CultureInformationalWhat’s old is new! Mead across the world

2 April, 2020by Cerana Meads0

Hello again folks! At the outset, let me apologise for the delay in publishing this post. I waited and waited to get some inspiration for some sketches that will go with this one. But it never came and everything got delayed. So here’s a slightly longish post without any pictures to go with it. Hope you enjoy it nevertheless…

Before we bring the discussion back home to mead in India, let’s talk about some other cultures where mead was important. In this post, let’s see what they thought of mead in Africa, Egypt, Russia, China, Americas and a last surprise item in this blog post

Let’s start with the Africa!

Mead in Africa:

Remember my first post where I talked about a bee hive sitting in a tree hollow where rain water gathered and wild yeast fermented out the resulting mixture? That’s supposed to have happened first in the hollows of the Baobab and Miombo trees in Africa almost 40,000 years ago! Dr. Garth Cambray, the founder of Makana meadery in South Africa did his doctoral research on African mead, also called iQhilika. His research tells us that this phenomenon that took place in nature was captured and improved by the African people and they were the first ones to make mead by themselves!

As people moved out of Africa they took this knowledge with them to China, Egypt and brought it to India as well! Then 5000 years back the Indian people wrote Rigveda where the first ever written account of mead is mentioned.. but I am jumping ahead. This is for the third part of this series..

Coming back to African mead. You can read more about how iQhilika was made traditionally and how it had a special place in the hearts of these African people all those years back here:

T’ej from Ethiopia, known as Meis from Eritrea is also quite a well known mead. T’ej is a very high alcohol sweet mead, but there is a lighter option available called Berz. T’ej and Meis came into existence much after iQhilika. Only about 2000 years back.. Here’s a good article about T’ej:

A toast to your health… or as they say in Amharic, letenachin!

Let’s move out of Africa now and go to mysterious land of mummies.. Egypt.

Mead in Egypt:

Now I had to string this information from a lot of different sources, so no uplink in the Egypt section.

Everyone who knows anything about alcohol knows about Ninkasi, the Egyptian goddess of fermentation. But do they know about Min, the Egyptian god of fertility? His description is “master of wild bees” and is also known to be closely associated with mead drinking. You will find that in almost all cultures mead drinking is associated with fertility and Egyptians are no exception.

There’s a school of people who think that the ancient honey hunting parties in Egypt brought some water from the tree hollows back in their water skins. This water, unknown to them, was mixed with some honey lying there about in the trees, along with some wild yeast. After a few days these skins puffed up due to the ongoing fermentation and when the stuff inside was consumed by the owners they realised that this is something delicious! They then reverse engineered the mead from here. A similar story to what happened way way south in the other hemisphere in South of Africa, but with the same delicious result nevertheless.

We have no way to find out what happened exactly, so let’s assume that both the stories happened and we are very happy that they did happen.

Mead in Russia:

Mead, or Medovukha as it is called in Russia was consumed to sustain strong winters and frosts. It used to be fermented over as many as 20 years! The rise and fall of medovukha to be eclipsed by rise of vodka in Russia has been summarised well in this article.

Mead in China:

Now in China, some 7000 years BC, that’s 9 millennia ago, people used some earthen pots to ferment their tipples in. Good scientists at UPenn, Princeton, and quite a few universities and departments in China came together to study these pots in detail and find out what it was that they brewed all those years ago. They found out that the ingredients in these earthen pots indicated the use of rice, honey and some fruit!

Here’s a link that tells you how they did it in detail (geekiest link alert), it’s actually the scientific paper on the subject:

Mead in the Americas

Mayans used to make mead, called balché from bark of a leguminous tree and honey and… but wait, there’s a very short article about Balché on Wikipedia.

Make sure you read how it was consumed(?) for maximum inebriation. What all people will do to get high…é

Mead in Islam:

And before we move on to mead in India, as a pleasant surprise, last but not the least, mead or a mead like beverage that has been described by Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi in a medical formulary called Aqrabadhin of AlKindi. A very carefully written article and a very good read about how every religion is tolerant really:

Take your time to digest this last bit of a shocker, and I will work on that third and last post in this section to bring this ship back home to India.

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