All About Japanese Food Culture - Japanese Sake

3. The Story of Sake’s Indispensable Ingredients: Water and Rice

Water, rice and koji mold are the main raw ingredients of sake. About 80% of sake’s volume is water, and a lot of water is necessary in the brewing process. Places like Kyoto’s Fushimi or Hyogo’s Nada-Gogo, which are blessed with high-quality subterranean water and springs, are Japan’s prominent sake-producing areas.

With different finished flavors from water quality and the different characteristics of regions and breweries, there is a lot to discover about Japanese sake. Water is differentiated by its hardness, which represents how much calcium and magnesium it contains, with Japan’s water being mainly soft water with less than 100 mg/l. This is a general standard for warter hardness, but Japanese sake brewers use a more detailed scale of hardness.

Though Japanese water is generally soft, the hardness is slightly higher in regions with comparatively more minerals, which lends sake made using that water more sharpness. In other regions, relatively softer water makes for more mellow sake.

The second indispensable ingredient is rice. Rice is the main staple food in Japan, but the rice that is eaten and the rice used make sake are different. The protein, fat and other nutrients found in rice are avoided because they introduce unpleasant glavors during the brewing process. This is why the rice that is delicious when eaten and doesn't make for good sake.

In recent years, through research and development of sakamai (sake brewer’s rice), there are now about 100 varieties of sakamai being produced, and a few have gained popularity. Famous varieties known throughout Japan are sold at high prices, and the sake made from them are distributed as exclusive products, though with increasing numbers of young, female and foreign sake fans, more attention is being paid to rare sake using unique local varieties of rice.

There are many kinds of sake with distinct tastes all over Japan. Why not find your own personal favorite while enjoying local delicacies together with the sake shaped by each area’s climate?

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