Published: 09/02/2018 - Updated: 03/08/2020
Author: Dra. Loredana Lunadei, PhD
Mead is an alcoholic, or fermented drink, created with honey and water. This is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, and is even older than beer or wine. It was consumed by European populations, the Greek, the Celtic, and the Saxons. The Greeks named it melikraton and the Latins knew it as mulsum.
It possesses nutritive and enzymatic properties, the latter of which are due the the fermentation process, and the nutritive properties are due to the honey, which is a powerful natural serum that is absorbed into the blood within a matter of seconds.
A tradition existed in antiquity in which married couples drank mead during a lunar cycle after the wedding in order to conceive a male child. This is where today’s “honeymoon” tradition comes from.
Mead and the Mayan culture
In America, in the Yucatan penninsula, the Mayan towns used to frequently dissolve honey in water. They soaked it with pieces of tree bark called “balche“, and let this concoction ferment until creating a liquor known as “Balche“. They drank this during both religious and profane festivities. To make this drink, they used honey made from bees without stingers, which they called “xcolecab“.
To make mead you must use the sweetest, most aromatic, and above all, the clearest of all honeys. These characteristics provide the greatest strength for this drink, a pale amber color, and a genuine aroma. When the honey is diluted with the water, it creates a liquid that is not very apt for fermentation, which is why it is necessary to add certain substances to the mixture so that it can ferment. These substances can be grape juice or other fruits, flowers or rinds, which create a sort of un-fermented juice. The fermentation occurs after adding a type of wine yeast, after the heat has eliminated the natural germs in the honey.
It is not precisely known how this drink was prepared in antiquity, however, the method could be fairly similar to that which is used today. Bellow, we will briefly describe this process.
You must combine the proper proportions of honey and water. The recommended proportion is between 25 and 30 kilos of honey, add to approximately 80 liters of water, or however much liquid is necessary to reach 100 liters total. If you want a sweeter drink, you should add up to 40 kilos of clear honey, and the remaining amount of fresh water. This proportion produces 100 liters of dry mead with an alcoholic content of 10-11%.
Keep in mind that every 2.5 kg of honey per 100 liters of mixture raises alcohol content by approximately 1%. It is not very advisable to try to create a more alcoholic drink by adding more honey, because this would produce a very sweet drink, with no more than 12 or 13% alcohol. A proportion of 40 kgs of honey per 72 liters of water will give you a very sweet, fermented drink.
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Once you have made the appropriate mixture, one of the preparation methods consists in heating the water in a container (preferably glass or stainless steel), and slowly add the honey to the hot water, stirring a bit. You then need to add some type of formula to help with the fermenting of the mixture. You could add a combination of salts a pollen, or for every 100 liters of mead, 5 kg of grape juice (preferably from white grapes) from grapes that are sweet and ripe.
To add them to the mixture, you must wash and dry them very well. In a wooden bowel, make puree out of them by hand, trying to extract all the juice. Then strain the juice, and add to the mixture.
You then allow the mixture to boil for 8-10 minutes (from the moment of boiling). Skim off the liquid frequently, taking out any impurities that come to the surface. After boiling, remove from heat and replace water that evaporated (marking the height to where it measured in the original container should be sufficient).
In order to finish the fermentation, you should use a special keg or barrel. Make sure it is perfectly clean and sterilized, and that it fits from 100 to 200 liters. You could also use smaller barrels with less capacity. The juice will fill up to 9/10 of the barrel’s capacity, or more. The barrels should be filled with fresh water 2 or 3 days before, so that the wood swells. This will prevent leaks when you add the mead.
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If you want to slightly change the flavor of your mead, you could add marinated leaves, stalks, flowers, bark, roots, etc.
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