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The right rice for making sake


Rice that is suitable for making sake is called shuzō kōteki-mai.


Rice grown for sake production differs markedly from rice produced for eating. The fact that a certain type of rice is flavorsome to eat does not mean it is suitable for making sake. The differences between rice types will be presented here.


Polishing rice for sake production
The outer layer of rice is rich in nutrients such as protein, minerals (potassium and phosphoric acid), and fats. Indeed, it is these nutrients that help to make rice tasty to eat. When rice is grown to be eaten, these nutrients are important.


On the other hand, these constituents that are important in rice grown for eating are undesirable in rice used for making sake. When these constituents are present, they can give rise to unpleasant flavors, making it impossible to produce good sake.


For example, because proteins are made from amino acids, if these are present in large quantities, the flavor of the sake becomes too strong and dense. If the mineral content is too high, fermentation is adversely affected. For these reasons, polished rice, or seimai, is used for making sake.


Rice produced for eating is milled to 90% of its original weight. That is, the outer 10% of the grain is removed.


Sake rice, however, is typically milled to 60% or 70% of its original weight. In other words, a substantial amount of the outer portion of the grain is removed.


In the case of certain sake types such as daiginjō-shu, the rice polishing ratio is below 50%. That is to say, more than half of the grain is removed by polishing. Because this type of sake uses such a refined form of rice, the price of the final product is higher.


Rice grains have a starch component in the center called shinpaku. The larger this shinpaku part is, the more suited the grain is for sake production. In comparison with grains of rice grown for eating, shuzō kōteki-mai has a larger and softer grain, and its shinpaku is larger.


There are some well-known varieties of sake rice that are prized for qualities that make them particularly suitable for sake production. Among these are the yamadanishiki and gohyakumangoku varieties. There are many popular sake varieties that have been produced using these two types of rice.


Buying sake on the basis of the variety of rice makes little sense
In choosing a wine, the grape variety and the number of years of aging are considered important. Possibly influenced by this, some people select sake on the basis of the variety of rice used in producing it. However, it makes little sense to do so.


In the first place, unlike wine, the process of making sake is quite complex. For that reason, the rice used does not have a direct bearing on the taste of the finished product. Even using exactly the same rice, depending on the conditions under which the sake is made and the kōbo (yeast culture) used, the flavor of the final product varies greatly.


For that reason, the variety of rice used in making a particular sake is generally not considered to be particularly important. Rather, it is the person who made it and his approach to the process that is esteemed above all, because the sake producer’s stance on the process does directly affect the flavor of the sake.


In choosing a sake to buy, it is best not to pay too much attention to the variety of rice used. Precisely because of the complexity of the production process, it is more important to consider who made the sake.


It is also a good idea to consider individual preferences (whether a sweeter sake or a drier one is preferred, for example).


Another consideration is the temperature at which the sake is likely to be consumed. The taste will differ depending on whether the sake is warm or cold. Taking this into account in tasting the drink will result in enhanced enjoyment of your purchase. By not worrying too much about the variety of the rice used, you can select a sake that you will appreciate all the more.

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