February 28, 2013

Japanify: Amazake (Sweet Sake)

by yoko

Amazake literally translates to “sweet sake” which is deceiving considering it’s non-alcoholic. It’s sweet, milky and easy to digest, making it perfect for kids or adults with an upset stomach.

Amazake is made by combining koji with cooked rice, which allows the rice to break down into simple sugars. This is the first step to sake-making. After this step, making sake involves fermentation, pasteurization and filteration and achieves an ABV of around 15%. Because amazake never goes through the fermentation process of 3-4 weeks it doesn’t contain any alcohol. Amazake is said to be good for digestion because it helps break down proteins and complex carbohydrates. It’s also believed to be a good hangover cure. And because it doesn’t contain any alcohol, it is served to kids as a celebratory drink for special occasions like Girl’s Day (March 3) and New Year’s.

Making amazake is simple as long as you have an appliance that can maintain a low, steady temperature of 120-140˚F for up to 24 hours and can buy koji (aspergillus oryzae) and rice. That said, it took me three tries to make an amazake I would feel proud to serve at our “Umami Mart Hinamatsuri“. (Shameless plug: Please come to Umami Mart this Friday 6-8pm to try my amazake!).

For my first attempt, I used my crock-pot on the “Low” setting, but it ended up burnt to a crisp. FAIL.

Then I remembered I had a yogurt-maker that my friends Laura and Will gave to me over a year ago. Jack pot! I think people also use a cooler with some hot water bottles in it or a dehydrator to maintain that 120-140˚F temperature. Finding the right place to incubate your amazake is probably the hardest part of making this drink. But with the yogurt-maker, I was ready to go. I used brown rice and koji and although it turned out okay, I didn’t like how it was a little too rustic-tasting. The rice kernels were too firm and the brown rice over-powered the faint sweetness. That said, amazake made with brown rice has more vitamins than white rice. Sacrifices…

So for my third attempt, I decided to go with white rice. I used the “porridge” setting on my rice cooker then combined it with koji into the yogurt maker. SUCCESS! The result was milkier, sweeter and cleaner tasting than the brown rice trial.

Other applications for amazake include using it as a sweetener (instead of honey) or adding it as a topping to desserts.

So here is my final successful recipe for making amazake.

1 cup short grain white rice
2.5 cups water
2 cups dry koji (I used Cold Mountain brand which they sell at Japanese markets and health food markets — including Whole Foods, where it will cost you an arm and a leg)

1. Steam white rice to porridge consistency.

2. Set up your low temperature appliance (120-140˚F) by plugging it in or preparing a cooler with hot water bottles.

3. Mix the koji into the rice.

4. Put the mixture into a wide mouth glass jar and place into the low temperature appliance for 14-24 hours.

5. The amazake is ready when the rice grains are very soft and the koji is broken down. The amazake should be sweet and mildly syrupy.

6. To enjoy as a hot amazake drink, add equal parts water and bring to a soft boil. Add some ginger as a topping.

This is a very cozy drink, perfect for when you want to curl up in front of the TV after a heavy meal. It’s also gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free!

16 Comments

  • elle
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I was searching online for koji (shipping to Canada poses many obstacles) and was only able to get mugi koji. Will it produce similar results for amasake and shio-koji? I assume the flavour profile will be different but it will still be tasty? The package only includes recipe for mugi-miso, no mention of amasake…

  • Yoko
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I am not sure how it will taste with mugi koji. Since I have only made amazake with rice koji, I don’t know much about mugi koji. I think it’s worth a try though. If you do make it, please let me know how it turns out! Sorry I can’t be of much help.

  • Linda
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Your last picture looks like the rice grains are intact in the drink. In health food stores I have only seen amazake that has been processed to a smoothie-like consistency. Is that not traditional (just some concession to American tastes)? BTW, I had a small electric oven in an apartment I used to live in, and it was perfect for making amazake (made with 100% brown rice, and really sweet, though I can relate to your comment about its being “rustic”). My current oven won’t hold the correct temperature, and I have not tried again after having to throw out a bad batch.

  • yoko
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Linda,
    The amazake I’ve had in Japan usually has the rice grains in tact in it. Although, it’s really soft – like porridge. Did you blend your brown rice amazake as well?

  • Linda
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Yoko,
    Yes, I put the amazake through a blender. Since I used brown rice, even when it was thoroughly blended it was fairly fibrous. I kept batches in the freezer and sometimes had some as a hot beverage with ginger (rather like what you described above, except that I grated ginger very finely and squeezed the juice into the cup). In the summer I sometimes scraped a spoon across frozen amazake to eat it like hard, fibrous ice cream. I am now remembering I made amazake macaroons,too. They were so easy, and I think they may have had just amazake (not diluted), shredded coconut, and maybe a little salt. I am not sure there was any flour at all; if there was, it was a minor ingredient.

  • yoko
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Wow frozen amazake sounds delicious! There is a lot of room for experimentation with amazake.

  • Posted July 12, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Elle,
    I believe I can get you some DRY Koji that can be mailed to you direct, its very light and you can make Sake with it. if interested contact me at; Chileloco4@hotmail.com,
    Regards
    S.S.

  • Dov
    Posted July 28, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I am setting out to make sake (well, rice wine, technically – a jiu) and was unable to get the “rice yeast balls” at my local Asian market, but I did get koji (cold mountain).
    Will this work?
    I.e., is amazake simply sake that was taken out of its nice warm jar before fermentation took place? Or does amazake not ferment because there is not enough yeast in the koji? Or, more specifically, to make rice wine with koji, is it as simple as either letting my mixture sit for 3 weeks instead of just 10 hrs, or adding some brewers yeast to the mixture then letting it sit?
    Or is this just not possible and I need to go find those “rice yeast balls” (which do contain koji spores)?

    I appreciate the help!

  • Naomi
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thank you so much for this information. It’s always so hard for me to find amazake. It’s usually out of season when I am in japan. Sometimes I find it on the internet, but it’ll be much nicer to make it at home like grandma did! ^.^ The Koji is waiting for me to get started. soon. hehe Thank you again!

  • Ed
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Does anyone know what the Salton low temperature appliance is that is pictured above? I searched all over and could not find anything that looks like that…

    Ed

  • yoko
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Ed,
    Yes, it’s this one:
    http://www.amazon.com/Salton-YM9-1-Quart-Yogurt-Maker/dp/B00004SUHY

    Thanks for reading!
    Yoko

  • Ed
    Posted January 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Yoko – Thanks! I am on my third batch and each time it keeps getting better and better. My real problem has been consistency in temperature so this will definitely help.

    I have been making some pretty amazing cookies with it. The recipe cam from who knows originally but I got it from one of my yoga teachers:

    2 cups amazake
    1 cup flour (or gluten free flour) I used whole wheat from Anson Mills and liked it a lot.
    1 cup rolled oats – not quick cooking
    1 cup fresh ground peanut butter
    1 cup raisins

    Mix the amazake and peanut butter together.

    In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredient, add to wet and fold until well mixed.

    Fold in the raisins

    scoop about 3 Tbsp. mounds onto an un-greased cookie sheet and flatten with a dinner fork. (They are peanut butter after all) and bake.

    Be careful to keep the tray in the middle of the oven and turn at about 7 minutes. They should take about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden.

    The last time I did it I baked them at 350 and used 2 trays but the bottom ones got too dark on the bottom very quickly.

    I can’t stop eating them…

  • Ed
    Posted January 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I forgot!!! – pre-heat oven to 325

  • I_Fortuna
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    DOV and all~Hi. Please understand that Chinese yeast balls are a completely different fungus than Japanese koji.
    If you decide to make rice wine, I would go with sake and not Chinese rice wine. Unless it is unpasteurized Namazake, commercial sake is unlikely to go bad. On the other hand, Chinese rice wine achieves different levels of alcohol and I have had even certain commercial brands go bad to the point of serious food poisoning. It is important to be careful.

  • Sean
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Hello,
    It is kinda funny, your third attempt you followed the directions that came with the Koji! I just wanted to mention two things that will make it easier and save some money. The Koji is just what you inoculate the rice with, that being said you do not need 2 cups of Koji to one cup of rice. To save money I cook two cups of rice and add one cup of Koji and there is absolutely no difference in taste, none. The incubation takes about 10-14hours and the way I do it is to pack it all the rice and Koji into a 1/2 gallon mason jar and put this into the smallest cooler it will fit in. Then I boil enough water to fill a hot water bottle and put that in the cooler with the mason jar. 10-14 hours later is it done. Doing is this way will extend your Koji by 3 times.

  • Chris
    Posted July 31, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Last year I went to Takayama, Japan with my fiance and tried some Amazake during a nighttime festival in spring, and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was! We tried to bring some back but were told it would not do well on the flight back since the bottled brand that we tried needed to be kept chilled. We’ve never forgotten that time and I’m glad I came across this blog to find that it’s fairly easy to make (just like yogurt! Just takes time…)

    Do you know if the glass jar is necessary? My yogurt maker came with a reusable plastic (or some form of it) jar. I’ve heard using something like that is bad, as it can retain the bacteria, but so far it hasn’t had any adverse effects on yogurt…

One Trackback

  • By Amazake so amazing | Japanese Wines on September 20, 2014 at 1:29 am

    […] Amazake is a Japanese traditional sweet drink made from fermented rice. It is either contains low or no alcohol at all so it can be enjoyed in amounts without worrying about its alcoholic effects. It dates back to the Kofun period of the Japanese Era. In a popular recipe, carbohydrates are broken down into simpler and raw sugars by enzymes as koji is added to the cooled whole grain rice. Sweetness naturally develops, as the mixture incubates and the natural process of fermentation takes place. Another way amazake is prepared is in which sake-kasu is simply mixed with water but usually sugar and alcohol is added. […]

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