Still wondering what sake is? Well here’s what you should know:
Sake is the traditional rice wine of Japan. You can find it in many different varieties, and was first made at least 2,000 years ago. Ever since then, sake has played an essential role in Japanese culture and history. From its origins as the "drink of the Gods" to its current status as one of the most popular drinks in the country, the history of sake is steeped in tradition, innovation, and custom.
Sake was first brewed in Japan after the practice of wet rice cultivation was introduced in that country around 300 B.C. Though the origins of sake can be traced in China as far back as 4,000 B.C., it was the Japanese who began mass production of this simple but delicious rice concoction.
As for the main process of making sake, it included "polishing" or milling the rice kernels, which were then cooked in good, clean water and made into a mash. But, a very interesting thing is the fact that the earliest "polishing" was done by a whole village: each person would chew rice and nuts and then spit the mixture into a communal tub. The sake produced was called "kuchikami no sake," that is Japanese for "chewing the mouth sake". The chewing process introduced the enzymes necessary
for fermentation. Although it was part of a Shinto religious ceremony, this practice was no longer done when it was discovered that Koji (a mold enzyme) and yeast could actually be added to the rice in order to begin the fermentation process.
In the beginning, sake was made for private consumption by individual families or villages.
As this practice continued, sake rice also became a large scale agricultural product. The largest production area was centered at around Nada, close to the present-day city of Kobe.
Even though more and more sake was being made, it was most commonly consumed by the upper classes. Also, sake was used for various purposes in the Shinto religion, including as an offering to the Gods as well as to purify the temple.
Traditionally the bride and groom each would consume sake in a Shinto wedding ceremony as well, in a process known as Sansankudo. There were many other uses for sake in Shinto, most of which are still in practice nowadays.
It was in the 1300s that mass production of sake allowed it to become Japan's most important drink. In the years that followed the production process was improved, and sake breweries popped up throughout the nation.
In the twentieth century, a press replaced the traditional canvas bags for squeezing the liquid out of the rice mash, yeast, and koji mixture, even though some sake is still brewed the old-fashioned way.
Having shortages of rice in World War Two has caused changes in the brewing process, meaning glucose and pure alcohol were added to the rice mash in order to increase the production yield and brewing time. Even though borne of necessity, this process has been continued to this day, however sake made with just water, koji, yeast, and rice is still available.
From its very beginnings sake has been a drink of reverence, family, and friendship and it was consumed to mark important events. As its purpose is to be enjoyed with friends and family, tradition holds that a person must never pour their own sake, but instead another person pours for you, and you do the same for them. For thousands of years sake has been a major part of Japanese life, and its popularity is now increasing on the international stage.
Regardless of the fact that the brewing process and availability of sake has changed over the years, sake's important role in Japanese culture has clearly not changed.
Do you like sake? How often do you drink it? Share with us in the comments below.
And, if you want to enjoy the best Asian food and sake in Brickell, make sure to visit Hannya Restaurants!
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