Sake - All about the Japanese drink made from rice

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Do you know the Japanese drink made from rice called sake? Few imagine that sake in Japan goes far beyond a rice drink. In this article, we're going to look at some fun facts, answer questions, and basically tell you everything you need to know about sake [酒].

The drink made from rice is so prized in Japan that it is even offered to Shinto gods. Sake is very popular at special occasions, weddings, openings, stores and celebrations.

Sake or Withdrawal? - The Japanese word is actually written as "sake" [酒], but in Portuguese, Brazilians transformed it into "saquê", which is the way it is pronounced.

Sake can be any drink

The word sake is written with the character [酒] which can refer to any type of alcoholic beverage. That is, if a Japanese is speaking Osake [お酒], he is not talking specifically about rice wine, but it can be any alcoholic beverage.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

The addition of the letter o [お] in the word sake does not change its meaning. Osake [お酒] is just a formal way of saying the word. This honorific [お] adds a sense of delicacy and respect to the word.

Many alcoholic beverages are categorized and ended with the ideogram for sake, pronounced shu [酒]. So when the Japanese want to specify drinks made from rice they say nihonshu [日本酒] which literally means drink from Japan.

Other examples of drinks that contain the same ideogram as sake [酒] are:

  • Budoushu [ぶどう酒] - Wine
  • Umeshu [梅酒] - Plum Liquor
  • Ramushu [ラム酒] - Rum
  • Yoshu [洋酒] - Western Drinks

Sake doesn't cause a hangover

Did you know that premium sake is one of the purest drinks, not causing most people a hangover? Starting off that Sake is not a distillate like cachaça, but a fermented rice.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

There are over 1600 sake makers in Japan, with over 40,000 different varieties of drinks made from rice. New varieties appear every year, while others stop being produced, it is practically impossible to taste all types of sake.

Some people ask if it is better to consume the sake hot or cold. There are no rules regarding this, but it is more common to be consumed cold. It all depends on the type of occasion or the sake. In the old days some even put salt in the sake.

Sake is not a generic drink and can be consumed in a variety of ways, some use distilled sake called shochu to make cocktails. There are sakes that need to be consumed within an expiration date, while there are others similar to wine.

The origin and history of sake

The story of how Japan's national drink came about is unclear, but it is known that a milestone in sake production was the installation of the brewery department in the imperial palace of nara, former capital of Japan from 710 to 792.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

In the following period, when the capital moved to Kyoto, sake is described as a noble drink, already having 15 different varieties. At that time Sake was consumed hot due to the influence of China. There were already more than 180 sake makers in the Kyoto region.

The temples that had large rice properties began to manufacture the drink. In the 14th century, in the midst of great competition between producers, some technological innovations emerged, such as the development of Koji (Aspergillus Oryzae), which is the basis for fermenting rice.

Pasteurization was introduced based on empirical observations, centuries before Louis Pasteur's scientific explanation. Anyway, it is known that the sake consumed today is very different from that made in the past.

The discovery of yeast increased the alcohol content, and the 2nd World Warl also changed your recipe. The scarcity of rice in that period forced manufacturers to look for alternatives to increase fermentation using less rice.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

The Government issued a decree that allowed the addition of pure alcohol and glucose to the formula, which made it possible to use less of the precious cereal. It is estimated that 95% of the sake produced today uses this formula, contradicting past experts who said that the best sake was made only from rice and water.

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sake production technique

Sake is a fermented drink that needs a lot of water and a quality rice (about 80% of the product is rice water). First you wash the rice then cook it in steam, at the end mix it in the yeast, water and koji.

The rice is fermented separately in a room with controlled humidity and temperature. All fermentation takes place in a large tank called shikomi. Fermentation continues for about 18 to 32 days, and at the end of the period the paste is kneaded and filtered.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

Sake is usually pasteurized to deactivate enzymes and kill bacteria that can change the color and flavor of the final product. The sake is stored for six months, receiving an additional amount of pure water, until it reaches an alcohol content between 16% and 20%.

Rice has a long history and great variety, a grain consumed more than 5,000 years ago by almost the entire world's population. There are more than 2,500 varieties of rice that provide different tastes to the Japanese drink.

Kuchikamizake - chewing to ferment sake

Many may have heard the word Kuchikamizake in the animated film Your Name [君の名は] where the character Mitsuha, participates in a Shinto ritual where she needed to make sake through chewing, thus fermenting the rice with her saliva.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

Kuchikamizake has an opaque, whitish color and a very sour taste. It is usually produced by a virgin girl who chews the cooked rice and then spits the liquid into a vessel that is left to ferment and taken as an offering to the Shinto gods.

Kuchikamizake [口噛み酒] literally means to chew [噛] with the mouth [口] to make the drink [酒]. This technique can reach up to 7% of alcohol content in about two weeks of rice fermentation. Probably the kami can also indicate a reference to god [神] which is also pronounced kami.

This ritual is ancient and dates from the eighth century. The last reports of this ritual took place in Okinawa until the 1930s. The kuchikamizake does not even fall into the category of nihonshu sake, as its manufacturing method is different and purely religious.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

Sake is still used in other ways in Shinto ceremonies, where it is considered the drink of the gods.

Main types of sake

Junmai-shu – One of the purest types of Sake, with rice, water and koji, without adding alcohol. The rice is “polished” retaining less than 70% of its original volume.

Honjozo-shu – Sake with a little distilled ethyl alcohol, improving the flavor and making it smoother.

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

Daiginjo-shu - A sake that requires a lot of work in every part of the process, it is polished from 50% to 65%;

Ginjo-shu – Polished rice that retains only 60% of its original format, thus reducing fat and proteins. It is fermented at a low temperature for a long time.

Namazake – An unpasteurized sake, kept in the fridge.

Nigori-zake - Not filtered;

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

The most common sake not mentioned in this list are called futsuu-shu [普通酒], while those produced regionally on a small scale, are called jizake [地酒].

Rice is one of the most important foods in the world, making sake very valuable. For a long time, rice was even used as money. The value of a plot of land was calculated by the amount of rice it produced.

Videos about Sake

What do you think of the Japanese drink made from rice? Did you know these curiosities? I hope this article has answered your questions. If you liked it, don't forget to share it with your friends and leave your comments. Finally, some videos:

YouTube video
YouTube video
Search sources: Japanese culture; 高田公理「禁酒文化・考」

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