c-1. What is Koji (mold)?

It is a type of mold (fungus) spore that is spread over and then mixed with the steamed rice, and the left for two days to propagate on and into the rice kernels.  Once the mold is fully grown the rice called Koji rice is ready to produce an enzyme that will enable it to convert rice starch into sugar.

c-2. What kind of mold is Koji?

Koji is a special fungus that is native to rice, called “Aspergillus oryzae”, which has been historically used in sake making.

c-3. How do you obtain your supply of Koji?

Koji is normally obtained from Japanese suppliers who traditionally specialize in its production. The history of the Koji-making business in Japanese sake production is unique, with roots dating back to the 13th century.

c-4. What is yeast?

Yeast is a microorganism that converts sugar to alcohol.

c-5. Is sake yeast different from yeast used for wine and bread?

It’s similar, but sake brewing yeast is very unique because it functions best only in the environment where Koji fermentation is present. 

Unpolished brown rice and the same rice poliched to 35%

c-6. What is the difference between Japanese rice and American rice in sake making?

Sake produced in America uses mainly California medium grain rice; sake made in Japan uses Japanese short grain rice. The medium grain, labeled “Calrose” is a hybrid rice and has been created by combining California long grain and Japanese short grain rice, which was brought to America from Japan more than 100 years ago. Both Calrose and short grain rice is grown mainly in the Sacramento Valley, California.

In Japan, of course, there are many varietals of rice all over the country; the majority is short grain. However, in addition to the varieties of rice grown for eating, a special sake-making rice varietal, shuzokotekimai, the best suited rice for sake making, was developed in the 20th century. Some of the famous varietals of shuzokotekimai are known as Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Omachi, and Shinriki.

c-7. Is the rice used in sake making the same as the rice used to make sushi?

Yes, it’s basically the same; both Calrose (a medium-grain varietal that is a hybrid of Japanese short grain and California long grain rice) and Japanese short grain varietals are commonly used in U.S.A. Historically, the great rice-producing regions (all regions of Japan with the exception of southern Japan, including Okinawa island) are also known as excellent sake producing regions.

c-8. Does good quality sake depend on the quality of the rice used in the sake-making process?

The best suited rice varietals for sake making, shuzokotekimai, are a ‘new’ development in the history of sake making, created 85 years ago. These new type of rice have much larger kernels and a larger starch core than standard rice varieties. The shuzokotekimai varietals also have soft core (called shinpaku) that plays an important role in Koji rice making. Because of these relatively new varietals, which make possible highly polished rice kernels, premium sakes such as DaiGinjo and Junmai-type sakes became possible. Nevertheless, it is important to note that great sake is made not only as a result of extra premium rice varieties, but as a result of good sake making techniques. For example, Takara Sake’s Sho Chiku Bai Classic, produced using Calrose rice, received the Gold Award in the category of Junmai Sake at the 2011 US Sake Appraisal. It is a good example of the coupling of California-grown rice, which has developed into an excellent regional rice meeting the high standards of sake making, and superior sake making techniques.

c-9. What is rice polishing?

It involves a special milling process that removes the outer layer of the rice kernel in order to remove the proteins, minerals and fat contained in the rice, and expose the starch at the center of the kernel. Removing everything from the rice kernel but the starch preserves the purity of the flavor and also, by exposing more starch; benefits starch into sugar (glucose) fermentation.

c-10. How is the polishing done?

The polishing (Seimai) is done by a special polishing machine developed in 20th century. It polishes (or shaves) rice very gently without causing cracking or breaking the rice kernels. The rice kernels are dropped on a spinning grind disc, where, after a brief shaving (polishing) process, they drop to a lower level without rubbing or scraping against other kernels. The shaved kernels are continuously brought to the top of the grind disc, repeating this process until a specified degree of polishing is attained. This gentle and exacting process is time consuming; for example, in order to polish rice down to 50% of the original kernel size for Takara Premium Ginjo sake, it will take up to 10 hours.

c-11. Do you polish the rice here at the Takara Sake factory?

No, the polishing is done by a local rice mill specializing in this process.

c-12. Is the sake using more highly polished rice considered more premium?

Generally yes, as more wastage of rice and the labor-intensive nature of high polishing will increase the production cost. However, the degree of polishing alone does not determine which sake types are premium. Therefore, generally speaking, the Ginjo (and DaiGinjo) group created in 20th century can be more expensive than sakes from the Junmai group, established in the 19th century. However, the quality and character of these two groups of sake have the same degree of difference as white and red wine. Please refer to the  "pairing with foods."

c-13. What is Seimaido?

Seimaido refers to the degree of seimai (polishing) that a rice kernel has undergone. The seimai number indicates the final weight of the rice kernel after polishing when compared with its unpolished, original weight.

These are the seimai numbers associated with different types of sake:

(Junmai type sake)
  • Junmai-type sake: Seimaido 70 (polished down to 70% of its original weight)
  • Tokubetsu Junmai-type sake: Seimaido 60-50 (Ginjo type sake)
  • Ginjo-type sake: Seimaido 60-50
  • DaiGinjo-type sake: Seimaido 50-25

  • c-14. What happens to the leftover rice protein after the polishing?

    In Japan, komenuka (leftover rice protein) is sold to consumers who produce pickled vegetables with it. It is also sold to food producers to make products such as the very popular senbei (Japanese rice crackers).

    c-15. Is the water used in sake-making important in terms of its quality?

    Water quality goes hand in hand with sake quality. The best water for the production of sake is soft water without any iron presence.

    c-16. Where does the water used in Takara sake come from?

    The water used by Takara is locally supplied; its origin is the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

    c-17. Do you process the water before using it?

    Because of its excellent quality no significant filtration is required?

    c-18. Do you use any Sulfites in the production of Takara sake?

    We do not. Pasteurization is part of the sake making process; this eliminates unwanted microorganisms, thus precluding the need for sulfide use.

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