SAKE: THE SOUL AND SPIRIT OF JAPAN
……..By the Foodies' Foodie, Mora Chartrand-Grant………..
Sake, as ubiquitous as the cherry blossom in spring, is perhaps Japan’s greatest contribution to the beverage world-a national beverage and elixir to many, the drink of the gods, and a virtual unknown and misunderstood beverage to most Americans. But what was once viewed as a pale, nearly flavorless alcoholic beverage has recently been embraced by an adoring American public looking for an alternative to wine or beer. Sake no longer is only found on Japanese restaurant menus. Its most recent incarnation has it holding court among fine wines at upscale, cutting-edge restaurants on both coasts.
Averse to calling sake a trend, I am convinced that it is here to stay. Sake has made its mark and found an audience that is beginning to understand its subtleties of taste, aroma, and regions. It is no longer enough to be knowledgeable about wine ( or even microbrews ), but the true gourmet and epicure now are adding sake to their repertoire. Sake is making inroads into American life at a respectable rate.
So just what is sake and how did it come to play such a leading role in Japan’s culture? Let’s talk about the letter first. Sake has been known since the down of civilization, and more likely since rice was first introduced to Japan from the Asian continent about 2000 years ago. It is an alcoholic beverage produced from rice and brewed much the same way beer is, from barley and wheat. But sake is termed a rice wine because its 16% alcohol content is similar to wine.
The first written record of sake in Japan dates from 300 A.D. Historic archives submit that this sake was “chewing in the mouth sake” ( kuchikami no sake ). As unappealing as it sounds, rice was chewed by villagers and then spat into a wooden tub where it fermented with the help of an element in the saliva. This early sake had the consistency of oatmeal, which necessitated eating your sake rather than drinking it. Sake’s primary use during ancient times was for religious and social purpose in the Imperial Court. In fact, many temples and shrines used their rice-growing lands and monks to establish their own sake brewing operations. Over the centuries brewing methods became.
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