What Is Sake? A Comprehensive Guide To Rice Wine

Informational

Sake poured into a sakazuki

Sake, or spelled saké, is Japan’s national beverage. It is a fermented rice-based alcoholic drink. Sake is usually offered after being warmed in stoneware or ceramic container during a special ceremony. Sake may be served hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Because this liquor is not given much credit, we wrote this article to tell you everything you need to know about this unique alcoholic beverage. Read below to learn more.

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The History of Sake

Sake with rice grain

Sake's roots may be traced back to China as early as 4,000 BC. However, following the introduction of wet rice farming in Japan about 300 BC, the Japanese began to mass-produce the drink. 

Initially, the method was crude: locals would meet to chew grains and nuts, then spit the contents into a communal container, which would subsequently be preserved and fermented. The enzymes in the villagers’ saliva aided the fermentation process. 

This practice was quickly abandoned with the discovery of koji, or Aspergillus oryzae. It is a mold enzyme that could be applied to rice to initiate fermentation during the Nara period (710–794). This fermenting method has expanded throughout Japan, culminating in sake as we currently know.

Today, there are only about 2,000 sake breweries in Japan. However, the drink has rapidly increased in popularity outside of the country, with breweries established in Southeast Asia and other continents. Sake Day, a traditional Japanese celebration observed on October 1st, is now honored by brewers and connoisseurs worldwide.

What is Sake Made of?

Rice used in making sake

As mentioned above, rice, koji, yeast, and water are used to make sake. It's also possible to add alcohol.

Sake is made from finely polished white rice. Rice is high in protein. The umami flavor of sake comes from the protein broken down into peptides and amino acids by the enzyme koji. 

Koji mold is known as Japan's national fungus. The enzymes in the koji transform the rice's starch to sugar. Koji is also used to make miso, vinegar, and soy sauce, among other traditional Japanese dishes.

Sake was formerly manufactured by natural fermentation with wild yeast. But because wild yeast has a poor ability to make alcohol, it is not ideal for sake production. 

Most sake brewers nowadays employ trustworthy sake yeast that has been chosen from wild yeast. Sake yeast is vital as it provides consistent, high-quality sake manufacturing.

Water is essential for saké production. Sake is composed of 80% water, which makes proper handling very critical in making this drink. The rice is typically washed, soaked in water, and then mashed.

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How is Sake Produced?

Koji spread to the rice for making sake

Because the outer layers of rice grains produce unwanted tastes in the ultimate product, they are polished before being employed in sake production. 

In general, the finer the rice is polished, the greater its flavor and the higher the sake's value. At least 30% of the grain is typically smoothed away while making premium sake.

Rice is polished, cleaned, moistened, and set in a traditional cooking device known as a "koshiki." Rice has a strange consistency when cooked, which is mushy on the inside and solid on the exterior. 

Next, the rice is moved to a special chamber called "Kojimuro" after it has been cooked, where humidity and temperature are carefully regulated. 

Rice is then seeded by hand, with each grain meticulously separated from the others to maximize exposure to ferments. This conditions it for the addition of koji, which is distributed over cooked rice in powder form and allowed to develop for three days. The koji and rice are mixed to boost the action of enzymes. 

The koji permits the formation of simple sugars after three days. Then, the toji (or the master brewer) makes a sake fermentation starter called “moto,” consisting of koji grains, yeasts, and spring water. As the yeast matures, it will produce alcohol and alcohol esters. As the temperature rises, bubbles begin to develop on the surface of the mixture.

In bigger fermentation vats, the fermentation starter is placed and the process begins, which will last for 3 to 5 weeks. During this time, the contents of the tanks are mixed regularly. Other cooked rice and water are added to feed the reaction.

Finally, the contents of the tanks are collected and pressed. After that, the sake may be filtered and pasteurized. Sake is then packaged in a bottle and ready to be consumed after six months.

How Strong is Sake?

Fermentation of sake in tanks

Sake has a higher alcohol percentage than most wines, ranging from 15 to 17%. The fact that it's transparent and presented in small glasses might be deceiving, as many people mistakenly believe it's as intense as clear alcohol like vodka or rum.

In truth, the strongest sake—genshu, for example—has a strength of roughly 22%, which is comparable to port wine.

Similarity and Differences Between Wine and Sake

Although sake is commonly referred to as "sake wine," it differs from wine in many ways. Wine is manufactured by fermenting sugars found in fruits, most commonly grapes. Sake is made similar to beer, with rice starch transformed into sugars and then consumed with alcohol.

When compared to wine, sake usually has a greater alcohol concentration. This is due to the process of creating wine necessitating the use of a high concentration of sugar initially, which prevents yeast from producing alcohol. 

The amount of sake's sugar is maintained to a minimum at the start of the fermentation process so that yeast may produce alcohol without being impeded.

What is Sake FAQ

1. When is sake usually served?

As a traditional drink, sake is usually offered during formal occasions, special events, ceremonials, celebrations, and holidays in Japan. It is known as nihonshu, properly translated as "Japanese liquor." It's usually served in a sakazuki, a tiny porcelain cup, and poured from a tall bottle called a tokkuri.

2. Is sake healthy alcohol?

Sake is regarded as one of the world's healthiest beverages. For starters, many amino acids included in the drink are non-carcinogens. Therefore, Japanese Sake has been discovered to have significant anti-cancer properties. 

Sake also includes all three Branch Chain Amino Acids necessary for skeletal muscle health and function, which can assist in avoiding osteoporosis. It also helps prevent blood clots, improve circulation, control insulin synthesis and secretion, and strengthen the immune system. 

Lactobacillus, a lactic acid bacteria, may be present in sake. This liquor is considered a probiotic drink that can aid with digestive issues, such as diarrhea brought on by illness or antibiotic use.

3. Is sake healthier than wine?

Sake has seven times the amount of amino acids found in wine! Amino acids are not only responsible for sake's exquisite umami flavor, but they also promote nutrition and function.

This does not necessarily make sake healthier than wine because both beverages have their own health benefits. Wine is rich in antioxidants, can regulate blood sugar, and may lower bad cholesterol. Just remember, moderation is the key. 

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a unique beverage, one that is both interesting and easy to drink, sake may be a perfect choice. This rice wine can be served chilled, hot, or at room temperature, which means it can work well with any meal!

The next time you're out drinking with friends, consider ordering some sake as an alternative to wine or beer. Chances are they'll appreciate your adventurous side too!

Have you tried drinking sake? Share your experience with us!

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