Have an Amazake!
Do the bovine blues have you down? Do you feel like a lumbering beast of burden as you make your torpid way through the winter streets? Are you in need of a healthful pick-me-up? Well, the answer may very well be a glass or two of amazake, or…you might want to consume it in a different form.
Amazake is a sweet beverage that is either low or no-alcohol depending on how it is made. One method uses sake kasu, which are the left over lees from the sake-making process. The sake lees are mixed with water, sugar and sometimes ginger and then heated, making a low-alcohol beverage that is often consumed over New Years. The other beverage that has been getting a lot of attention as a health food recently is amazake made from koji mold. The mold is placed onto rice, causing the starches to break down into sugars. Both types have been around for a very long time. As a matter of fact, had kome (rice) koji not worked its magic on boiled rice and hot water way back in the mists of time, there would be no sake and shochu today. “[Amazake] is significant because the discovery of the fermentation properties of kome koji made it possible to develop other products that include sake, vinegar, soy sauce, bean paste and distilled spirits like shochu,” so writes Koizumi Takeo in the January-March 1999 issue of Japan Quarterly. There can be no doubt about its health-giving properties. Professor Koizumi lists the salubrious contents as follows: “…all the essential vitamins, such as B1, B2, B6, biotin, inositol, pantothenic acid and folic acid.”
There is some doubt, however, as to whether amazake is a winter drink or a summer one. Those who claim that it is the former might cite Basho, the world’s preeminent haikuist.
heating sweet wine
in front of the window*
Or point to the fact that it is a season word, or kigo, and that that season is winter. Professor Koizumi, on the other hand, believes that the evidence suggests that it was a summer drink sold by street vendors in Edo and other cities as an elixir to counteract the enervating effects of heat and humidity. Whatever the season might be, it is certainly a much better option to achieve the desired effect than the canned versions of instant energy sold in today’s convenience stores.
In late December 2020, a new spin on the koji-based amazake drink appeared on the menus of the MOS Burger chain of restaurants in Japan—the Dassai Mazeru Shake. The famous nihon-shu maker Asahi Shuzo provides the amazake, which is squeezed into a plastic cup to the level of about four centimeters. Then, vanilla-flavored soft ice cream is added. The customer is given a long plastic spoon and told to mix it.
One of us here at drinkingjapan.org does not care for amazake in general but found the combination of the sweet sake and vanilla soft ice cream to be acceptable. Koji-based amazake is often very sweet notwithstanding the fact that no sugar is added in the process. The resulting beverage was something even sweeter than plain vanilla soft serve. The other member of the duo found it to be a rather good combination but would much rather have what Basho was preparing way back when.
*drinkingjapan.org would like to thank Chuck Brickley of the Haiku Society of America for providing us with the Basho citation. His attractive website can be found here https://www.chuckbrickley.com.
Recommendation level (out of five stars):
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