Written by Eleonora Badellino
Every year is the same, with the arrival of winter, our body enters in the phase of lethargy. We are always tired, don’t want to go out, and naps are one of the best activities that give us joy. Winter is the season of hot chocolates, sofa, and family!
Here in Tokyo, it’s the same (of course). Especially during the days before and after the New Year, except in the afternoon hours when families and groups of teenagers go out for a walk in the park or a visit to the temple, the city stops. Uncrowded streets, trains with available living space, closed shops, it doesn’t seem to be in Tokyo.
I love winter in Japan. Not just for the quiet atmosphere, but also for the amazing food that you can find every day on the table:nabe,oden, sukiyaki, roasted sweet potatoes, nikujaga … the list is really long. They are simple to prepare, and their warm and delicious broth at the end is just perfect.
If instead, we talk about drinks, here in Japan, hot chocolate finds its good substitute. Have you ever heard about Amazake?
AMAZAKE: THE WINTER SAKE SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN
Amazake is a drink with more than 1000 years of history. It literally means “sweet sake”, but don’t get confused by the name. It may contain a very low% of alcohol or be completely free of it.
In the past, was linked to the tradition of the Samurai and it was consumed cold as a drink capable of providing energy. Today its most popular version is hot, ideal for cold winters.
There are mainly two recipes. The one with “low alcohol” content is prepared by mixing boiled rice, water and Kasu (the residual rice from which the sake is extracted).
The “Alcohol-free” version instead, is made using boiled rice, water, and kome kōji. This last ingredient is the final product of the fermentation of rice through the action of Aspergillus Oryzaeuna.
Looking like rice grains, Koji is actually a “fungus” (mold) used in the production of different ingredients such as miso, soy sauce, and natto. Its presence allows the transformation of rice starch into glucose and oligosaccharides, making the amazake sweet and easily digestible.
THE BEVERAGE OF YOUTH
The first time I tasted Amazake was during a study trip in Ishikawa Prefecture, in a miso and soy sauce producer in the port area of Kanazawa town. Here we were greeted by the owner, the president of Yamata &Co, Seiichi Yamamoto, that, with his warm welcome (certainly a skilled merchant), showed us the company philosophy and the variety of products offered for sale.
Yes, because companies like Yamata, that is skilled in the use of Koji, usually have an amazing variety of product where this fungus is use as an important ingredient. These places are often the best shops where you can buy a high-quality Amazake.
Thanks to the presence of Koji, considered the secret ingredient and reason for the longevity of the Japanese people, the Amazake is rich in beneficial properties for our body.
Like Yamamoto San told us during the visit:
“If you want to feel young and full of strength, Koji is the solution”
So, if you drink the Amazake regularly (even every day) you will be able to keep the skin young and the body healthy thanks to its beneficial action in our intestinal flora.
If all this is true or not, it is certain that this drink is rich in good elements. Like B vitamins, oligosaccharides (enrich our flora) and is also gluten-free. (According to “occasional” drinkers, it is also an excellent remedy even against “hangover”). Many mothers also give it to children (alcohol version 0%) for its many properties and as an easy drink to digest and naturally sweet.
Mixed with hot water, Amazake is also great if you want to get your skin soft and delicate!
For example, just leave your hands to soak in a basin for no more than 3-4 minutes, and, once dried, you will notice the difference.
HOW TO PREPARE AMAZAKE AT HOME
During the winter you can find it in supermarkets, or occasionally in some street market. But if you want to try to make it preparation, you will see that is very simple.
The portions are.
100 g Koji rice
150 g steamed rice
300 ml of water
The philosophy behind this recipe is the same that allows us to prepare yogurt at home. Once you have mixed all the ingredients, in order to start the fermentation, you need to keep the amazake at a warm temperature for at least 8 hours. If you have a yogurt maker or a Rice Cooker, you’re done. Otherwise, an alternative could be the use of thermos keep close to the radiator.
(Attention: once Amazake is ready to eat, is difficult to preserve it for a long time since its fermentation, once started, will continue even if you freeze it. The result will be a sour drink. To interrupt the fermentation you will need to heat your Amazake at least once a day).
Personally I love the flavor of the Amazake and its consistency, but everyone, rightly, has its own tastes (for example, Yo, doesn’t like it at all because of the texture).
If you still want to try it as a food rich in beneficial properties for our body, here are some ideas to make it even more palatable.
Now you just have to try it and tell me what you think!
About the author: Ele is a University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo alumna who returned to UNISG, after working in America and Asia, to work as part of a team on the Academic Tables project. Faith and love brought her back to Japan, where she's now living and studying about its incredible culture. Her biggest passions are people, food, and travel. She enjoys sharing her experiences with others who share her curiosity.