Hyunsuh Kim, Ruth Brickland

Kami no Zake

Aphrodisiac #4 - Saliva-fermented wine of the gods

Saliva-fermented alcoholic beverage is a tradition in many different cultures, from kuchikami no zake in Japan (literally, "mouth-chewed rice wine"; it was the inspiration for the name kami no zake, which can also mean "god's wine", as kami is a homonym for "chew" 噛 and "god" 神), to bijinzake (literally, "beauty's liquor" as it was produced by women) in Cambodia, chicha in Peru, cauim in Brazil and Anivor. Mediamatic attempts a saliva-fermented drink of its own, flavored with the delicate white flowers of spring. 


Kami no Zake Concept Illustration - Hyunsuh Kim

Kami no zake is one of the aphrodisiac recipes in our "Seafoam" series, in which we attempt to queer the traditional aphrodisiac. We cordially invite you to embark on our odyssey of love— where crew members across species interact with one another in transforming adventures of various forms. Keep a loving eye on our blog as we update experimentation and taste testing of the recipes.



Katz, in The Art of Fermentation, says that alcohol preceded human culture, as we can commonly observe animals inebriating fermented fruits: “...our human lineage, rather than discovering alcohol, knew it all along, evolved with it, and applied our growing conceptual capabilities and tool-making skills to assure a steady supply.” 

Kuchikami sake, Japanese saliva-fermented sake, tracks back to 3rd century BCE when rice entered Japan from China— some say that it may have been the precursor to sake itself. Used in shinto rituals, the alcoholic beverage carried a religious significance. Some postulate that the pronunciation of 酒 (literally "alcohol") as sake may have originated from 栄之水 (sakae-no-mizu; “glorious/splendid water”) where sakae transformed into sake, 栄のキ (sakae-no-ki; “glorious/splendid offering of sake to the gods”) where the whole phrase shortened into saki which changed into sake (Lyons). The most interesting postulation is perhaps the last one, where the drink was considered to have warding properties against both spiritual and physical illnesses, and was named after the verb 避ける (sakeru; "to avoid") (Lyons). Kumikami sake was produced exclusively by the shrine maidens for utmost purity and took 7 years to ferment. It may be strange to think of a drink laden with another's spit as the embodiment of purity and protection from ailments. Nevertheless, even in our germaphobic society, one may still consider alcohol as a catalyst for reaching the purity within ourselves, beneath the social etiquettes and murky feelings of anxiety, as Katz points out: “Alcohol can make worries and inhibitions disappear, and embolden us to speak freely; it is a social lubricant and sexual catalyst.”



The amylase in saliva breaks starch down into simple sugars which can then be more easily processed by yeast that produces ethanol as a byproduct. Through chewing the rice, one emulates eating, the act of sustaining oneself, which then assists the sustaining of other microbial agents, so that they in turn produce the fluid that we consume.

When serving kami no zake, mix two (or more) bottles of wine made from different participants' saliva, and pour the resulting mixture into the cups of all participants. Of course, this alludes to the act of kissing. It is a playful confrontation of how the erotic becomes the disgusting outside of its usual context, while both consuming and consummating are life-giving acts. Drinking kami no zake becomes an exchange of service with the beloved by making the rice sugar easier for them to intake, making something that was part of oneself transform in order to be a part of another.



Rice for innumerable cultures is life contained in a granule. In Korea, we do not have greetings specific to the times of day (e.g. "good morning"), instead we frequently ask one another bab-meog-eot-seo? (밥 먹었어?), which literally means "Have you eaten?" or "Have you had rice?" as rice is the metonymy for all food. The word for love, sarang (사랑), is theorized to have originated from salda (살다), "to live". Thus to ask whether the other person has eaten, is a direct expression of love. In Korea and Japan, people also make and consume round rice cakes to celebrate the lunar new year, as the cakes are supposed to resemble the sun, and new life. Rice is occupies the most mundane facet of everyday life, yet it is also manifestation of the utmost profound and transcendental.

Saliva, too has been conceived as the essence of life since time immemorial. It is a natural healing antiseptic, it is a plethora of more than 80 million microorganisms. We find the oldest evidence of kissing from Hindu Vedic Sanskrit texts 3,500 years ago, that describes it as the act of inhaling each other's soul (Hogenboom). Could it be that humans got inspired after observing the ants exchange food from mouth to mouth and how birds masticate to their young, in whose case kissing is a literal act of transferring life from one to another? In Korea, it was a common practice for grandmothers to chew the food before giving it to the babies before people became increasingly concerned of the hygienic issues. Similarly, the saliva-fermented alcohol cauim is the staple food for infants under age 2 for the Tapi'itãwa tribe in Brazil. 

In addition to the two main ingredients above, we use almond and cherry blossom to flavor the sake.

Almond inspires a rich plethora of cultural and mythological imaginations. It symbolizes promise, bravery and courage, purity, hope and love. For the ancient Chinese, almond blossom signified feminine beauty, fortitude in sorrow and watchfulness, while for the ancient Greeks, it symbolized eternal true love that is unconquerable by death, and almond, the seed that was eaten by a virgin who subsequently conceived Atys, the god of vegetation. The almond also signifies the purity of the Virgin in Christianity. As the nut is concealed within a thin veil of outer skin, it evokes the image of a hidden essence, such as of the Christ hidden within the mortal human form, or in the case of India, where eating almond symbolizes sex, the vulva. Interestingly for the Jews, an almond tree laid at the entrance to the underworld.

Cherry is a close biological and gastronomical cousin to almond. While the blossoms of both species are similarly delicate and evocative of spring, cherry is the epitome of wabi-sabi (侘寂; among many untranslatable words in Japanese, this word is especially difficult, but if one were to attempt, it might mean something akin to "harmony with the natural progression of time"), the Japanese Buddhist aesthetic for the imperfect, ephemeral and earthly, contrary to almond that is the flower of the eternal and divine. It is said that watching the cherry petals fall by the end of spring arouses mono no aware (物の哀れ; "the pathos of things"), a deep longing and appreciation for the fleeting beauty of life. In the rare moments in which we are so poignantly aware of the finitude of our being, that for once we rise to the gods.



Hogenboom, Mellisa. "Why do humans kiss each other when most animals don't?" BBC. July 14, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150714-why-do-we-kiss#:~:text=The%20oldest%20evidence%20of%20a,than%20pressing%20their%20lips%20together.

Katz, Sandor Ellix. The Art of Fermentation. United States of America: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012.

Lyons, Arline. "The etymology of sake." Taste Translation. June 23, 2018. https://taste-translation.com/the-etymology-of-sake/


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