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Saké and Food Pairings

Umami One of the greatest pleasures of enjoying sakés with food is because of the 5th taste element of Umami. As you may already be aware, Umami increases the “tastiness” of the food we eat. Thus, there is a saying in Japan where “saké does not fight with food”.

Umami is the 5th taste, joining sweet, sour, salty and bitter which is often described as “deliciousness”. It’s named after the word umai (“good/ delicious”) and was discovered in 1907 by a Japanese chemist and Tokyo Imperial University Professor named Kikunae Ikeda. After 15 years of research and studying the compounds of kelp he found out, that molecular compounds in glutamic acid, bind to specific tongue receptors, trigger the sensation on your palate of craving more. If glutamic acid occurs in any food naturally or after cooking, ageing, or fermentation, it is considered Umami.

So what exactly is Umami? Generally described as savoury deliciousness, we often encounter this taste when we eat cheeses, meat or meat broth, cooked mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. Ever wonder why it's so hard to stop eating pizzas once you've had a slice ? Especially if it has toppings of meat, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese? Now you know, it is an umami powerhouse!

Futsushu/Regular saké − Often sold in isshobin bottles (1.8L), they are widely available and represents the highest production volume among the all the categories/grades of saké. The are relatively cheaper compared to premium sakés and is a favourite among regular izakaya (saké bars) for its value. It may not taste as refined as the premium sakés but are great accompaniments with yakitoris, fried foods, pickles and light starters. Served chilled mostly but hot or warm is a great way to enjoy during winter.

Honjozo − This grade of saké is unfortunately often overlooked because of where it sits between the price of a regular saké (closer) and premium sakés. Another factor could be the misconceived notion that only junmai-sakés are enjoyable. Truth be told honjozo sakés are very versatile with food too. Enjoy honjozos with chinese dimsum, japanese shabu-shabu, sushi and sashimi or food with heavy sauces as the lighter styled honjozo helps to refresh your palate.

Junmai − Junmai-sakés have a higher umami profile compared to a regular saké or honjozo. So naturally they are good with meat especially those with a higher fat content. Try pairing a warm junmai-saké with a juicy steak. You can also try pairing junmai-sakés to food that is a little bland and enhance it with a little umami.

Junmai Ginjo-sake - Brings more fruity aromas and flavours to the table. Replacing a rock melon that is paired with jamon iberico with a fruity junmai ginjo saké works just as well if not better. Sweetness from the junmai ginjo saké also pairs wonderfully with asian curries as the spiciness and sweetness merge beautifully while the fruitiness brings another dimension to the pairing.