Sakamai – Rice for making sake

This article catalogs Japanese and US rice that can be used to make / brew sake.

In this article I will catalog the rice used for making sake by both commercial kura (sake brewery) and home brewers. I am sure I will not include all the rice that should be included so I am planning to update this particular post in place as new rice or information comes to my attention. In fact, since I am compiling this information but have only limited experience with most of these, I beg you to correct my errors and mistakes and to add whatever information you can.

While the sakamai used by commercial Japanese brewers are specific strains of Japonica (short grained) that are known for their shinpaku (soft white center). It is not generally true that the rice used by sake brewers outside of Japan have much shinpaku. For example, in the US, Tropical Japonica (a.k.a. Javanica, medium grained) rice is typically used for sake brewing. This includes Calrose, the most popular medium rice cultivar grown in California.

At this point, it may be worth clarifying a little more. The biological classification for rice is:

Kingdom: Plantae

(unranked): Angiosperms

(unranked): Monocots

(unranked): Commenlinids

Order: Poales

Family: Poaceae

Genus: Oryza

Species: Oryza Sativa

Variety: Oryza sativa var. Japonica, Javanica (i.e., Tropical Japonica) or Indica

Where Japonica is short grained rice, Javanica is medium grained rice and Indica is long grained rice. The rice cataloged below will all be cultivars of japonica or javanica.1

Rice:

Akitakomachi was created by combining Koshi Hikari with another Japanese rice variety.

  • Grown: Akita Japan, US
  • Parents: Koshi-Hikari + ???
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date: Early to mid 1980s
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Arborio Rice is an Italian variety used for risotto. I have never heard of this rice being used for making sake and because of its differences to both US and Japanese sake brewing rice, I am very curious about how well it would work for sake.

  • Grown: Italy, California US
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Calrose rice makes up about 85% of California’s crop. The amylose content is about 18%, and so the rice tends to be a little on the softer side and the kernels cling together. Gelatinization temperature is about 60 degree centigrade; protein tends to average about 6.5%.

  • Grown: Australia, Thailand, US…
  • Parents: Not known, Javanica
  • Bred by: University of California-Davis developed this in the early 1970s(or was it the 1950s?) through irradiation of the seeds
  • Bred date: early 1970s
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No, However SakeOne Sakery uses this rice

Dewa San San rice is complex, sweeter, mildly fragrant

  • Grown: Yamagata, Niigata Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Fumitoi Brewery

Gohyakumangoku Rice produces a nicely dry and fragrant sake.  The name literally means five million bags of rice. Mainly used for futsushu, honjozo, junmai and ginjo it is the most popular brewing rice in Japan. This rice tends to produce a very dry, light and tart style sake.

  • Grown: Niigata, Fukushima, Toyama, and Ishikawa Japan
  • Parents: Kikusui + Shin 200
  • Bred by: Developed in Niigata Prefecture
  • Bred date: 1936 or 1956?
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Kubota Brewery

Hatta Nishiki has earthly notes and not much in the way of aromatics.

  • Grown: Hiroshima Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Kamoizumi

Hitogokochi ( Sake Chronicles Brewery grows this rice? )

  • Grown: Nagano Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Tomono Brewery

Hinohikari was created in 1991  by combining Koshi Hikari with another Japanese rice variety.

  • Grown: Northern Kyushu Japan
  • Parents: Koshi Hikari +
  • Bred by: Prefectural Furukawa Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Bred date: 1991
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Hitomebore was created by combining Koshi Hikari with another Japanese rice variety. Hitomebore literally means “falling in love with a person at first glance.”

  • Grown: Akita Prefecture Japan, US
  • Parents: Koshi Hikari +
  • Bred by: Prefectural Furukawa Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Bred date: 1991
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Hoshi no Yume

  • Grown: Takasu (鷹栖町), a town in Kamikawa District, Hokkaido Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Kame no O rice is rich and flavorful and a bit drier and more acidic than other rice types.

  • Grown: Niigata, Yamagata, Akita Japan
  • Parents: One of the few pure strains left in Japan
  • Bred by: discovered in Amarune, Yamagata Prefecture
  • Bred date: discovered in 1898
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Wataribune Brewery

Kikusui fell out of use and just about disapered but the Kikusui Brewery succeeded in reviving the cultivar from its last remaining 25 grains of rice.

  • Grown: Niigata Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Kikusui Brewing

Kinuhikari is a japonica rice cultivar manifesting semi-dwarfism

  • Grown: Kagawa Prefecture Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by: Hokuriku National Agricultureal Experiment Station
  • Bred date: 1988
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Kirara 397

  • Grown: Takasu (鷹栖町), a town in Kamikawa District, Hokkaido Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Kokuho Rose, Kokuho translates in Japanese to “treasure of the country.”

  • Grown: California, US
  • Parents:
  • Bred by: Koda Farms
  • Bred date: developed in 1948 and introduced circa 1963
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Koshi hikari: This rice brings the highest prices for rice in Japan because of it excellent flavor and properties. 2 I believe it is also used in the beer: Koshihikari Echigo Beer.

  • Grown: Japan, Australia, US
  • Parents: Nourin No.1 + Nourin No.22
  • Bred by: Fukui Prefectureal Agricultural Research Facility
  • Bred date: 1956
  • Sakamai: No – good for sushi
  • Used in Japanese Kura:

Miyama Nishiki does not ferment out as completely as some, producing sake that is a little sweeter with more mouth feel; rich tasting, but with refreshing light notes.

  • Grown: Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima and Nagano Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Hamachidori

Nihonbare

  • Grown: Akashi Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Akashi Brewery

Omachi is only second to yamadanishiki in popularity for high grade sakes. Omachi rice produces fruity and earthly flavors, rich with high acidity.

  • Grown: Okayama, Hiroshima Japan
  • Parents: One of the few pure strains left in Japan
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes,

Oseto Rice is distinctly earthy and rich.

  • Grown: Kagawa Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Ayakiku Brewery

Sasani Shiki

  • Grown: Sendai and Akita Prefecture Japan, Thailand
  • Parents: Hatsunishiki + Sasashigure
  • Bred by: Furukawa Agricultural Experiment Station in Miyagi prefecture in Japan
  • Bred date: 1963
  • Sakamai: No – good for sushi
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Sho-Chiku-Bai, Sho-Chiku-Bai translates in Japanese to “pine-bamboo-plum.”

  • Grown: California US
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: No
  • Used in Japanese Kura: No

Tamazakae Rice is an earthy, artisanal rice that gives the sake musky and herbal flavors. This rice makes up roughly 1% of Japan’s sakamai.

  • Grown: Tottori, Shiga Japan
  • Parents:
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Tomita Shuzo Brewery, Hiko brewery

Watari Bune rice makes for a very smooth, clean, and complex fragrant sake

  • Grown: Ibaraki prefecture Japan
  • Parents: One of the few pure strains left in Japan
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date:
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes,  Fuchu Homare Brewery

Yamada Nishiki is the crowned king of sake rice’s.  Yamadanishiki is famous for its use in high quality sake. It is particularly desired by sake brewers for its ability to absorb water and dissolve easily. The shinpaku dissolves easily leaving the outer shell. Yamadanishiki has much less protein and fat than most rice. Less protein makes the taste of sake crisp and light, and less fat makes sake more flavorful.

  • Grown: Hyogo, Okayama and Fukuoka Japan
  • Parents: Yamadaho from Hyogo Prefecture + Tankan Watari Bune from Ibaragi Prefecture
  • Bred by:
  • Bred date: 1923, First named in 1936
  • Sakamai: Yes
  • Used in Japanese Kura: Yes, Most Kura use this for their top quality sake

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  1. I prefer to use the term javanica over the term tropical japonica. However, the later has grater acceptance.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koshihikari
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4 thoughts on “Sakamai – Rice for making sake”

  1. Great article. Just a couple of comments:

    – Koshihikari originally comes from Fukui and Niigata. Actually, the sufix Koshi comes from the former name of Koshinokuni, an area that nowadays corresponds to these two prefectures.

    – Hitomebore is normally a shokumai (table rice) but there are very special sakes from Katsuyama Shuzo in Miyagi prefecture made totally with this sort of rice.

  2. Hello;

    I would like to make sake and am having a very difficult time locating the proper rice. Can you help me find a distributor that might have Yamada nishiki, or any rice with a polish over 60%? We have all the other requirements, just have not yet been able to find the rice to make a dry but fragrant sake.

    Thanks much,

    Teresa

    1. I don’t know of another regular source of highly milled rice; none milled to less than 60%. However, if you live anywhere around a kura you might ask them if they can help. I have heard a couple of times that Gekkeikan has help brewers. Oh, and in this I am not talking about true sakemai (Japanese classification of rice specifically for sake). It is mostly calrose and other short grain rice. Good luck, Will

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