Oxymel / Sekangebin / Sekajebin

Etymologies

These terms all refer to, in essence, the same beverage that has been drunk by Eastern Mediterranean and Near East for millennia.  It is a vingar and honey combination that has been, and still is, as a refreshment, and as a medicine.  Traditionally, medicinal herbs and powders that may not be so enjoyable on their own are mixed into the concoction during preparation to make them easier on the palette. Aromatic herbs are, also, used.

Oxymel – The Latin name ultimately derives from the Classical Greek name of the beverage and translates to “acid/ vinegar-honey” deriving from Greek: oxys  ὀξύς, meaning ‘acid,’ ‘vinegar’ and μέλι, meaning ‘honey.’

Sekangebin / Sekanjebin – The name that it is known by in the Greater Iranian lands and their spheres of influence.  The older term “Sekangebin” is the older term, deriving from Pahlavi: sek meaning ‘vinegar’(c.f. Farsi serke), and angebin meaning ‘honey.’

In most Modern Iranian languages ‘angebin’ still means ‘honey,’ however, in the dominant dialects of Tehrani, and Dari, it more commonly refers to a kind of wild tamarisk tree and the sweet edible sap that it produces.  This is probably related, ultimately, to the influence of Islam from the late 7th century CE and after.  This is, also, the reason for the change in pronounciation (Arabic lack of the /g/ phoneme influencing the pronounciation of Iranian /g/ to /j/ c.f. Farsi gah > jah ‘place[ment]’, Mehregan > Marjaan ‘Mithra Festival’, gens > jens ‘genus,’ ‘type’) formulation, preparation and pronounciation (see below) in the Iranian world; hence the pronounciation sekanjebin.

Histories

The drink is referenced by Marcus Poricus Cato in the 2nd C. BCE, in his De Re Rustica (About Agricultural Matters), but is probably first referenced to by Hippocrates, that famous Greek physician whose oath is still recited by modern doctors.  He recommends it as a remedy for lowering fevers, soothing sore throats, and ulcers. He refers to it as οξυγλυλ or “vinegar-sugar.”

The common modern Iranian version sekanjebin, also, recalls sugar.  The honey in the mixture is replaced with a simple syrup of sugar-water, and the fermentation process replaced by placing the cooking of the vinegar and placing of the herbs (most commonly mint) into mix while hot, so that the cell walls of the herb(s) are broken down by the heat.  The reason for the change in preparation and ingredients is due to the influence of Islam, which bans the taking of fermented beverages due to the presence of alcohol.

The Process

The two main ways of preparation are what I call the Raw Preparation, and Cooked Preparation.

The Raw Preparation requires that all of the ingredients (vinegar, honey, herbs) be added at the same time with the herbs comprising 1/3 of the total and the remainder, dependent of individual tastes, between 70-30% of one ingredient, and the rest the other.  This is, then, bottled and stored in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks.  The lower the time length, the less chance of fermentation.  Though, it would only need a couple of days for the cell walls of the herbs to break down and start to diffuse into the mixture.  The mixture is strained.  A couple of spoonfuls are added to water, and you are good to. Some people will allow the strained mixture to sit for a few extra days or weeks prior to consumption.

The Cooked Preparation calls for either cooking the honey and vinegar, or adding the vinegar to the simple syrup as it is cooking, if you will.  This process requires the use of 4-5 times more vinegar than what will end up in the final concoction as the vinegar evaporates quickly.  Once the mixture turns into a syrup, the herbs are added and the fire is removed.  Once the syrup has cooled, it is strained and ready for consumption.

My New Attempt

All my life, I have only had the Cooked Preparation, as that is the most common version found in the regions my family is from.  I, however, as with most things, I guess, preferred to try the, undoubtedly, older Raw Preparation.  So, I mixed a ratio 60% Apple Cider Vinegar to 40% Raw Local Honey into a quart jar 1/3 filled with chopped and ground mint leaves and stems.  Covered it in a brown bag and placed it in the meat drawer of the fridge.  Every few days, I took the mixture out to shake it.  Since it is supposed to be a type of “wine” that is diluted in water, I allowed the mixture to sit for a full 40 days, the length of time Shiraz wine is traditionally let to ferment before it is bottled.

Wine, Transformations, and Death

In Iranian tradition, the preparation of wine has been the metaphor and analogy of transformation and purification.  This is reflected in poetry, literature, and even in burial rituals.  The metaphor starts with the life of a grape, which was given form by the vine of which it once was, which metaphorically matches the birth of a human “soul” as it separated from “the Divine.”  After the ripened grape is selected and plucked from the vine, the soul ready for life is “plucked,” as it were, from its state of “oneness” and enters the world.  In Zoroastrian Tradition, this can be reflected in myth of the Chinvatu Peretu, or “The Bridge of the Selector.” As form of life is “plucked” as a ripe fruit by Jamshid and lead across the bridge, if ready, or dropped, if not.  Although this is generally regarded as the process of Death and the passage from “this world to the next,” it metaphorically occurs at each and every transformation, or moment of “a great choice.”  This is more readily present in the Hindu myths of Jamshid, which is, of course, related to the Iranian ones.  In the Abrahamic Traditions, this is the separation of the Self from Godhead.

After 3 days, the grape must be pressed. Other grapes are added to the already pressed ones for 4 additional days.  In the Abrahamic Traditions, the body must be placed in its grave within 3 days after death.  While Zoroastrians can allow up to a week, it is generally done as soon as possible, whether Dakhma or grave.  There are memorial services on the 7th day.  On the 7th day, sugars and the such are added to the pressed grapes, and it is fermented for a length of 40 days from the end of pressing.  On the 40th day, the mixture is strained and bottled for a year.  In the Abrahamic Traditions, a memorial is held on the 40th day and will sit until the anniversary of the death, when a tombstone is added.  In the Zoroastrian Tradition, the bones are removed from the Dakhma and placed in the family lot.

This same pattern is applied for all forms of great life transformations, whether spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical.

At any rate, here we are, at day 40…a little too much vinegar for my taste…but good…

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