Sake is made with four ingredients: rice, koji, yeast and water. All, except the koji, are familiar to most people. Koji is a mold culture grown on rice in the case of Sake. The mold is Aspergillus oryzae. It forms a white fluffy coating over the rice and excretes alpha-amylase which converts the rice starch into sugar. This is the primary function of koji in brewing sake; to provide enough alpha-amylase to convert most of the starch provided by the rice to sugar. Other compounds produced by the koji contribute to the final taste.
Once the koji converts the starches from the rice to sugar, yeast converts the sugars to alcohol. Beyond this major contribution the yeast also produces other compounds that contribute to the final taste and aroma of the sake. These two processes, conversion of starch to sugar and conversion of sugar to alcohol, proceed at the same time which allows the yeast to produce higher levels of alcohol than is the case in beer and wine. This is not to say that beers and wines can not ferment to the high levels that sake does but that special processes, outside the norm are needed to obtain the same high level normally reached with sake. Continue reading “Sake basic ingredients”