Earth & Sake

This past week was known internationally as Earth Week. On a local level, my family looked at the different ways we can continue to do our part.  The children made projects with their classmates at school, using recyclable items such as empty paper towel rolls, old newspapers and scrap materials. It was great to see all the ways they were able to use items we would normally throw away in the recycle bin. 

But it also got me thinking about sake and what happens to the materials that are not usable. I will tell you what they are and what they are used for outside the brewery. You might be surprised!

The first and most important step in sake making is the rice milling or polishing process. This rice polishing ratio is what determines the type of sake that is being produced. Polish the rice to 70% or less of its original size and you will have a Honjozo or regular table sake. This sake tends to be heavier on the tongue and texture with cereal, nutty and even lactic tasting notes.  Polish the rice to 60% of its original size and you will have a Ginjo sake. This is a premium sake that is aromatic, fruity and floral. Polish the rice to 50% or less of its original size and the sake is called Daiginjo (Dai means BIG in Japanese) so this sake is even more fruity, floral than the Ginjo and is very elegant and delicate. 

The milling process takes time and constant supervision. The machines are monitored very closely for the highest quality and consistency. Once the grains of rice are broken, they cannot be used to make sake and are automatically sorted to another part of the machine. The grains must remain intact for the best result. Do grains break? Yes, all the time. But the good news is that they are useful for other purposes.

Rice Husks are used for pet food and cattle feed. Rice Bran is high in fiber and is used to make rice bran oil, cereal and a host of other food items. Broken Rice Grains are used to make rice cereals, rice flour and even rice beer.

Once the milky rice solids, yeast cells (or lees) and koji are separated from the liquid sake, the brewery has no real use for it. But what I find interesting is that local chefs in Japan have taken to using it in their cooking applications. They will dry out the mash and use it as a salt for seasoning or for curing meats and vegetables. I would love to get my hands on some moromi mash to make juniper berry and pink peppercorn cured salmon gravlax and then have it with a very chilled Junmai Ginjo sake. Mmm! 

Another place you will find sake ingredients is in beauty and hygiene products. Japanese women have held this as their beauty secret for many years. The yeasts and koji in sake, when turned into a face cream, have moisturizing and smoothing effects. In fact, there are many spas that offer sake face and body treatments. These are popular by young and old and they are also very effective. 

So the next time you have a drink of sake, you can smile even wider, knowing that none of the ingredients used went to waste. Kanpai!

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