Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fermenting Rice: Amazaké

Ever since I first tried the fermented rice drink, amazaké, from Whole Foods, I've been intrigued at how to make it. It was hard to believe that such a sweet beverage could be made only with rice and a fermentation starter, without any added sweetener! Although amazaké literally means "sweet sake," it contains almost no alcohol because the fermentation process is stopped with the addition of heat. (Or if the fermentation process isn't stopped, then making amazaké can be the first step to making sake, the Japanese rice wine). Amazaké can be made with grains and koji, or it can be made with sake lees, which are byproducts from the sake making process. Like many other fermented foods, amazaké is thought to be very nutritious. For example, it is said to contain B vitamins. And because I love fermentation, I thought that making amazaké would be a great culinary endeavor!

Here, I am providing a brief recap of the recipe to make amazaké (a combination of the recipe listed in Sandor Katz's book, Wild Fermentation (1), and South River Miso's Amazaké recipe). For a more detailed set of directions, check out South River Miso's Amazaké recipe.

-2 cups grain (I used brown rice, but other grains may be substituted, such as millet)
-2 cups koji (I ordered my koji locally from South River Miso. The koji is the fermentation starter, and here it's brown rice inoculated with the spores of the mold Aspergillus oryzae)


1. Cook the grain in 6 cups of water. Please note: do not add salt when cooking the grain.

2. When the grain is finished cooking, remove from heat, uncover the pot, and allow the grain to cool down to about 110-130° F. Don't let the grain get too cool- koji can tolerate temperatures as high as 140° F.

3. Add the koji to the cooked grain and stir well.

Brown rice with koji mixed in

4. Keep the container in a warm place for about 5-8 hours or overnight (at least 90° F or above). The amount of time you ferment the mixture will depend on the desired level of sweetness and the temperature. The higher the temperature, the quicker the fermentation process will take place. Do not let the grain get above 140° F, which can kill the koji. Suggestions for incubation: a rice cooker on keep warm, with a towel on top instead of the hard cover. Or incubate in the oven with a pilot light, in a hot water bath, etc.).

Amazaké after about 5 hours

5. When the amazaké is at your desired level of sweetness, gently boil it with some additional water or heat it up to stop the fermentation process (which will prevent the amazaké from turning into alcohol). Be careful not to burn the amazaké.

6. Amazaké can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator. Serve the amazaké as is as a pudding, or add water to it and put it in a blender to made a sweet rice drink. You can also seasonings to it, such as honey or spices. Amazaké can also be used as a sweet base for various preparations, such as breads and baked goods. Read more suggestions for what to do with amazaké here.

My amazaké didn't turn out as watery as I thought it would be, so I ended up making sweet rice balls with my amazaké:

Amazaké rice balls, covered with black and white sesame seeds, coconut flakes, and sea salt, with a peanut in the center.

Two comments from my experience:
-I tried freezing some of the rice balls, but they did not taste very good after being kept in the freezer.
-I used a slow cooker to incubate and ferment the amazaké. However, from a quick google search, it seems that slow cooker temperatures, even on low, can reach temperatures to above 140° F. This meant that I was constantly monitoring the amazaké to try and ensure that it didn't get above 140° F (I didn't have a food thermometer, so I was estimating). So, ferment amazaké in a slow cooker at your own risk...

Amazaké is a fun and different way to enjoy your grains. In addition, amazaké is a great way to have a sweet snack that is also healthy, without any additional sugar added.

If you are interested in trying amazaké before you attempt to make it, I have found amazaké at various Whole Foods Markets and at the Harvest Co-Op. At the Harvest Co-Op, I've also found amazaké in various delicious flavors, such as Almond Shake and Go Hazelnuts. You may also find amazaké in your local Asian grocery store. If you have any stories about your experience with amazaké, please share!

1. Katz, Sandor Ellix. Wild Fermentation. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003, p. 118-119.