Because I think it’s bad to kill for pleasure, I’ve been a vegan or vegetarian since I was a teen. As such, I’m constantly being lectured about the ways in which my life is lacking as the result of not eating animal gore.
People claim I’m missing out on the richness of a fatty ramen broth, or the stringiness of barbecued ribs as the meat falls off the bone, or that my brain is turning to actual mush because I’m not getting enough omega 3s or something.
In an effort to get a taste of what I’ve been missing, I decided to consume animal products from the only truly ethical source: Myself. So I'm embarking on a series of experiments where I'll make a variety of foods and beverages out of my own body and document everything for you here.
First up, an alcoholic beverage made out of my own spit.
Saliva-based drinks have a long history. Chicha, a drink from the Andes that’s made by chewing up corn and leaving it to ferment, has been around for about 7,000 years. While it’s difficult to imagine how even one ancient culture could’ve come up with that idea, it’s something that was also thought up in a bunch of other parts of the world: Brazil has cauim, and Peru has masato, both of which are made from chewed roots. In Japan, it’s called kuchikamizake and is made by chewing and spitting rice, millet, or chestnuts—you might have seen it in the movie Your Name.
These methods work because we produce an enzyme called amylase in our saliva when we chew starchy foods, which, when combined with yeast, ferments into alcohol.
I decided to use the Japanese method, because drinking old, chewed-up rice sounded the most appetizing of the available methods. I’m not sure why.
I was helped through the process by Todd Bellomy, a self-described sake geek who runs the blog Boston Sake and has made his own kuchikamizake in the past.
“When I learn about a new thing I like to start with, Well where does it come from?” he told me by phone of his own experiment with spit sake. “So I read about the traditions of pre-rice Japan and what happened in this area of Japanese history called the Jōmon Period. People were making alcohol before they were introduced to rice. And I started to find that all around the world there is a tradition with making alcohol with your saliva. [It was a] pretty common neolithic human experience.”
Traditionally, these drinks are left to ferment with the wild yeast particles that occur naturally in the air. Because I live in Los Angeles, which presumably has way lower air quality than ancient Japan or Peru, I added some brewer’s yeast to my spit.
Bellomy was kind enough to send me some White Labs sake #9 yeast, which, apparently, is the good stuff. He insisted on mailing it to me because he felt the only type of sake yeast I could find in LA was “gross.” Which seemed like an odd concern, given I was going to be pouring it into a jar of spit, but I appreciated him looking out for me nonetheless.
He explained that I should chew the rice until it starts to taste sweet, which would mean the amylase had kicked in. And that’s what I did, over the course of a few hours at home. Every few mouthfuls, I’d swill a mouthful of water and spit that into the jar, too, so that my sake wouldn’t end up undrinkably thick (kuchikamizake was originally a thick paste that would be eaten with chopsticks).
As I chewed the rice and spat it into the jar, I began to worry that this was all a prank, and perhaps the only reason Bellomy was being so helpful was to trick me into drinking a jar of my own spit. Which would be such a good own, I don’t think I would even be annoyed about it.
Once I’d chewed all of my rice and added the yeast, I loosely covered it and moved it to my fridge for two weeks to ferment, stirring daily.
The thought of drinking it hadn’t bothered me at first. In past times of struggle, I have shared a mineswept beer with six other people. I know what it is to drink a spit-based beverage. But as time progressed, the thought of putting it in my mouth became grosser and grosser to me. Every time I opened my fridge and saw the jar lurking, my entire body cringed.
I also read a thing about Victorian baby bottles that kept killing kids because of the amount of bacteria they collected, which made me start to worry I was going to fatally poison myself in the process of being trolled into drinking a pint of my own spit.
When I took it out of the fridge on the day of consumption, it smelled sweet and alcoholic, and I had to suppress a dry-heave. I don’t have the equipment needed to measure the alcohol content, but I read on some moonshine blog that moonshiners can tell how strong their brew is based on the bubbles that come up when you shake the jar. I have no frame of reference, so I don’t know if the bubbles were big (which would imply a strong brew) or small (which would indicate a weaker concoction) but there were bubbles, which made me feel slightly more confident that I wasn’t being trolled. Bellomy told me he took his kuchikamizake to a lab and it tested at 7 percent ABV.
After straining into a carafe, I poured a glass and psyched myself up by repeatedly reminding myself of the fact that all food and drink I consume is covered in spit by the time I swallow it.
The taste was… actually not all that bad. Sort of like watered-down sake but way more sour. As you can see above, the first sip was really quite jarring, but by the third, I was able to sip on it like any other drink.
After drinking the entire bottle, I was unsure as to whether it got me buzzed. I concentrated so hard on trying to figure out whether I was feeling drunk that I could no longer make sense of any kind of feeling in my body. I felt something, but I’m not sure if it was inebriation or tiredness or anxiety because I was drinking a bottle of spit.
I almost made it through the whole jar feeling totally fine. But, for some reason, I hit a sip that tasted strongly like garlic and I had to spend a couple of minutes pacing around my apartment concentrating on not vomiting.
Overall, I would say the experience was probably more effort than it was worth for four glasses of questionably alcoholic booze. Maybe if I was in prison or boarding school or something I’d give it another shot. In the future, I’ll probably just buy my booze from a shop.
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