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What is Japanese Sake?

Sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage originating in 8th century BCE. Mysterious and complex by nature, sake can be found and enjoyed in numerous izakayas (居酒屋) located across Japan. Its flavour profile varies and changes according to its temperature and storage. Sake consists of rice and water and typically contains 13%–17% alcohol. Compared to your typical wine, sake offers a much smoother and less acidic flavour profile.

When browsing for sake, you may notice a percentage on the bottle ranging from 20% to 90%. This represents the rice polishing ratio of different sake. Rice polishing may sound like a strange concept to western consumers. However, in Japan, they’ve been polishing rice for sake production for over 2,500 years!

But what does it mean to “polish” rice and why is it important?

Rice Polishing

Rice is a staple food in Japanese culture. Rice is popular for many other kind of Japanese cuisine, including sushi, donburi and even mochi. Conversely, the rice used in sake is known as sakamai (shuzo-koteki-mai) as is different to table rice and has been cultivated to have special characteristics. For instance, sakamai is larger in size, contains lower protein and fat than table rice. For these reasons, sakamai rice has become a less preferred choice for cooking than table rice - we wouldn’t recommend trying it.

Rice polishing is an essential step in the sake brewing process. Getting the balance right is everything in creating the perfect sake flavour profile. "Seimaibuai" is the term used to indicate the amount of rice left after polishing. For instance, 70% polishing means 30% of the rice has been broken down. A lower percentage typically equates to more premium sake. For example, sake with 40% rice polishing ratio would indicate a higher quality sake than one with a 70% rice polishing ratio. This is because a higher percentage represents the large amount of outer parts of rice remaining after polishing.

The process of rice polishing removes the outer surface of the rice composed of fat and protein, leaving a starch filled interior perfect for sake brewing. Starch is an essential ingredient in alcoholic beverages. The starch is then converted into sugar in a process known as saccharification. It’s essential to remove the fat and protein from the rice as this often can lead to a bitter taste. As a tip; you’ll enjoy a much cleaner taste in premium sakes with a low rice polishing ratio.

Have you wanted to try sake in an authentic setting? Sanjugo offers the best premium Japanese sake and whisky available. Shoreditch hosts Sanjugo’s Sake and Whisky Bar where we provide a variety of authentic Japanese beverages such as sake, scotch whiskey, imported beers and cocktails.

Escape the hustle and bustle of London with Sanjugo's haven for sake and whisky lovers, where you can sip your favourite sake or scotch as if time had stood still. The sake and whisky bar at Sanjugo is ideal for private parties and events with friends, family or work colleagues.

Sanjugo is an authentic Japanese restaurant located in Angel and Shoreditch. Enjoy a variety of quality dishes made with the freshest ingredients, including sushi, sashimi, bao buns, donburi, sake and more. Japanese delicacies to comfort your soul. Find out more.

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