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Japanese sake is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages globally and enjoyed for centuries. It’s made from rice, water, yeast, and mold (koji). Koji converts starch into sugar, which the yeast then uses to create alcohol.
The process can take up to a month until it’s ready to drink. There are many different types of sake with varying amounts of alcohol content depending on how diluted with water or added substances like tea leaves are during fermentation.
Sake containing more than 20% ABV is considered “dai-ginjo,” while sake at less than 15% ABV is “nihonshu” or table wine.
What is sake made from?
Sake is made from rice. The rice must be polished to remove its outer bran layer, including the germ, thus removing any possibility of germination. This process is called milling or polishing.
Japanese sake can only be made from polished rice known as “shinpu no kome” (new crop sake).
Liquor with the lower grade rice or rice mixed with other cereals like wheat or corn may be called nihonshu (Japanese alcohol) but cannot be called sake.
How is it made?
Sake is made in a production process known as “seimai koudou” (rice processing).
First, the rice is washed to remove its surface starch and then soaked in water for about 30 minutes. The length of soaking depends on the degree of refinement required and the amount of polishing rice used, but usually, it ranges from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
After soaking, the rice is steamed. The degree of cooking and the number of repeated times depends on the grade of sake being made and varies according to production methods.
The quality achieved in steaming also dramatically affects the taste of sake, so this step must be carefully controlled throughout production all along the process.
After steaming, the steamed rice is ground into a paste known as “moto.” This paste is then pressed to remove excess water. The moto, which now has about 60% of its moisture removed, is called seimai (polishing).
The seimei produced in this step will be around 20% of its original weight.
After nigorizaki (the final pressing), seimai is cooled to around 20 degrees Celsius and mixed with brewer’s yeast, or “koji,” which produces the alcohol content in sake. The mixture is then kept at 15-20 degrees for two days, at which point it becomes a semi-alcoholic beverage called “moromi.”
The moromi is then pressed and filtered, cooled to around 5 degrees Celsius, and stored in tanks. This process creates a clear appearance of sake. Thus begins the fermentation process, which requires another 6 months for completion. During this time, enzymes within the moromi produce alcohol from sugar.
After fermentation is complete, the sake is pasteurized at 70 degrees Celsius. This process reduces acetic acid production and improves the overall quality by clearing up any remaining impurities from the enzyme activity during fermentation.
The sake is now ready for bottling. The final taste and flavor result primarily from the timings used in these processes, resulting from experience and judgment acquired through generations of trial and error.
Sake is produced only in Autumn for consumption starting from late Winter to early Spring.
In colder areas, sake may be made using rice harvested during the previous year instead of new crop rice (called “Naka-shibori”). Rice stored for a year is called “namadako” and has much less sugar content than new crop rice, resulting in sake that is said to have less of a tendency towards being sharp or dry. This type of sake is usually milder (and sweeter) than standard sake.
Due to the methods used in making Japanese sake, it tends to develop a natural sweetness over time, so sake stored for extended periods tends to become somewhat sweeter and smoother than freshly made sake.
Sake is sometimes brewed with the addition of rice from different regions or other ingredients such as milk or tea (these are known as kijou-zake, shirorizake, and cha-shu, respectively). These are usually seasonal specialties only available for a limited time and are particularly popular due to their unique flavors, which can be quite different from standard sake.
What is rice polished is used for making sake?
The most suitable grain of rice has a short and even grain, with the hull attached on both sides of the grains. This type of rice, known as “sakamai,” is often from Niigata or Yamagata prefecture in Japan. It is also called “shinmai,” “jyunmaai,” or “nakamai.” Rice is polished to a length of 50 mm, and the kernels are cut at the height of 5 mm. Rice that has been processed this way will be used for sake brewing.
What kinds and amounts of ingredients are needed?
This will vary depending on the brand of saké and the recipe, but in general, it is safe to say that about 35% of rice (35kg) will be used for 1.5 million liters of sake (1 barrel).
What are some unique factors of brewing in Japan?
The temperature during brewing: The temperature determines how much the rice will expand. The higher the temperature, the less it will grow.
The seki-jō (the conical vat) is heated directly on fire or hot air from a furnace.
And when the brewing reaches its peak, all of the work is done at this high temperature.
Where can you buy it and how much does it cost.
There are several ways to buy sake. It is usually found in supermarkets or liquor stores and is sold in glass bottles of between 180-1000ml (usually around 700ml), aluminum cans of 160mL-360mL, or PET bottles of 140mL-180 mL.
Sake can be enjoyed on its own without any additional condiments but is typically served with spices such as :
- Pickled plums,
- Grated radishes, or daikon (either cut into thin slices or in cubes),
- Salt and pepper,
- Soy sauce,
- Cooked seasonal vegetables, etc.
Sake can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from supermarkets to convenience stores. In America, sake is gradually becoming more available as more and more sake breweries open in the United States.
There are currently more than 60 Sake breweries in America, most opened within the last decade. Thanks to these new brewers, there seems to be a lot of effort into making sake widely available throughout the country.
However, it is still challenging to find due to differences between American laws and Japanese laws.
Sake can be enjoyed at almost any restaurant and is usually served hot with food, cold on the rocks, or warm in place of a beer.
Sake has been around for thousands of years and will continue to grow in popularity as more people learn about its great taste and health benefits. It is a very versatile drink that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
In Japan, sake is often referred to as “Nihonshu” (Japanese liquor), while in America, it’s more popularly known as “sake,” the Japanese pronunciation of which is actually “Sakyu.” When written in Kanji, the word sake can also be pronounced “nigori-zake” or “sorori-zake.”
Sake’s health benefits.
Sake contains many B vitamins such as Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, and folate. When sake is made properly using polished rice (rice with its layer of bran removed), it is also rich in magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Most importantly, the fermentation process helps break down the carbohydrates in the rice into sugars, making them easier to digest. Since sake is made from fermented sugar, it is safe for people sensitive to alcohol because, unlike wine or beer, there are no unpleasant after-effects such as acid indigestion.
Sake also contains a small amount of an amino acid known as GABA that can help reduce feelings of anxiety. It is said to be effective at relieving stress and helping people relax.
One of the benefits of sake over other alcoholic drinks is its low-calorie content. Sake contains less than half of the calories of beer or wine, making it a drink that can be enjoyed by almost anyone without worrying about not being able to fit into their swimsuit this summer.
How to serve sake properly at home:
There are many different types of sake, and finding the right one for you can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time trying it. Three main factors affect the taste and quality: water, rice polishing ratio, and yeast strains used to ferment the sake.
When you open a bottle of sake (except port-style aged sake such as “Takara” or “Nigori Zake”), the first thing that comes out is a yeast layer called “nigoriboshi,” which looks like fine white powder at the bottom of the bottle.
This is entirely normal and will not affect the taste or quality of the sake. Be careful not to let it get into your glass as you enjoy your drink!
If you do not drink much white wine, make sure to use a large bottle so that you can easily decant and then pour out one serving at a time. It is crucial to serve sake at precisely the right temperature.
Since sake has a lower alcohol content than wine, drinking it too warm or cold will ruin its flavor and aroma. Other alcoholic drinks such as beer can be enjoyed at room temperature, but sake is very delicate. Hence, you need to serve it at the right temperature to get the whole experience of its delicious flavor and fragrance.
How to drink it.
When drinking sake, first pour it into your small wine glass or tulip-shaped sake cup and take a sip. Savor the flavor as you hold the liquor in your mouth for about 15 seconds. This will help open up your nasal passages so that you can fully enjoy the aroma. Next, tilt your head back and swallow with one swift gulp.
If you want to eat and drink simultaneously, a good rule of thumb is to pour an amount equal to one serving into your sake cup and finish it first before running more in. Then, enjoy the flavor of that cup throughout the meal. It’s essential not to pour all of your servings at once because the sake will get warm much more quickly.
The most important thing to remember is that drinking too much alcohol, in general, is unhealthy, and always drink responsibly. Sake should never be consumed to get drunk, and it is never appropriate to drive if you have been consuming any amount of alcohol. Enjoy in moderation!
And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this post and that you’ll join me next time when I tackle the question of Japanese food allergies.
Why is it becoming increasingly popular?
As a more traditional holiday gift, people used to bring dried fish (鮨缶). However, as Japanese people started consuming foreign food and variety became available in stores, people began opting for alcoholic beverages. In the 90s, beer was chosen most often since it was internationally popular. But recently, many younger consumers have been seeking out saké as gifts.
There was a tradition of gift-giving during the Osechi period. People gave dried fish (鮨缶), salted salmon, and candy to their superiors at this time. However, with the recent increase in variety and quality in stores around Japan, people have begun choosing other products, and alcohol has started to rise in popularity once again.
Saké is healthy:
Recently, with the influence of western food culture and lifestyle habits, saké has been advertised as suitable for one’s health. Advertisements often promote that they can help lower cholesterol or prevent cancer cells from growing. In addition, saké is a good energy source to combat midwinter lethargy.
Saké is stylish:
Saké has become trendy with younger people who enjoy the aesthetics and ceremony of drinking from small cups and enjoying conversations at bars, which comes naturally with this traditional alcohol. Some people also end up drinking saké because their favorite J-Pop idols or TV personalities drink it, too.
Despite the more recent popularization of saké, in fact, it has been around for a long time and is deeply rooted in Japan’s history. Many traditional ceremonies were held in conjunction with sake, and many unique ways of enjoyment have developed over time.
For this reason, people who participate in these ceremonies feel a sense of connection to their own culture and history when they drink saké.
Alcoholic drinks are becoming more acceptable:
With the increase in the variety available for food products, choosing alcohol as a holiday gift has become socially acceptable. Although some people still follow the older custom of giving dried fish, most consider alcohol a more stylish and modern choice.
Saké is safe:
As an alcoholic drink that has long been enjoyed in our culture, saké brings with it a sense of security. Even if you choose to give foreign products as gifts, there is still a risk that they will not be well-received by the receiver because of possible unknown allergies.
However, since saké has been around for so long, it is unlikely to cause stomach aches or allergic reactions.
Saké is tasty:
Sake tastes good! Like wine or other alcoholic beverages in the west, saké has distinct flavors and characteristics. It can be enjoyed by itself but is also often served with food and enhances the experience of eating traditional Japanese cuisine.