TOKYO (majirox news) — Bellying up to the bar and knocking down a shot of vinegar perhaps isn’t one’s idea of bracing for another day of work, or unwinding after a long stressful day at the office. In fact, drinking vinegar may sound downright weird. But for thousands of years vinegar-based beverages were an intimate part of Western culture and they still are part of Japanese culture.
“I’ll have the usual,” says Tanaka Sachiko to the barista at the “Drinkable Vinegar Express Su” otherwise known as Tokyo’s Grandstar. The usual is vinegar and honey with a bit of yogurt mixed in. “I drink it every morning after standing up in the crowded trains, which makes me tired and then I feel revived,” she says. “It has just the right balance of sourness to taste perfect as well.”
The Grandstar has been operating at Tokyo Station for five years and serves 600 to 800 customers a day. It’s the first vinegar beverage bar started by Uchibori Fermentation, a Gifu Prefecture based vinegar maker.
“The idea to open it up came from the Railroad Association, who wanted a place convenient for businesspeople to drop into to get some type of health supplement,” says Shonuma, the store manager.
The store serves vinegars made from blueberries and other types of fruits, and usually cuts the drinks with water, or carbonate water or sweetens them with natural sweeteners like honey or yogurt.
A trip to any Japanese convenience store will confirm the popularity of vinegar-based drinks, where one can usually find a selection right next to the small milk cartons.
Worldwide, the variety of vinegars runs into the hundreds or even thousands. Some of them, similar to fine wines, have national certificates and are aged over a dozen years. Balsamic vinegars, made out of grapes, may be the best known among the various types of luxury vinegars.
However, hundreds of years ago, they were the main drinks of everyone in the West, even more so than the East, which also had the tea the West lacked.
One of the best-known drinks was “Posca,” a beverage from the Roman Empire that continued to be consumed almost up to modern times. It was typically made of about 1 ½ cups of vinegar to a half a cup of honey, four cups of water, and a tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds.
From Colonial times onwards in the United States, until soda pop and other sugared drinks vanquished it, “Switchel” was the drink of choice at haying time or other times when heavy labor was demanded on the farm. “Switchel” is basically vinegar, water, ginger and either molasses or honey to sweeten it.
While vinegar drinking may have just about died out in the West; it continues to go strong in Japan.
“Ever since the earthquake and tsunami in March, we’ve seen an increase in male customers,” Shonuma says. “It used to be 80% women. Now more than 40% of our guests are men.”
He said that there has been a greater health consciousness since then, and this has impelled many men to think about their diet and seek out more healthy alternatives.
With winter coming on, and possible electricity cut backs once again in the possible offing, Shonuma has a suggestion: “Try mixing vinegar drinks with hot water to warm yourself up.”