When it’s hot out, I can think of many refreshing things I’d like to drink. Rice typically isn’t one of them.
I can think of a lot of words people might use to describe sake. “Health drink” typically isn’t one of them.
But apparently they both work.
This is amazake–literally, “sweet sake,” as produced by Okuizumo Shuzou (brewery). As mentioned before, Shimane is known for high quality sake thanks to it’s rice and clean water, not to mention the trained hands that handle the process. Okuizumo is especially good for this, as it is known for Nita Rice, which is gathered from locals cropped fitting very specific environmental requirements in order to be considered Nita rice–one of the ultimate rice crops of Western Japan. It’s been awarded the gold medal in national rice competitions for the past three years running.
Like regular sake, amazake it is made from fermented rice, but the process is such that it becomes low-alcohol or non-alcoholic (like this version). It is thick and textured, a naturally milky color, and in many processes it breaks down carbohydrates into simplier, unrefined sugars, resulting in a natural sweetness. Hence, this is used as a base for many other drinks–or even a cure for hangovers, or a base for baby food! This particular variety comes in three flavors (plain, matcha, and cocoa), and you can see much nicer photos here.
This is particularly popular in summer not as only as a refreshing sweet, but as a health drink to replenish your energy when the heat tries to suck it out of you (this is because it’s full of B vitamins–not the fearsome stuff you’d find in American energy drinks!). Whatsmore, because of its unrefined sweetness, it can be used as a replacement for sugar in recipes.
I could a couple of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectioneries) that were made with it. This is youkan, a gelatinous and smooth bar of sugar, agar, and sweet bean paste (azuki, resulting in its typically maroon color, or kidney beans, resulting in a translucent, easily changable color). Vegan and long-lasting though typically free of artificial perservatives, it is one of the oldest forms of wagashi. For these youkan, the plain amazake was used in place of sugar.
The package on the left is for plain amazake-youkan (which had a purpley-maroon azuki color all throughout), and the open example on the right is a citrus-flavored translucent youkan with some azuki paste in the center.
Youkan isn’t usually my wagashi of choice, but I was pleased with them. They were firmer and lighter in flavor than Jello, though just as refreshing and didn’t leave a sticky aftertaste.
I have a bottle of plain amazake waiting for whatever I may use it for this summer… still haven’t decided what to try. Smoothies? Pancakes? Maybe youkan myself is probably out of the question.