10 Wild and Weird Drink Ingredients


When it comes to booze, humanity has stuck with the classics for a long time. The first recipes for beer production appear 4000 years ago, in a series of Sumerian tablets that include a hymn to the Goddess Ninkasi—“the lady who fills the mouth.” Back in the Sumerians' day, they made beer by crumbling up barley bread into a mash. Brewing techniques have since changed, but people are still pretty consistent with what they like: Beer made from grains; wine from grapes; spirits distilled from fruit or grain. But some intrepid drink-makers have gone far beyond that well-trod path. We've combed the corners of the world to compile some of the wildest concoctions you can find in beer, wine, or spirits.

1. Artichokes

Courtesy of Campari

It's not unusual to use vegetables in distilling alcohol. Sugar cane and the agave plant, for instance, are used to make rum and tequila. Less known, however, is that the lowly artichoke has become the star of its own drink. Cynar, an Italian liqueur made from 13 plants and herbs including artichokes, is popular in Europe. Cynar tastes more bittersweet than identifiably like any particular vegetable, and is often paired with orange juice, or served on the rocks as an apertif. It's starting to become more trendy to drink in the U.S., so look for its artichoke-adorned bottle at a bar near you.

2. Asparagus

Courtesy of Kellie Fox

“It was kind of an experiment that turned out not-so-bad.” 

That's how farmer Kellie Fox describes her latest creation: Asparagus wine. Fox and her husband, Todd, own a fruit and asparagus farm in Oceana County, Michigan, also known as the “Asparagus Capital of the World.” 

On a lark a few years ago, Fox tried to make wine from asparagus and it turned out to be a hit. The white wine smells and tastes like asparagus “and it's a little sweet,” Fox says.

The couple sells the wine during their harvest festival. One customer buys eight bottles every year to use during a dinner where every item is made with asparagus.

3. Baby mice

Wikimedia Commons

On the more horrifying end of the weird-drink spectrum is the practice of drowning animals in rice wine or whiskey, supposedly for health benefits. For this tonic, newborn mice are drowned alive in rice wine and left to ferment. It's difficult to confirm where one might purchase or even find such an item since it fortunately won't be appearing at Costco anytime soon.

4. Civet poop

Wikimedia Commons

Caphe cut chon is one of the ingredients in “Beer Geek Brunch Weasel,” a coffee stout made by Danish brewer, Mikkeller. Caphe cut chon, which translates to “Fox-dung coffee,” is made when the civet, a small weasel-like creature, digests and poops out coffee cherries. Yes, this is actually a thing. This special coffee “processing” is difficult to mass-produce so the coffee fetches a high markup, costing anywhere from $30 a cup on up. Opinions differ on the quality of the coffee, but the beer earned a “World Class” rating at Beer Advocate.

5. Hair

Courtesy of Rogue Ales & Spirits

Technically, the upcoming “beard beer” being produced by Oregon-based Rogue Ales is not made from hair, but rather, the wild yeasts found clinging to brew master John Maier's “old-growth” beard. Last year, the brewery wanted to develop some wild yeast for new beers, so Maier sampled nine hairs from his beard and ended up cultivating a stellar and unique wild yeast strain. The brewery is still in the process of developing the beers from that yeast, but you can check for updates on Maier's beard blog.

6. Wasp guts

Courtesy of

In yet another case of brewers gone rogue, a brewery in Italy developed beers using on a strain of yeast found in wasp bowels. Birra del Borgo brewers are no strangers to interesting beer experiments, having previously attempted to replicate ancient beverages from the Etruscan age. In the case of the wasp beer, the brewers worked with researchers who were studying how wasps and hornets transfer and store yeasts from grape skins. As it turns out, wasp intestines make a cozy place to temporarily store wild yeast. And that yeast was used to develop a beer called Maia (named after a cartoon bee). The brewery is also in the process of developing a second beer called Calabrone (hornet).

7. Mare's milk

Wikimedia Commons

Should you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Mongolian steppes, be sure to try some airag, or kumis, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented mare's milk. Because of the higher content of sugar in mare's milk, the drink ends up with a mild amount of alcohol instead of resembling something like kefir, a yogurt-like drink. Mare's milk contains a much higher amount of lactose than cow's milk, so the fermentation process lessens the laxative effect of the milk as well. The bonus to this drink is that you can get your probiotics and buzz on at the same time.

8. Nicotine

The nicotini (nicotine infused spirit) popped up a couple years ago in response to smoking bans. Smokers can get their fix of nicotine all while legally enjoying a (delicious?) beverage. You can make a nicotine syrup by cooking the tobacco leaf with water and sugar, but there are some concerns. Nicotine is a toxic substance, even lethal if the dose is high enough, so you might think twice before having a three nicotini lunch.

9. Snakes

Wikimedia Commons

Whether it's snakes, mice (see above), giant spiders, scorpions, sea horses, or even giant deer penises, there is apparently a demand in East Asia for more than just ice to be found floating in your cocktail. Unlike mice wine, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase giant bottles of alcohol with cobras floating in them; one site advertises its snake bottles as the “best mother's day 2013 gift." You might want to stick with flowers instead.

10. Spit

Wikimedia Commons

Chicha, a drink found in south and central America, can be made from fermented maize, yucca or fruits. The corn version is a mildly alcoholic beer that tastes like apple cider. The traditional method of making chicha involves chewing ground maize into little spit balls that are laid flat to dry. The saliva helps break down the starch into malt sugar.


Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.


The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."


The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.


The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.


The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.


The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.


For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.


Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.


You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.


In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.


When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.


On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."


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