What Is Japanese Amazake?

Amazake is a traditional Japanese drink made with fermented rice. It was originally invented in the Kofun period, dating from 250 AD to 538 AD. During this time, Amazake was mainly consumed during the winter, as its health benefits aided the people through the harsher climate.

For a long time, it fell out of favor, as imports of food and drink became more popular and more accessible. It wasn’t until recent years when the awareness of eating healthy, that Amazake came back into fashion.

The drink is sweet and belongs to a family of Japanese foods that use koji mold including miso, soy sauce, and sake. Amazake is very versatile and can be used as baby food, sweetener, salad dressing, smoothies, or simply just as a snack. 

Although there are several varied recipes for Amazake, the most popular is created by adding koji mold to cooled whole grain rice.

This causes enzymes to break down the carbohydrates and turn them into unrefined sugars. The mixture develops its sweetness naturally, without the need for added sugar, as it ages. The whole process can take up to 10 hours.

Is Amazake alcoholic?

The name ‘Amazake’ directly translates to ‘sweet sake’. For this reason, it is often confused for being alcoholic, whereas in fact, Amazake barely contains any traces of alcohol

Yes, the drink is made by fermenting a mixture of steamed rice, koji mold, and water – just like sake is – but with Amazake the fermenting process only goes as far as turning starch into glucose, and then stops there. 

With sake, there is an extra ingredient: yeast. It is the yeast that further converts the sugar into alcohol. 

What is Amazake good for?

Amazake has numerous health benefits. Although fermented food can have a slightly unpleasant smell and taste, the fermentation process turns food into a nutritional powerhouse. 

To list just some of the effects of Amazake, it can; promote weight loss, relieve constipation, increase concentration, promote good sleep, relieve fatigue, speed up metabolism, and improve skin and hair condition. 

The key is that it’s packed with nutrients and gut-friendly bacteria/probiotics. Combining this with the glucose hit that provides an energy surge, it’s no surprise that people in Japan often use Amazake as a hangover cure. 

Compact inside Amazake is 8 beauty-boosting ingredients and 5 health-boosting ingredients. Each of these ingredients is listed below along with the benefits they provide. 

Health-Boosting Ingredients

  1. Glucose

The brain depends on glucose to provide fuel, therefore keeping glucose levels at an optimal level is essential for proper cognitive function. Glucose improves the process of complex thoughts and concentration levels.

  1. Folic acid

Promotes the generation of new red blood cells and reduces the risk of anemia. Folic acid has similar functions to vitamins B2 and B6. 

  1. Amino acid GABA

A type of amino acid that promotes the function of parasympathetic nerves. This is best known for reducing stress and enhancing the relaxation effect, but it also helps to normalize the liver and kidney functions, break down alcohol, and reduce high blood pressure. 

  1. Vitamin B6

Aids in maintaining a healthy nervous system, and effectively treats symptoms of depression and PMS. It also supports the absorption of proteins within the body to maintain healthy teeth, skin, and hair.  

  1. Pantothenic acid

More commonly known as Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid battles stress. It is also great for weight loss as it breaks down carbohydrates and fats. 

Beauty-Boosting Ingredients

  1. Biotin

An indispensable vitamin for skin and hair. Biotin promotes blood circulation of the scalp and helps the formation of collagen. 

  1. Cysteine

Helps to leave skin bright, nourished, clear, and healthy. Since it is also a key component of keratin, it prevents hair loss and strengthens existing hair. 

  1. Vegetable fibre

This coats the intestines, creating a barrier to prevent them from absorbing unnecessary fats and sugars. In turn, this relieves constipation. 

  1. Vitamin B2

Known for providing healthy mucous membrane, skin, hair, and nails, as well as metabolizing fats. It has also been proven as an effective treatment for stomatitis. 

  1. Kojic acid

Suppresses melanin and brightens skin. 

  1. Digestive enzymes

Breaks down proteins and carbohydrates and converts them into energy. These enzymes then reduce the excessive build-up of components in the body. 

  1. Oligosaccharide

This fights bad bacteria and improves intestinal flora. Oligosaccharide is indigestible in the small intestines so it reaches the large intestines intact, where it breaks down to absorbable nutrients. 

  1. Ferulic acid

Prevents the body from harmful substances as it is a natural antioxidant that promotes cell making. It is also known for making skin appear younger. 

Despite the decline in popularity for several decades, Amazake has had a dramatic bounceback. In 2016, Amazake sales increased by 187% percent. The reason why is largely due to its health benefits and increased awareness about eating a balanced diet. 

Since then, Amazake has gained itself many nicknames including ‘drinkable IV’ and ‘fermented super-drink.

It is also arguably the first invention of an energy drink. In Japan, it has also become particularly popular with women aged in their 20s to 40s for its beautifying agents. 

Amazake is not only considered a beverage, but also a health product. Now, it can be found almost anywhere in Japan including liquor stores, specialty fermentation stores, health-food stores, and of course, Japanese grocery stores

How do you drink Amazake?

Traditionally the drink was served after combining Amazake and water, heating it, and topping it off with some finely grated ginger.

This was particularly popular with the street food vendors and Sinto shrines on New Year’s and during the Doll Festival, Hina Matsuri. Nowadays, this traditional version is still prepared at teahouses and festivals.

Mie Shrine

Nonetheless, as times have changed, the 20th century brought us an instant version of the drink. Since Amazake has so many different uses, it is now enjoyed both hot and cold, although the hot version is still favored in winter.

Amazake can be used as a natural sweetener, for example in a bowl of fruit in place of cream, combined into a smoothie, or as a substitute for sugar in baking.

Health Benefits Of Amazake

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.