Thursday, May 5, 2016
Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Basil Seed Drink
Basil is, of course, an extremely common herb, one which is enjoyed around the world. While its beginnings aren't conclusively known, it is believed to have originated in India. Wherever this original homeland was, it's been cultivated by humans for the past 5,000 years. And though it's used pretty much everywhere, it's particularly important to Italian and many Southeast Asian cuisines.
In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the "king of herbs." However, at least four other herbs contend for this "title"--ginseng, tarragon, reishi mushroom, and soma (not the wonder drug in "Brave New World," but an ancient Proto-Indo-Iranian drink whose exact components have been lost). I kind of hope some deranged chef does a parody of "Game of Thrones," wherein these various herbs battle it out. Hell, tarragon's name is already fairly close to Targaryen.
Like many of the foods I've discussed on this blog, basil has quite a following, and many attributes are ascribed to it, other than to spice up bland food. It may indeed have some antioxidant and antiviral qualities. Followers of alternative medicines go much further. Depending on the source, some claim basil can help treat stress, asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, colds, skin infections, obesity, and even cancer. But, and I'll write this for perhaps the twentieth time--these claims are as of yet unproven by medical science (also, ironically, basil contains estrayole, which is known to be a carcinogen, although the amounts you'd have to eat to increase your risk significantly are nearly impossibly high).
As a horror fan, I am also amused to see that basil has a morbid side. In some European cultures, it was traditionally put in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey to the other side. Dying folks in India sometimes had basil put in their mouths, for the same reason. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians even believed that basil could open up the gates of heaven. (Which leads to all sorts of theological questions for me--mainly, what if a deceased evil person, say a serial killer, still has basil with them? Was this herbal loophole something that even deities couldn't prevent?)
Anyway, I've gotten off the track. While basil isn't exotic at all, a drink which features it is, at least to Americans. This is yet another jewel from the Union Market in Washington, D.C. Sources I read had some disagreements, but it appears I sampled the drink called nam manglak. It's from Thailand, and my bottle was, too. The label called it a "basil seed drink with honey." Besides water, it contained basil seed (obviously), sugar, honey, gellan gum, artificial honey flavor, and caramel for color. It was made by Deer in Thailand, and imported by Best Foods NJ Inc. In addition to thanking my friend Keith one more time for introducing me to the Union Market, he also took the photographs that accompanies this post.
As you can see from the pictures, I hope, the basil seed drink looked quite odd. The basil seeds themselves made it look like I was drinking tadpoles (ooh, another blog post idea). The taste, befitting the honey description, was very sweet and syrupy. I tried some of the basil seeds separately, and they didn't have much of a flavor. I didn't love it, but I did like it, and I would have it again. Keith thought it tasted like the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl, which I can see. It also reminded me somewhat of the aloe drink (See the June 17, 2012 post) because of the weird solids suspended in it. To sum up, then, it was a solid beverage, good but not spectacular.
But, to answer the bigger question, I don't know if holding a bottle of basil seed drink in your dead hands will help your position in the afterlife. Consult your local clergy, I guess.