What Is Amazake?
Amazake 甘酒 (甘 sweet 酒 alcohol) is a delightfully sweet drink that is so nutritious, also known as 飲む点滴 nomu tenteki, or drinkable IV. Everyone from samurai of the Edo Period to elderly folk and fashion models of this era love this beverage. If you have spent some time in Japan, you may have even tried it before at a summer festival. Amazake contains a special ingredient called 麹 koji, which is a culture also used to make miso, soy sauce, and Japanese sake. Like many of Japan’s miracle foods, amazake goes through a fermentation process, which results in a distinct flavor and incredible health benefits.
Note: if you are diabetic or have a gut mold issue, please consult with your doctor before drinking
Is Amazake A Liquor?
There are actually two types of amazake. The miracle one is made from rice, rice koji, and water, and is non-alcoholic. In fact, samurai supposedly drank it to keep from getting intoxicated, which was forbidden. This koji amazake contains no added sugar. Instead, the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose give it a powerful natural sweetness. On the other hand, the slightly alcoholic not miracle amazake is made from 酒粕 sake-kasu, rice lees and water, with sugar added for sweetness.
Why Drink Koji Amazake?
Amazingly, koji amazake is a source of all the essential amino acids, many enzymes that help your body absorb nutrients, oligosaccharides that are food for good gut bacteria, vitamins B1, B2, and B6, and dietary fiber. In summer, people drink it as a remedy for natsubate, heat-induced fatigue, which is a real concern in Tokyo where temperatures reach the upper nineties with suffocating humidity. Amazake is also said to prevent cancer and dementia, boost the immune system, regulate blood pressure, aid digestion, and promote beautiful skin and hair.
Not all amazakes are created alike, so be sure to check labels. Although sometimes salt is added for taste (塩), the main two ingredients should be rice (米) and koji (麹). Also, because the live cultures in koji amazake are heat sensitive, if possible look for 非加熱 hikanetsu, not treated by heat, and when warming up amazake at home, microwave for about 40 second at 600W
Where To Find
Now that you know all the health benefits of this miracle drink, you must be ready to dash out and buy it. It might be easier to find than you think, if you know what to look for. Let me introduce a few options, starting with the common types and ending with the specialty ones.
Profile: a fairly cheap and widely available commercial brand
Price: a 1 liter carton costs 516円, a single serving size bottle costs 130円
Where to buy: grocery stores, drugstores, and convenient stores
Taste: mild and smooth, similar to sweetened soymilk
Koji Plus, by Marukome
Profile: also fairly cheap and widely available
Price: a 1L carton costs 430円, one serving size carton 139円
Where to buy: grocery stores, some specialty food stores
Taste: similar to Morinaga
Profile: concentrated amazake that has not been puréed, meant to be diluted with hot or cold water
Price: one pouch costs between 138 and 400円
Where to buy: the chilled section of grocery stores, KALDI Coffee, and mom and pop pickle shops
Taste: very sweet, with a porridgy texture
Profile: a brand well-known for its high-quality sake
Price: an 825mL bottle costs about 864円 , while the mini 118g one costs 205円
Where to buy: some grocery stores, liquor stores, and Natural Lawson
Taste: silky, sweet and pure
Now, if you are looking for a cup of freshly made koji amazake served in front of you for a fuller experience, you can visit Amazake Yokocho in Ningyocho.
Although the shop that gave Amazake Yokocho its name no longer exists, Tofu No Futaba across the street serves freshly, hot koji amazake by the paper cup for 200円, as well as amazake soft serve ice cream for 350円. It is located a one-minute walk from Ningyocho Station, Exit A2.
If you want something to take home, they sell them by the pouch individually or as a set. There are 3 types, one made from white rice, one from brown rice, and one from 古代米 kodaimai, ancient world rice.
The roasted green tea shop next door, Morinoen, also serves koji amazake and a rice cracker in their quaint second floor sweets cafe for 660円.
Finally, to appreciate the variety in koji amazake, I recommend visiting Noren Muro. This koji amazake specialty shop is located in Kagurazaka, and here you can find every kind of amazake imaginable! Some are infused with other ingredients like tea and fruit. They also sell utensils for making koji amazake at home. Which leads me to my next point.
Can I Make It At Home?
Yes, you can make koji amazake yourself, as long as you have a rice cooker, a good kitchen towel, and a food thermometer. This is probably the surest way of getting the mad health benefits of this miracle drink. It’s super easy!
150g of rice
200g rice koji (available at grocery stores near the pickling ingredients)
500-600mL water (or up to the 3 line in your rice cooker)
200mL cold water, added later
Step 1: rinse rice and cook on porridge setting
Step 2: when the porridge is done, add 200ml of cold water and bring the temp down to about 55 degrees
Step 3: add 200g of rice koji and combine thoroughly–the rice will immediately take on a yellowish tint
Step 4: put the rice cooker on the keep warm setting, and with the lid wide or partially open, cover the rice with a medium towel soaked in water and wrung out
Step 4: wait 6-12 hours or until a sweet odor fills your kitchen
I make my amazake overnight and enjoy a hot, fresh cup for breakfast. You can also enjoy it chilled with ginger, as homemade ice cream (I use an ice cube tray or paper cups), or homemade Japanese sweets, and much, much more, but that’s for another post!