Medicinal Cinnamon "Syrups" from Jujia Biyong

The blog, long updated, must fall silent; long silent, must update. Thus it has ever been.

It's been a year.  I've worked on some small brewing projects but mostly my 2020 and early 2021 have been focused on surviving The Plague.

I was delighted to find a challenge to recreate non-alcoholic beverages as part of the East Kingdom's Laurel Challenge event, so I went back to the ~1400 CE household manual The Complete Collection of Important Household Skills (Jūjiā Bìyòng 居家必用) and surveyed it for recipes that matched the brief.

While it is common to find medieval food at our feasts and dayboards, medieval beverages tend to be somewhat more limited. Aside from water and alcohol, what might be found and recreated? This challenge asks you to find examples of drinks – with recipes, if possible, and to recreate them, if you are able. As you do, consider whether they can be offered as options for events. Are ingredients a limitation in terms of availability or safety? How would they appeal to the modern palate?

Left: diluted "lychee" syrup
Right: diluted cinnamon "syrup"

I used ctext.org's copy of the manuscript, although it has some digitization problems, so I also referenced two scanned copies that I used to double-check the digitized transcripts of the recipes I chose, one low-quality scan from Beijing which is probably from the late 1700s imperial reprinting project, and a much higher quality scan of a Japanese print.  This latter edition is much more pleasant to read, and interestingly also contains annotations alongside the text which help Japanese speakers to reorder the sentence to be approximately grammatical in Japanese.

The text is long, so I searched it for 飲 "a drink, to drink" and sketched translations of the sections that seemed interesting.  At the bottom of this article is a list of what I found, so you can get an idea of the other contents floating around this book.  I've also included a table of the units of measurement that I used in these recipes.

I settled on two recipes from the "syrup" 漿 section, although not all of these are syrups and the term is a bit vague.

Recipes

To Make Cinnamon Syrup

桂漿法 夏月飲之。解渴消痰。勿與酒同飲 官桂三兩為末   赤茯苓去皮為末 細曲末半斤   大麥蘗半兩為末 杏仁百粒浸去皮尖研細 蜜三斤 右用熟水一斗。冷定調勻。入磁器內攪三五百轉。用油紙封口。覆以數重。入窨五日方熟或臘紙密封沉井底七日。綿濾去滓。水浸飲之

Drink this in summer months.  It quenches thirst and eliminates phlegm.  Do not drink with alcohol.

  • Cassia cinnamon - 3 liang powdered
  • Red Wolfiporia extensa - skinned, powdered
  • Finely powdered yeast cakes - half a jin
  • Malted barley - half a liang, powdered
  • almond/apricot kernels - 100, soaked, skinned, pointed [?], ground to powder
  • Fresh honey - 3 jin

For the above, use one dou of boiled water.  Cool it, and mix evenly.  Add it to a porcelain vessel and stir 300-500 rounds.  Seal with oil paper.  Turn it over a number of times.  Put it in the cellar for five days and it will be ready, or use preservation paper, tightly seal it and put it in the bottom of a deep well for seven days.  Strain through floss to remove the dregs.  Dissolve in water to drink.

荔枝漿 桂三兩 丁香二分 烏梅半斤煎汁 𥕯[石+宿]砂仁三兩銼碎煎汁一升 生姜汁半盞 右件澄清相和。入糖二斤半。銀石器熬候稠濃。濾過用之

It's not entirely clear what the cooling instruction means in Chinese, and it could be read to mean "mix, then cool" but because this seems intended to introduce living yeast cultures into the liquid, I've chosen to cool the water first so as not to kill them.

For context, this is a medicinal recipe, and the W. extensa fungus is probably the main intent here - it's believed to have diuretic properties in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The mix of yeast cakes (used to make rice wine) and malt is curious, but appears elsewhere in this manuscript, and I think that it's because the author didn't really understand what causes fermentation specifically, so they added both malt and the saccharifying yeast cakes, even though they're just using honey anyway.

"Lychee" Syrup

  • Gui [either cassia cinnamon or osmanthus, unclear but probably cinnamon] - 3 liang
  • Cloves - two fen
  • Black Prunus mume - half a jin, boiled juice
  • Amomum villosum - 3 liang, filed and crushed, boiled to juice, taking one sheng
  • Fresh ginger juice -  half a wine cup
Take the above items pure, then mix.  Add two and half jin of sugar.  In a silver stone vessel, boil until thick.  Filter and use.

Note: after publication, a friend of mine pointed out that the gui in this recipe is in their view most likely osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) fruits.  I have the flowers, but not the fruits, so this will be a challenge to source, but worth revisiting.  They reportedly have a similar camphor aroma to the Amomum villosum.

Prunus mume is a sour fruit (actually an apricot, but usually called a plum) that you may be familiar with from umeshu, the Japanese plum wine.  It's pretty sour, and before vinegar became popular in China in the first millennium was the primary source of culinary acid in Chinese cuisine.

Redactions

The recipes are fairly straight forward.  I scaled them down by a factor of 10, and a factor of 4 to be a reasonable quantity, and to not exhaust some of my rarer ingredients.

Cinnamon Syrup

The listed ingredients arranged in bowls
The ingredients prepared

Grinding the yeast cakes

Boiling water

Everything ready to mix

The bottle

  • Ground cassia cinnamon: 12g
  • White Wolfiporia extensa, ground: 12g
    • I was only able to source this from online Asian medicine suppliers, and could not find the red variety.
  • Finely ground yeast cakes: 32g
    • I used yeast cakes I made previously following the 544 CE recipe.  The recipes in this book are broadly similar, and the production process takes months and stinks up the house, so I used what I had on hand.
  • Ground malted wheat: 2g
    • The recipe calls for barley, but I couldn't get that on short notice.  Malted wheat is similar and quantity involved is tiny.
  • Almond flour: 12g
    • I weighed an almond to determine how much this should be.  I would have ground them myself but was out of raw almonds.
  • Honey: 190g
  • Boiled water: 950mL
Boil water and let cool to room temperature or a little above.  Mix ingredients thoroughly and then place in an inert vessel.  Cover mouth with wax paper and tie with string.  Leave in a cool place (I used a semi-broken refrigerator compartment) for 5 days.  Separate a cotton ball or two, place them gently in a funnel, decant liquid into funnel and filter.  Keep refrigerated.

To drink, dilute 1:3 in water

This produces a slightly alcoholic product - if let ferment to completion it could come out as high as 7%, but it won't reach that in a cool place.  Diluted it'll be around 1% or less. 

"Lychee" Syrup

This syrup does not in fact contain lychees.  It did wind up having kind of an unexplainable lychee quality, but left me wondering if I should have used osmanthus flowers (the other kind of gui) instead of cinnamon.
The ingredients

This is sharen, the fruit of Amomum villosum

30g of shelled Amomum villosum, and their shells

Amomum villosum grounds ready to boil

Boiling dried Prunus mume

Left: Prunus mume decoction
Right: sharen decoction

Everything mixed together

Syrup very slowly filtering.  To get most of the rest out I resorted to the microwave, which worked well.
  • Ground cassia cinnamon: 30g
    • As noted, this could possibly be intended to be dried osmanthus flowers, which I also have, but given the placement next to another cinnamon recipe, and that osmanthus flowers are usually "gui flowers" not just "gui" I went with cinnamon.
  • Cloves: 0.2g
    • This was literally three cloves.
  • Dried Prunus mume: 79g, boiled with the juice taken
    • These are hard to source.  Chinatown grocers and pharmacies have them, but they almost all have aspartame, an artificial sweetener, in them for some reason I do not understand.  The ones I found after long searching "only" had sugar, salt and citric acid added.
  • Ground Amomum villosum seeds: 30g, boiled down to 238 mL, taking the juice
    • These are a cardamom relative with a camphor-like aroma.
    • These are also quite hard to source.  My stash was purchased after spending a long time hunting them on online traditional medicine sites.
  • Fresh ginger juice: 12.5mL
    • Juicing ginger with a mortar and pestle is unpleasant and I cannot honestly recommend it.
  • Rock sugar: 396g
Vigorously boil the Amomum villosum in ~300ml of water until it reduces a bit.  Boil the Prunus mume in enough water to cover them until they soften, then take them out cut them into a few pieces and keep boiling until they are flavorless.  Mix everything together and boil until thick, or until a candy thermometer reads 230 degrees F / 110 degrees C.  Loosen one or two cotton balls and place them as a filter in a heatproof funnel over a heatproof vessel.  Swiftly but carefully pour the hot syrup into the funnel and let drain.  If it stops flowing, microwaving the apparatus will quickly loosen the syrup, at the cost of authenticity.

Cooking the syrup to 230F was about where it began to feel "thick" but is also the temperature needed to make something that's shelf-stable unrefrigerated - it's the "thread" stage of candymaking.  If you make this, be really careful when boiling the syrup, as it's easy to boil over, especially if you're using a ceramic pot like I was.  Keep a cup of cold water on hand to douse the boil if it threatens to spill.

Results

Having the syrups side by side was interesting.  They both have strong cinnamon notes, but are different.

The cinnamon "syrup" is not at all thick.  When diluted, it has an odd mushroom aroma that may be from the Wolfiporia extensa, but I have also gotten it from misadventures with the yeast cakes before so that may be the source.  A red-hot cinnamon aroma accompanies the mushrooms.  There's no grit in it at all.  It's lightly sweet and sour in a pleasant way, with a faint cinnamon heat.  The mushroom smell persists on the palate, along with a slightly unpleasant medicinal smell.  Overall: 4/10, would not totally regret drinking but this is clearly a medicine and not a casual drink.

The "lychee" syrup is very different when diluted.  It has a strong cinnamon nose, with some additional complexity that isn't cinnamon (I blame the Amomum villosum).  The drink is quite sweet, but not cloying, balanced with a mild acidity.  Interestingly, it has a very rich mouthfeel, which I think is from the Prunus mume - the broth from the plums had a rich thickness, and also the acidity that I think is making this drink work.  That richness and acidity provides a slight reminiscence of lychee fruit.  There's a slight amount of grit from cinnamon that didn't get filtered out, and a slight warming feel.  On the palate, there's a round cinnamon aroma, plus a bit of camphor from the Amomum villosum.  Overall: 7/10, would drink, will experiment with it in cocktails.

Discussion

The challenge asks me to consider the appropriateness of these drinks for use at a reenactment event.  I think the cinnamon "syrup" is not really the right thing: it is not pleasant enough, is slightly alcoholic, requires obscure mushroom powder, and feels like medicine.  The "lychee" syrup would work decently, especially if filtered better, although ingredient access is a problem.  A version using cardamom instead of Amomum villosum would be interesting to try, although it would be quite different.  The ginger and cloves can probably be omitted, and table sugar instead of rock sugar will probably produce identical results.  Because it's so sweet, I think there's little challenge to the modern palate.

Translation

I'll note the titles of recipes below, rather than dumping the whole thing.  CText breaks the text into chunks arbitrarily - they don't align with the scroll divisions of the text.  I've included links and the line numbers so that interested readers can cross-reference the source material easily.

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=321115 Table of contents

328 夢飲食瓜果蔬菜 dreams of drink, food, gourds, fruit, vegetables

957 造清涼飲法 to make cooling waters

1071 飲食類 food and drink

1150 飲食類 food and drink

1555 車前子飲 Plantago seed drink

1557 枸杞飲方 receipt for goji berry drink

1561 兔頭飲方 receipt for rabbit head drink

1571 赤白皮飲 red-white skin drink

1590 車前子飲 before-the-cart drink

1597 茱萸飲方 receipt for Cornus officinalis drink

1604 麻子飲方 receipt for hempseed drink

1637 痰飲証諸方 all receipts for drinks which admonish phlegm

1645 青蒿飲 Artemisia annua drink

1655 常山飲 Changshan drink

1802 飲食 food, drink

1907 a discourse on etiquette.  One bit: “When drinking wine: do not allow yourself to reach drunkenness.  When using the toilet: you must first remove your outer clothes, and after must wash your hands.  When walking at night, you must use a lantern or candle, and if you do not have a candle, stop.  When dealing with servants, you must hold firm, or else they will laugh.  When holding household utensils, you must hold firm, for fear of loss.  When there is danger, do not near it.  When you encounter an elder on the road, you must bow and clasp your hands in an upright fashion.  Quickly approach with small steps and a bowed head and bow.  When lying at night, you must use a pillow.  Do not cover your head with your sleepclothes.  When eating and drinking, when you raise your spoon you must place your chopsticks.  When you raise your chopsticks, you must place your spoon.  After eating, place the spoon and the chopsticks on the table.”

1984 food and drink must be moderate “... do not drink more than three jue [a kind of cup], do not reach drunkenness”

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=51140

~600 is some notes around various specific rituals involving drinking and eating

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=516702

~300+ This is a list of dream interpretations

459 Dreaming of drinking with folks -> misunderstanding caused by gossip

463 Dreaming of drinking to drunkenness -> illness

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=137521

Large section on tea starting at 373

400 Goji Tea

413 Section on hot waters

530 Is Sharbats / Sherberts / Thirst Waters, which I have previously worked in

531 Imperial sharbat

536 Malus asiatica sharbat

538 Myrica rubra sharbat

540 Quince sharbat

542 Five flavor berry sharbat

544 Grape sharbat

546 Fragrant sugar sharbat - I had previously thought this was "pine" sugar - but it was an OCR error!  "pine sugar" and "loose sugar" are homophones and the characters are similar.  Thanks to my friends who helped me spot this.

548 To make refreshing drinks

549 Awaken Qi and invigorate the spirit

552 Hot drinks - cross reference https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/2580236?tocOpened=1 around page 25

553 Millet [Setaria italica, possibly sorghum] stalk hot water

555 Shiso hot water

557 Cardamom hot water

559 Aquilaria agallocha hot water

561 Fragrant flower hot water

563 Clove hot water

565 To make hot waters.

567 Vinegars / syrups

568 To Make Cinnamon Syrup

574 "Lychee" syrup

578 Chinese Quince Syrup

580 To make vinegars/syrups

670 Yeast cakes

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=407085

8 distilling

99 Soy-type sauces

183 food and drink

184 vegetarian food

352 food and drink

369 Wine roasted fish

493 Muslim foods

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=460386

Medicines

208 Plantago asiatica seed drink

214 Receipt for goji berry drink

218 Receipt for Barley Broth

There’s more in here

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=269718

364 “Drinking in the 5-7 am hour.  One day of unhappiness.”

Units of Measure

Yuan and Ming dynasty units of measure - this book is transitional, but I used the Yuan measurements because they are slightly easier to work with mathematically.  For the wine cup, I measured the replica wine cups I have and they are 100 mL.  They're about 1000 years early, but should be approximately representative.

王力古漢語字典



Yuan

Ming


Weight

jin

633g

590g

liang

40g

36.9g

fen

0.4g

0.37g

Volume

dou

9500mL

10000 mL

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