Snake alcohol in Vietnam
- on Jan 29, 2021       By: BN
Snake alcohol, or "rượu rắn" in Vietnamese, consists of macerations of snakes in alcoholic beverages. The preservation of the snake in alcohol makes it possible at any time to use the multiple virtues of this snake, which is seen as a panacea, or even an elixir of long life.
These preparations are direct material witnesses of a set of regional cultural beliefs, knowledge and practices. As such, Snake liquor is a fairly common alcoholic drink in Southeast Asia and Vietnam.
Snakes, preferably poisonous, are generally not preserved for their meat, but for their venom which is dissolved in liquor; however, snake venom is denatured by ethanol, its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactivated.
This particular alcohol made from a cocktail of poisonous snakes is placed in a pretty bottle. Snakes are widely considered to possess medicinal qualities, such as being able to help cure things from farsightedness to hair loss. Snake alcohol is said to help fight back pain, digestive problems, fertility problems and even leprosy.
Viper brandy bottle containing an asp viper (Vipera aspic) in Auvergne.
Principles of preparation
The preparation of this alcohol varies according to the regions and the more or less traditional training of the producer.
There are two types of snake alcohol preparation:
- Let a large poisonous snake (sometimes alive) macerate for a few months in a glass jar of rice wine, often with small reptiles: scorpions, lizards, turtles, insects or small birds. All of these animals are recognized as having medicinal properties by ancient Chinese medicine. Occasionally, herbs and spices like ginseng are added to the formula, in order to avoid a foul odour. The resulting alcohol can be drunk in small cups.
- A living snake is killed on the spot. Its blood and bile are mixed with rice wine or grain alcohol and are consumed immediately. It can also be done in a similar method using the contents of the gallbladder.
This liquor is originally from Vietnam. Thus, the sale of snake wine is important, not only by tourists' purchases but also by those of the whole local population. This alcohol is served in street markets, restaurants and even airports.
However, it is illegal to import snake alcohol into many countries (France, USA for example…) because some of the snakes used are endangered species. A similar drink is also made with a poisonous lizard rather than a snake.