Lilac Doctor, a WeChat subscription account that posts daily health tips, has an interesting one (link in Chinese) for you if you’ve been eagerly following our coverage of Chinese boozes (see here and here): a guide for the health conscious to paojiu (泡酒), infused liquor.
Depending on what you leave soaking in it (could be medicinal herbs, or exotic berries, or venomous vermin like snakes and scorpions), paojiu is said to help with any number of ailments, as the alcohol unlocks mysterious medicinal qualities from the submerged ingredients.
Lilac Doctor tapped the expertise of Purdue University graduate Dr. Yun Wuxin, who says: not so much. Here’s his quick guide to the supposed health benefits of paojiu, based on what you wanna soak in it.
1. Health Foods, e.g. Goji Berries
Goji berries, which you might know as an essential item in the contemporary urban foodie-hipster’s superfood playbook, are native to northwestern China, and indeed have some significant health benefits. Dr. Yun confirms that the humble goji’s upsides are “unequivocal,” as they’re rich in dietary fiber, vitamin A, iron, selenium, calcium, zinc, and potassium.
“Soaking goji berries in alcohol, however, will not add to their nutritional value, and won’t produce any new magical effect.” Like any good medical professional, Dr. Yun suggests you eat your fruits and veggies if you want to absorb the benefits — soaking them in booze will just stress your liver.
Yeah… in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it’s sometimes recommended that men consume animal penises to “壮阳” (zhuangyang, build up the kidney’s Yang), aka increase virility and sex drive. Dr. Yun says that this concept indeed has a long history, but firmly denies the claim that dropping tiger dicks into your cocktail will help in the Yang department. Kind of the opposite, in fact: he says that overconsumption of alcohol by males will affect liver function and cause the body to over-produce estrogen, leading to a reduction in testosterone secretion and thus a lower sex drive.
3. Medicinal Herbs, e.g. Ginseng
Rating: Unreliable — consult a pro
TCM includes a vast catalogue of the medicinal qualities of various herbs, and does use decoctions, or the absorption of chemicals into an alcohol-based substratum, as a treatment. Dr. Yun, admitting this, recommends that if you’re really trying to use alcohol as medicine, you’ll still want to consult a professional who knows the active ingredients in any given herbal mix, what dosage to employ and how potentially toxic the combo will be. In other words, it’s not recommended for recreational tippling, and could have undesirable side effects.
4. Toxic Animal Parts, e.g. Live Scorpions, Fish Guts
Rating: Ineffective and dangerous
Don’t do it! While they’re rumored in the annals of legend to improve eyesight and detoxify the body, Dr. Yun kindly reminds the reader that the opposite is in fact true: “This kind of thing is itself toxic, and the toxicity will not be ‘dissolved’ by the alcohol, nor will it change into another kind of poison.”
One popular paojiu ingredient in this category is fish bladder, which can be especially dangerous as the bile inside can leech sodium dextrose into the booze, resulting in severe abdominal pain, kidney failure, and cell death in the drinker.
So prob skip this category.
5. Wild Critters, e.g. Pangolins
Rating: Ineffective and illegal
Come on. Look at that guy. This is a pangolin, nature’s way of making you say both “so cute!” and “holy shit dinosaurs still roam the earth.” Some people like to drop this cute lil sucker into a big vat of booze for the supposed health benefits. Dr. Yun says that not only are there objectively no health benefits to soaking a scaly anteater in your alcohol, it’s also illegal: “The legendary health effect is illusory, and if you risk jail time, the ‘side effect’ is too big, right?” Right.
6. Normal fruits, e.g. hawthorne
Rating: FUCKING DELICIOUS
I’m gonna throw out the book here and say just go for it. Dr. Yun says there are no actual health benefits, it just improves the taste of the alcohol, and at this point that’s good enough for me.
“Just do not forget, no matter how the flavor changes, drinking is still harmful to health.” OK DR BUZZKILL WE GET IT. Drink more water, etc etc. But also, it’s Friday. Throw some hawthorne berries in your vodka, you’ve earned it.
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