Sake - All about the Japanese drink made from rice

Do you know the Japanese rice drink called sake? Few imagine that sake in Japan goes far beyond a rice drink. In this article, we will see some curiosities, answer questions and talk basically everything you need to know about sake [酒].

The drink made from rice is so valued in Japan that it is even offered to shinto gods. Sake is very popular on special occasions, weddings, openings, shops and celebrations.

Sake or Withdraw? – The Japanese word is actually spelled sake [酒, but in English the Brazilians turned it into sake, that's the way it's pronounced.

Sake can be any drink

The word sake is written with the ideogram [酒] which can refer to any type of alcoholic beverage. That is, if a Japanese is talking about 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 feeling of delicacy and respect to the word.

Many alcoholic beverages are categorized and ended with the sake ideogram, pronouncing 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 does not cause a hangover

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

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

There are more than 1600 sake makers in Japan, with more than 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 ask if it is better to consume hot or iced sake. There are no rules regarding this, but it is more common to be consumed cold. Everything will depend on the type of occasion or the sake. In the past, some even added salt to sake.

Sake is not a generic drink and can be consumed in different ways, some use the 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 into being is not clear, but it is known that a milestone in the production of sake was the installation of the brewery department in 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 producers in the Kyoto region.

The temples that had great properties of rice, started to manufacture the drink. In the 14th century, amidst 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 of his scientific explanation. Anyway, it is known that the sake consumed today, is very different from that manufactured in the past.

The discovery of yeast increased the alcoholic content, and the 2nd World Warl also changed his 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 made a decree that allowed the addition of pure alcohol and glucose in the formula, which allowed the use of less precious cereal. It is estimated that 95% of the sake produced today uses this formula, contrary to the experts of the past who said that the best sake was the one made only of rice and water.

Sake production technique

Sake is a fermented drink that requires a lot of water and a quality rice (about 80% of the product is rice water). First, the rice is washed, then steamed, then mixed with yeast, water and koji.

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 taste of the final product. Sake is stored for six months, receiving an additional pure water, until it reaches an alcohol content between 16% and 20%.

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

Kuchikamizake - chewing to ferment sake

Many may have heard the word Kuchikamizake in the animated film Kimi no na wa [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, white color and a very sour taste. It is usually produced by a virgin girl who chews cooked rice and then spits the liquid in a container that is left for fermentation and taken as an offering to the Shinto gods.

Kuchikamizake [口噛み酒] literally means to chew [噛] with your 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 it can also indicate a reference to god [神] who 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. Kuchikamizake does not even fall into the category of sake nihonshu, as its method of manufacture 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 the drink of the gods is considered.

Main types of Sake

Junmai-shu - One of the purest types of Sake, with rice, water and koji, without the addition of alcohol. Rice is "polished" while conserving less than 70% of its original volume.

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

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

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

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

Namazake - An unpasteurized sake, kept in the refrigerator.

Nigori-zake - unfiltered;

Sake - all about the Japanese drink made from rice

The most common sake that was 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 land was calculated by the amount of rice it produced.

Sake videos

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 friends and leave your comments. Finally, some videos:

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

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