Sake is a Japanese brew made from rice, koji (rice malt) and water. The alcohol content is generally 15 -16%, and there are a myriad of types available depending on the flavor, richness and manufacturing method.
Sake basically comes in four types - one a deeply fragrant and slightly citrus-tasting ‘aromatic’, another being ‘smooth and refreshing’ with a clean aroma, then there’s a ‘rich’ type with a strong, full umami, and lastly an ‘aged’ type characterised by its dry, grassy, nutty fragrance and lingering umami. But the ‘sparkling’, a dazzlingly refreshing carbonated addition to the above types shouldn’t be overlooked either. In more recent years a naturally sparkling type has also been developed and which is growing in popularity.
The synergy of umami in sake and seafood
Sake contains plenty of amino acids which is the source of umami. “Synchronization”, or the combining of similar aroma and tastes is evident in pairing foods and alcoholic beverages. In the case of umami, it is known to further improve the taste drastically by combining different types of umami substances. Seafood contains inosinic acid and sake contains glutamic acid, both of which are responsible for the umami flavours. This synergy results in outstanding flavours.
Aichi Center for Industry and Science Technology “Analysis of amino acids contained in sake” (July 15, 2016) Japan Umami Seasoning Association “Ingredients of umami” https://www.umamikyo.gr.jp/knowledge/ingredient.html
Supplemental effect that covers the unpleasant odour of fish
“Supplemental effect” refers to the function of masking the unpleasant odour of seafood and bringing out delectable flavours when pairing food and alcoholic beverages. Trimethylamine is responsible for the unpleasant odour and is produced when the freshness of fish deteriorates. The fragrance component contained in sake counteracts with trimethylamine when said component is combined with the odour receptors, successfully masking the unpleasant odour.
Toru Fushiki, “Matching of Sake and Food”, (material from the Forum on Creating a Community of Sake Breweries with Fushimi Water), 2015 Toru Fushiki, “Dietary Culture Forum 36 Age of Smell”, Domesu Publishers, 2018
Sake covers the unpleasant odour of fish compared to white wine.
White wine contains ferrous iron, which reacts and increases the unpleasant odour of seafood when consumed together. In contrast, sake hardly contains any iron and thus, does not have any negative effect when paired with seafood. Instead, sake serves to bring out the best tastes of seafood with its rich umami and aroma.
STANDARD TABLES OF FOOD COMPOSITION IN JAPAN - 2015 - (Seventh Revised Version) Hitoshi Utsunomiya, The difference between wine and sake in tasting
Sake to be drunk during meals
Alcohol can be categorized into “fermented liquor” and “distilled liquor”. Fermented liquor includes wine, beer and sake. The taste and aroma produced by fermented liquor increases the umami of foods and covers the unpleasant odour of fish. As such, it is highly recommended to drink sake during meals. According to a survey done in Japan, approximately 70% enjoy sake as the main alcoholic beverage to be drunk during meals.
Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association “ ‘Survey on the trend of alcohol consumption by Japanese people’ is announced” (2017)