A Quickstart Guide to Pairing Sake with Food

Greetings sake lovers!

Sake and food pairing sometimes leaves you wondering what went wrong, how some dishes and sakes that on their own taste delicious suddenly lose all their appeal when put together. In actual fact, there is a bit of a knack to what is essentially an art in its own right. In this article we teach you 4 simple pointers to keep you on the right track.

Of course, we must stress that because every sake is unique and tastes vary from person to person, the following is intended purely as a rough guide. We are nevertheless confident that the following 4 pointers will greatly increase your chances of finding a good marriage (a combination of food and sake that works).

Is Pairing with Food Even Necessary?

Sake contains various acids such as Lactic Acid, Succinic Acid and Malic Acid that influence our sense of taste. When combined with the acids in food, each enhances the other, which in some cases includes less desirable flavours as well. In order to avoid downfalls and avoid ruining the taste of good sake or good food, an informed approach is required.

1. Focus on UMAMI


Umami is the new buzz word taking the global culinary scene by storm. It’s the magical word on the lips of top chefs everywhere. If you haven’t yet come across this word, don’t worry, you’re not alone. To the Japanese, Umami is the essence of food appreciation itself. In the West we refer to it using word like savoury, meaty of tarty — for want of a better word. There are in fact only 5 flavours that the tongue can pick up: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and Umami. In the West, up until now, we have only ever been aware of four of these. Umami is the new entry. But what we refer to as a new discovery was discovered by the Japanese in the mists of time itself. Quite how they discovered it is not the question; they have been aware of it since the beginning. The building blocks of Umami are a type of Amino Acid called glutamates (Glutamic Acid). They are present in foods like cheese, meat, fish, etc. Sake also happens to be full of these because of the way that it is produced, essentially because of the raw ingredient, the rice. The key to reproducing the fifth flavour is simply by combining foodstuffs that are rich in glutamates. You can artificially reproduce this taste sensation by chewing a tomato in the mouth for longer than normal and then letting it dissolve on your tongue. The tarty flavour left behind is Umami. Japanese food ingredients that are rich in glutamates include miso, soy sauce, kombu (sea kelp), dashi (fish stock), etc.

This is not intended to be an article about Umami so to learn more check out the official site here!

The key to pulling the Umami-focused pairing off is to stick to sake that are full-bodied and get most of their flavour from the rice. For example, Junmai-type sake. Some sake labels tell you how glutamate powered the sake is. Look out for a decimal number preceded by these characters: ‘アミノ酸’ In general, any sake rated higher than 1.5 is a good place to start. You can also try to gauge levels of Umami with your tongue. When tasting the sake pay attention to the finish. If the sake has the Umami factor, you will be left with a tingling sweetness on the back of the tongue (Umami is best detected at the back).

2. Focus on Flavour Profile


By matching similar flavour profiles 9 times out of 10 you will get the matching down to a tee. For example, sakes with voluptuous aromas tend to pair well with fruity flavour profiles, in which case Daiginjo is your best bet. By combining similar aromas and flavours, like for like, you can’t go too far wrong.

3. Focus on Textures


In terms of taste, texture refers to the hardness, depth, strength or viscosity of food. In short, texture is how the food feels on the tongue (mouthfeel). Pair simple dishes with sakes that have a good clean finish. Pair smooth textured dishes with thick viscous mouthfeel sakes. Pairings like these steer clear of potential clashes in the mouth.

4. Focus on Richness


The final pointer is richness. The rule is simple: rich foods go best with thicker, heavier sakes; lighter flavoured foods go with cleaner, lighter (Tanrei style) sakes. Each enhances the flavour of the other.

Why not switch that glass of wine for sake and start discovering a whole new world of flavour combinations.
At KURAND we offer the perfect space to experiment.