Greetings sake lovers, to pair sake with food or not to pair sake with food?, that is the question. For a long time, until recently in fact, in most countries outside Japan, pairing sake with food began and ended with sushi. But what a waste that is as sake is in fact incredibly versatile.
One other string that sake has to its bow is the umami factor. In order to create the umami factor you need a type of amino acid called glutamic acid, of which sake has 10 times more than most other alcoholic beverages because it is made with rice which of course contains the thing that is chock full of the thing made up of amino acids, protein; Sometimes with a bit of luck and practice you can pull off a super high-level pairing where the umami factor in the sake actually enhances or transforms the flavour of the food you are pairing with it.
As many aficionados will tell you, sake tastes even better when you pair it with food. That’s how strong the potential is. In other words, by only pairing sake with sushi or drinking it on its own, you are not getting the full experience.
All that being said, if you are new to sake, it can seem incredibly hard to pair.
That’s why, with a little help from an expert sake sommelier, we have decided to dedicate an entire KURAND article to answering your prayers. Read on to learn 5 winning food and sake pairings to impress your friends or enrich your experience when you come to visit KURAND.
The trick is to match the sake with food that has equal flavour complexity, weight and aromas, etc. The French call this marrying and refer to the pairing as marriage.
Just as some couples are better off with one another than without, the same can be said for many sake and food combinations. It’s all about finding that marriage from heaven and not the one from hell. Some combinations can bring out the positive elements in the marriage while some bring out the negatives. For a more in depth explanation of how this works, please see this past article here
In the case of sake, a marriage from heaven is one that reduces the bitterness and astringency in the food and harshness in the sake while enhancing umami and sweetness in both.
5 Winning Sake & Food Pairings
So without further ado, we bring you 5 winning sake pairings that will not end in divorce.
Meat x Junmai
Whereas some styles of sake have a little distilled alcohol added after fermentation to enhance aromas and reduce body, junmai is sake made with just the three core ingredients: rice, water and koji. All the alcohol is naturally produced in the fermentation. The word junmai literally translates to “pure rice” and that is essentially what this profile is all about; an extraction of the inherent flavours of the rice. Many junmai sake have medium to full body and a nice bank of acidity to add structure and texture. Additionally, as junmai sake is fermented at a higher temperature more of the rice breaks up releasing protein that then gets broken down into its constituent parts by the koji mould, one of which of course is amino acids. The result is tons more umami. This profile more than holds its own against some of the heavier, richer meat dishes out there — steak being a great place to start. The umami in the sake can really enhance the richness of the meat while the acidity mitigates any fat. As sake has less bitterness and acidity than wine you don’t have to worry about umami rubbing it the wrong way. That being said, it is better to choose the saltier dishes as salt reduces the hardening effect of the umami.
Stews & Hot Pots x Namazake / Genshu
The vibrant, youthful flavours of namazake work really well with this style of cooking that brings out the umami from vegetables and meat without overcooking them and retaining the same level of freshness. For meatier stews, sweet sake pairs well. The higher alcohol level of some genshu (sake undiluted with water) helps wash away the oiliness of stodgier stews and hot pots. As most namazake are released in the colder months, it’s a hearty winter option.
Western Cuisine x Kimoto / Junmai
This pairing is pretty simple. Sake with similar levels of acidity to wine mitigate the oiliness of a western dishes like carpaccio. Italian and French food definitely pair better with this kind of sake. Sadly sake tends to have a much lower acidity level than wine, but there are some options; kimoto & yamahai sake tend to have higher acidity and work particularly well with French cuisine. Some namazake have higher levels of acid too. Finally, some robust junmai may have enough acid to work as well. Some breweries have begun trying to emulate wine techniques in their brewing resulting in much higher levels of acid. As the sauce used to dress white fish carpaccio tends to be quite umami rich, pair a well rounded junmai.
Tip: highly acidic sake will make your mouth water.
Cheese x Light Refreshing Sake
Think of cheese and you will probably think of wine. But sake makes just as good a match, if not better depending on the variety. One winning combination that always works is cheese and a light sake with refreshing high acidity. Rich cheeses pair quite well with fruity aroma sake.
Sashimi x Tanrei Karakuchi
Niigata, on the North Eastern side of Japan is famous for a light-dry type of sake called Tanrei Karakuchi. This style of sake is great for pairing with seafood, in particular sashimi.
Bonus: Chocolate x Sake
If there is one type of food that is difficult to pair with sake, it would have to be chocolate. It might be a no-brainer, but as with wine, pair sake that is equally as sweet like some kijoshu and koshu. The nuttier koshu in particular make a great match.
Why not try out the above pairings and see if you can find new ones the next time you visit KURAND. At all our branches, you are free to bring your own food and can even order out or buy from a selection of little nibbles on sale at the counter. Remember, sake tastes even better when you pair it with food. We look forward to welcoming you soon at
KURAND SAKE MARKET!