The Legend of the Sea Treasure – An Origin Story

as told to me by Zhu Ruyin (支如云) of XinJiang China – Kombucha purveyor

Sea Queen’s Treasure

artwork by Jade Bengco

My favorite Kombucha origin story begins thousands of years ago in the Bohai Sea District, not far from Beijing. As the legend goes, there was a family in Bohai that owned a grocery and sundries shop.   A sloppy shop assistant was rinsing out a honey jar but sloshed some of the rinse water into an earthen crock full of wine that stood nearby.

Over the next few days, a strange fragrance both sour and sweet gradually wafted through the shop.  Everyone who smelled its aroma were very curious to discover its source, but try as they might, it could not be located.  Even the shopkeeper was puzzled.  The week wore on and the shopkeeper instructed the shop assistant to sell the wine. When the assistant opened the cover of the wine jar, he cried out in alarm, “The sweet-sour flavor is coming from here.” Everyone immediately rushed over to have a look.

In the earthen crock there was a thick layer of a milky-white, sticky film sealing the mouth of the vessel. Upon smelling that fragrance and witnessing the first kombucha culture, everyone fell into solemn praise of this wonderful curiosity, believing the earthen jar had given birth to a treasure.

It was during the period of summer that is called “The Hottest 30 days of the Year”, and the thirsty assistant couldn’t resist the taking a drink of the clear, sweet-tart nectar in the jar. He grabbed the dipper and in one gulp drank the whole spoonful, wiped his mouth, not even letting a single drop fall as every onlooker greedily salivated. Each person in the store drank half a dipper 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 “sweet-tart vinegar.” The shopkeeper not only made money but drank this original kombucha and ate the culture prepared cold with dressing (涼拌) and thus he 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).

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The Legend of the Sea Treasure

Kombucha Origin Legend of the Sea TreasureThe story of the sea treasure is based on correspondence with a fellow Kombucha enthusiast and professional brewer in Xinjiang China, Zhi Ru Yun (支如云). He shared the story of Kombucha as he knows it from the Chinese perspective. Please enjoy Hannah’s direct translation from the Chinese (edited by Alex) published here for the first time!
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The Legend of the Sea Treasure

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. Its cultivation was a family secret handed down generation to generation. Kombucha was popular in both the imperial court and among the common people.

As the legend goes, there was one family in Bohai that owned a grocery and sundries shop. One day, a tired shop assistant did a lazy job while cleaning up. Spilling his rinsed 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.

Sweet-Sour Flavor

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. “The earthen jar has given birth to a treasure,” one exclaimed. The Legend of the Sea Treasure

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3 Comments

  • purplemoon

    August 10, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to translate and share this great story Hannah!

    Reply
  • purplemoon

    August 10, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for translating and sharing this great story, Hannah!

    Reply
  • Bryan D. Bertsch

    August 3, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Great story! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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