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What Is Amazake?
Amazake ("sweet sake") is a Japanese beverage made from rice and kome koji (rice koji), or rice inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, the same mold used to make other fermented foods like miso, mirin, and soy sauce. Amazake is the first step to making sake, but it can be enjoyed on its own as a non- or low-alcoholic, sweet beverage.
Koji produces enzymes (made up of amino acids) that break the starch (carbohydrates) in rice down into the sugars glucose and oligosaccharides, resulting in a sweet drink. If left to ferment for more than a day or two, lactic acid bacteria will start to turn the amazake sour, and eventually, the sugars will break down into alcohol, producing the familiar fermented beverage sake.
2 Types of Amazake
When it comes to making homemade amazake, there are two main routes: koji and sake lees.
- Amazake made with koji: Amazake made with koji is more traditional. The process takes a little longer and requires several hours of incubation at a precise temperature. It does not typically contain alcohol.
- Amazake made with sake lees: Amazake made with sake lees is a little easier to make provided you have access to sake lees—a byproduct of sake production. You simply mix steamed rice with sake lees to achieve an amazake-like beverage. Amazake made with sake lees does contain alcohol.
Origins of Amazake
A version of amazake is first mentioned in Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), an old Japanese text compiled in 720. During the Edo Period (1600–1868), amazake was served during the summer to prevent fatigue. Today, it is typically enjoyed during New Year and Hina Matsuri (Girl's Day or Doll Festival) celebrations.