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Photo: e.vnexpress.net

History of Snake Wine

Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty (c. 1040–770 BC) and considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine. It can be found in China, Goa (India), Vietnam, and throughout Southeast Asia.

Why Snake?

In Vietnam, snake wine is widely believed by some individuals to improve health and virility. Snakes are widely believed to possess medicinal qualities and the wine is often advertised to cure everything of farsightedness to hair loss, as well as to increase sexual performance.

Snake wine is usually found in vats, with rice wine poured in over the body of a snake and left to ferment for some weeks. It is supposed to have medicinal qualities, such as disinfecting cuts and killing lurking bugs after meals, but its social use is predominant. It is found in every self-respecting bar in Vietnam, with smaller bottles kept at home. Most spectacular vats have seven or eight large snakes coiled in the base and become increasingly dangerous to lift as the drinking goes on.

Kind of snake to make wine

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Photo: theculturetrip.com

The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are usually not preserved for their meat. They are preserved to have the snake poison dissolved in the liquor. However, because snake venoms are protein-based, they are unfolded and therefore inactivated due to the influence of the denaturing effects of ethanol.

Varieties of Snake Wine

There are two main types of snake wine, which utilize either part of a live snake or the entire snake itself.


A whole venomous snake is placed into a glass jar of rice wine or grain alcohol, sometimes along with smaller snakes and medicinal herbs, and left to steep for many months. The wine is drunk as a restorative in small shots or cups. The snakes may be inserted into the container while still alive, causing them to drown on their own, or the snake may be stunned first by being placed on ice, after which the distiller cuts the snake open, guts it, and then sews it shut again. Upon removal from the ice, the snake will briefly reawaken and thrash around, before curling into an aggressive striking pose and dying. The latter method is sometimes preferred because the removal of the snake's digestive tract can noticeably reduce the pungent smell of the finished wine and because the snakes often die in a coiled position that is visually attractive inside the jars, suggesting the snake was fierce in spirit.


The fresh body fluids of the snake are mixed directly into prepared alcohol and consumed immediately in the form of a shot. Snake blood wine is prepared by slicing a snake along its belly and draining its blood directly into the drinking vessel filled with rice wine or grain alcohol. Snake bile wine is made by mixing the alcohol with the snake's gall bladder and bile, and snake heart wine is made by putting the still-beating heart of the slaughtered snake into a bottle of alcohol.

A similar drink is made with dehydrated geckos or sea horses rather than snakes.

Health risks

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Photo: abc.net.au
The risks of ingesting snake wine include systemic envenomation from the contained venom, which may present features differing from direct envenomation by snakebite. A number of health problems of the vascular system may result, including damage to the vascular wall endothelium, abnormal platelet function and activation, and coagulopathy. It is illegal to import snake wine to many countries because many of the snakes used for its production are endangered species.

If you see this article useful, please share it with your family and friends to limit snake wine as well as to protect their health.

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