How much do you already know about the raw ingredient of sake, the rice? In particular, sake rice, or Sakamai, better still, special rice for brewing [Shuzokotekimai]).
You may be thinking, “I know sake is made from a special type of rice, but I probably couldn’t name that many varieties”, you may not even be able to name a single one.
Well, whatever your knowledge, after reading today’s article you will be an expert on sake rice.
* Ever since 1951, all types of sake rice that are deemed ideal for brewing are referred to as Shuzokotekimai (LIT: special rice for brewing). However, in this article, to keep things simple and be consistent, we will use the term Sakamai (LIT: sake rice) throughout.
The Differences Between Sake Rice (Sakamai) and Ordinary Eating Rice
Sakamai is so called because it is a little different from your average eating rice.
Okay then, how is it different? you ask.
Let’s take a look at the 3 most distinguishing features.
Difference No.1: Exterior (Its Size)
Compared to your average rice, a grain of Sakamai tends to be much bigger in size. The size of a grain of rice is measured by the weight of a thousand grains, or Senryuju. Eating rice weighs in at around 19-24g, whereas sake rice is around 25-30g.
During the preparation stages for brewing sake, the outer husk of the rice is polished / milled away to remove unwanted off-flavour-producing proteins and lipids — a small grain of rice is likely to crack easily under the pressure and friction of this polishing process.
Difference No.2 Shinpaku (LIT: white heart)
Generally speaking, every type of rice contains an opaque white part at the centre of the grain called a Shinpaku (LIT: white heart) which is densely packed with starch.
The Shinpaku is low in proteins but high in viscosity to prevent it from cracking during the polishing process and dissolves easily into the sake mash during fermentation.
In the case of Sakamai, the Shinpaku makes up a larger portion of the rice grain than ordinary eating rice.
* Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, eating rice does have a sort of Shinpaku. In fact, it is possible to produce sake from eating rice which is by no means rare. The Shinpaku tends to be a good deal smaller, so the process is no mean feat: you have to polish the rice much higher and convert more of the starch into glucose during the koji-making stage which in turn produces less subtle and refined flavours.
Difference No.3 Compatibility for Brewing
Phrased another way: qualities that make it easier to ferment. We are normally talking about how easy it is to steam (water absorption ratio), or how easy it is to inoculate with the koji spores etc etc. In other words, a rice that performs in the most critical stages of sake brewing.
That wraps up our run down of the basic differences between Sakamai and normal eating rice.
The proteins and fats of eating rice may taste delicious at the table, but they produce off-flavours and bitter tastes when used to make sake.
Essential Knowledge: Sakamai Top 5
Well that’s our little lecture on Sakamai over with for today. Now let’s take a look at the Top 5 most famous varieties of Sakamai.
…..At Number 1!
Main Growing Area: Hyogo Prefecture
Genetic Parents: Yamada Ho & Watari Bune
Flavour Profile: Feminine,soft, elegant.
Aroma Profile: Melon, apple. Highly aromatic.
All hail the king of Sakamai! For there can be only one — Yamada Nishiki. It earned its title very simply because It boasts the highest production yield in Japan. 90% of all the Yamada Nishiki in Japan is grown in Hyogo Prefecture. Yamada Nishiki was produced through cross-fertilisation of the varieties Yamada-Ho and Watari Bune. Sake brewed with Yamada Nishiki has both good flavour and aroma, tends to be more feminine, soft and mellow. Daiginjo type sake and competition entry sake is often made with this variety of Sakamai as standard. The much talked about “Dassai” brand is made with 100% Yamada Nishiki. Some rice fields produce such superior quality Yamada Nishiki that they are certified with a Grade-A status. As you might expect, Grade-A status Yamada Nishiki is super expensive and super hard to procure, and sake made with it is equally as sought after.
…..At Number 2!
Main Growing Area: Niigata Prefecture
Genetic Parents: Kikusui & Shin 200 Go
Flavour Profile: Very dry, light, simple.
Aroma Profile: Green fruits, medium-aroma, fragrance of rice.
Gohyaku Mangoku is synonymous with sake made in Niigata. It sits alongside Yamada Nishiki in the ranking as the widely recognised No.2 of Sakamai. It was produced through a cross-fertilisation of the varieties Kikusui and Shin 200 go. Its name translates to 5 million koku (eq.2.25 billion Kg) and refers to the maximum production yield that was achieved in that same year —a milestone by all accounts. Sake made with Gohyaku Mangoku has a light, smooth, clean flavour. It is the type of rice best suited to the climatic conditions and terroirs of Niigata Prefecture, hence that it is where it grows best.
The Birth of a New King?
* In 2004, the above two varieties of rice became the parents of a new breed of rice called Koshi Tanrei. This rice variety is already making headlines in the industry and is expected to cement a future place in this ranking. At KURAND SAKE MARKET, we showcase a number of sake made with this variety.
…..At Number 3!
Main Growing Areas: Nagano Prefecture, Yamagata Prefecture
Genetic Parents: No parents per se (genetic mutation)
Flavour Profile: light simple, less dry, sharp aftertaste.
Aroma Profile: light, less aromatic, often notes of banana.
Miyama Nishiki was discovered in 1978, in Nagano Prefecture Sake Research Laboratory — as the result of a rather unplanned birth — when zapping the variety Takane Nishiki with gamma rays suddenly caused it to mutate. Despite its Nagano roots, it is fast becoming a favourite in other parts of Japan as well such as Yamagata and Akita Prefecture. It has an almost identical flavour profile to Gohyaku Mangoku, except for the addition of a very sharp aftertaste. When mixed with the higher yeast varieties, it produces a lovely banana nose.
…..At Number 4!
Dewa San San
Main Producing Area: Yamagata Prefecture
Genetic Parents： Miyama Nishiki & Aokei Sake 97
Flavour Profile: All around well balanced, clean finish, short length.
Aroma Profile: A slightly more modest aroma of dry fruits.
Named after the mountain with the same name, one of the many symbols of Yamagata, the perfect choice of naming for such a strong contender, this is Yamagata Prefecture’s answer to Yamada Nishiki: indeed it is very similar in flavour profile and aroma, not to mention the fact that it dissolves nicely into the mash, imparting lots of its ricey goodness as it goes. It was produced from a genetic cross-breeding of none other than Miyama Nishiki and Aokei Sake 97. This rice variety is perfect for making ginjo type sake: it is probably the balance of flavour and aroma that make it so ideal.
…..At Number 5!
Main Growing Area: Okayama Prefecture
Genetic Parents: None (purebreed)
Flavour Profile: Bold, earthy flavours.
Aroma Profile: Non descript aroma.
Omachi is recognised as the great grandfather of Sakamai, the oldest variety. It is also one of the only remaining pure breeds. Nearly all varieties of Sakamai including Yamada Nishiki and Gohyaku Mangoku get their roots from this old timer. However, it is a challenge to grow. And an even bigger challenge to use in brewing. For these reasons, it almost went extinct. Fortunately, it was recently revived by a group of brewers in Okayama Prefecture.
It makes a great option for a brewery that wants to offer something a little different. And in today’s Yamada Nishiki dominated industry there is plenty of pressure to do just that. This is ultimately what makes it so renowned among aficionados who will swoon at the very mention of its name. It is instantly identifiable by its earthy bold flavour. It also has more of mellow aroma and body than its prodigee Yamada Nishiki.
And that pretty much wraps up our little compendium of sake varieties, well the current top 5 anyway. What is your top 5? Maybe it differs from ours.
Why not try using the above 5 rices as a reference point the next time that you make your sake selection.
A Prefecture-By-Prefecture List of Varieties
We end this article with a list of the top sake varieties, showing you in which prefecture they can be found.
||Kojou Nishiki, Hanaomoi, Hana Fubuki, Houhai
||Gin Otome, Ginginga, Yui No Ka
||Kura no Hana, Hiyori, Miyama Nishiki, Yamada Nishiki
||Akita Komachi, Aki no Sei, Gin no Sei, Miyama Nishiki, Kairyo Shinkou
||Dewa Homare, Kairyo Shinkou, Kissui, Kyo no Hana, Gohyaku Mangoku
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Hana Fubuki, Miyama Nishiki, Yume no Kaori
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Hana Fubuki, Miyama Nishiki, Yume no Kaori
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Tochigi Sake 14, Hitogokochi, Tama Sakae, Miyama Nishiki, Yamada Nishiki, Wakamizu
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Maikaze, Wakamizu, Kairyo Shinkou
||Gohyaku mangoku, Fusa no Mai
||Wakamizu, Yamada Nishiki
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Ipponjime, Omachi, Kikusui, Koshi Kagura, Koshi Tanrei
||Oyama, Gohyaku Mangoku, Tomi no Kaori, Miyama Nishiki, Yamada Nishiki
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Ishikawa Mon, Hokuriku 12, Yamada Nishiki
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Oku Homare, Koshi no Shizuku, Jinriki, Yamada Nishiki
||Gin no Sato, Tama Sakae, Hitogokochi, Yamada Nishiki, Yumesansui
||Hitogokochi, Miyama Nishiki, Kinmon Nishiki, Shirakaba Nishiki, Takane Nishiki
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Hida Homare
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Homare Fuji, Yamada Nishiki, Wakamizu
||Yumesansui, Wakamizu, Yume Ginga
||Isenishiki, Kami no Ho, Gohyaku Mangoku, Yamada Nishiki, Yumi Nariho
||Gin Fubuki, Tama Sakae, Yamada Nishiki, Shiga Wataribune 6
||Iwai, Gohyaku Mangoku, Yamada Nishiki
||Omachi, Gohyaku Mangoku, Yamada Nishiki
||Aiyama, Inishie no Mai, Gohyaku Mangoku, Shiragiku, Shin Yamada Ho 1, Kita Nishiki
||Tsuyubakaze Yamada Nishiki
||Yamada Nishiki, Gohyaku Mangoku, Tama Sakae
||Jinriki, Gohyaku Mangoku, Tama Sakae, Yamada Nishiki
||Kairyo Omachi, Kairyo Hattan Nishiki, Kami no Mai, Gohyaku Mangoku, Saka Nishiki
||Omachi, Yamada Nishiki, Bizen Omachi
||Omachi, Koi Omachi, Senbon Nishiki, Hattan, Hattan Nishiki 1
||Gohyaku Mangoku, Saito no Shizuku, Hakutsuru Nishiki, Yamada Nishiki
||Omachi, Yamada Nishiki
||Shizuku Hime, Yamada Nishiki
||Kaze Naruko, Gin no Yume, Yamada Nishiki
||Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, Gin no Sato, Gohyaku mangoku, Jugemu
||Saga no Mai
||Nishi Umi 134, Saga no Mai, Yamada Nishiki
||Yamada Nishiki, Gin no Sato, Jinriki
||Omachi, Gohyaku Mangoku, Yamada Nishiki, Wakamizu
||Hana Kagura, Yamada Nishiki
Recently, a lot of prefectures have begun to actively seek out their own individual Sakamai varieties.
Just a little knowledge will bring your sake conversation to life.