symp­toms of heat is that it can­not be con­sumed warm, and wine

made from grain is best, but Chi­nese spirit is too strong, so the so­lu­tion of the an­cient Chi­nese was to steep fruit in liquor. The most rep­re­sen­ta­tive of such heat- re­liev­ing fruit wines is waxberry wine, which first be­came pop­u­lar in the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), and any house­hold could make it, as the process was very sim­ple.

First, fresh waxberry fruit would be steeped in salt wa­ter for fif­teen min­utes, then taken out to dry. Then the fruit would be placed in a glass con­tainer, care­fully, one layer at a time, each layer would be cov­ered with a layer of rock su­gar, then with fine-tast­ing Chi­nese spirit of about 45% al­co­hol by vol­ume, so that the waxber­ries were par­tially sub­merged. Then the con­tainer would be cov­ered with a lid and sealed, and placed in a cool and shaded but ven­ti­lated area. The Chi­nese spirit would even­tu­ally take on a red hue, and the con­tainer would be shaken ev­ery few days, un­til af­ter two weeks to twenty days or so, when the jug would be opened, and the waxberry wine, with its qual­i­ties of re­liv­ing heat, al­le­vi­at­ing hu­mid­ity and aid­ing di­ges­tion, would be ready.

For the peo­ple of an­cient times, both the harsh win­ter and muggy sum­mer were tribu­la­tions that had to be dealt with on an an­nual ba­sis. The Chi­nese, an agri­cul­tural peo­ple by na­ture, put much time and thought into cre­at­ing all kinds of foods and drinks that could help get them through the sum­mer. Many things in the world are like this, re­quir­ing much trial and er­ror, re­vi­sion and re­think­ing; to al­le­vi­ate the symp­toms of the bit­ter sum­mer, an op­ti­mistic at­ti­tude was nec­es­sary, along with plenty of wis­dom and help from na­ture.

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