The Legend of the Sea Treasure

A cartoon drawing of a Sea Queen sitting at the bottom of the ocean with her treasure.

artwork courtesy of Jade Bengco

I have been corresponding with a fellow Kombucha enthusiast and professional brewer in Xinjiang China, Zhi Ru Yun (支如云). I asked him to tell me the story of Kombucha as he knows it from the Chinese perspective. I have translated the story from Chinese for your enjoyment!
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In China, Kombucha has been called “Sea Treasure” (海寶), “Stomach Treasure” (胃寶) and “Sea Mushroom”(海蘑菇). Kombucha’s earliest origins are in the Bohai Sea District. Stories say that it promotes longevity and it’s cultivation was a family secret handed down generation to generation both in the imperial court and amongst the common people.

As the legend goes, there was one family in Bohai that owned a grocery and sundries shop. There was a shop assistant rinsed out a honey jar into an earthen crock that used to have wine in it. After a few days, the shop was suddenly filled with a strange waft of a sweet and sour fragrance. People were exceedingly curious but couldn’t find the source of the smell.

After a few more days, the shopkeeper ordered his assistant to sell the wine. When the assistant opened the cover of the wine jar, he immediately cried out in alarm, “The sweet-sour flavor is coming from here.” Everyone rushed over to have a look, in the earthen crock there was a thick layer of milky white sticky film sealing the mouth of the vessel. Upon smelling that fragrance and seeing that film, everyone praised the curiosity saying the earthen jar had given birth to a treasure.

At that time it had just been the hottest 30 day period of the year, and the thirsty assistant couldn’t resist the clear sweet-tart fragrance. He grabbed the dipper and in one gulp drank the whole spoonful, wiped his mouth, not even letting a single drop fall as every on-looker greedily salivated. Every person in the place had half a dipperful of the delicious, sweet-tart liquid。 The shop assistant tried to remember what he’d put in the jar – honey, and water and then he’d let it steep.

From that moment on, he used the same technique to make another batch of “vinegar.” The shopkeeper not only made money but drank not only the juice of the vinegar but also the culture prepared cold with dressing (涼拌)and became a local celebrity known as the “Long Life Expert.” After he died at the ripe old age of more than 70 years old, his mysterious treasure was shared with the world and made public. From that time on, it has been handed down for all to use.

Perhaps, this is what has been called the origins of the “Sea Treasure”. Still to this day families in the Bohai district use this ancient technique to ferment their own “vinegar” using their white “vinegar moth” (醋蛾子)(meaning SCOBY). There are also old people who eat the sticky culture in order to alleviate stomach problems and find they also get a burst of energy. Currently, there are studies being conducted in Japan on China’s many longevity increasing foods including the Sea Treasure Bacteria.

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I hope you enjoyed this story about the origins of Kombucha. Perhaps you have heard that Doctor Kombu developed it for the Qin Dynasty Emperor or that it came from Egypt or that our UFO friends have brought it to Earth to help us. In any case, this amazing elixir has been around for thousands of years and helped many people achieve longevity, energy and balance in their lives.

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