Amazaké -the Japanese, antioxident-rich, multivitamin booster to make this winter

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A cup of my homemade Brown Rice Amazaké with Ceylon cinnamon and ginger.

Make this variation of a traditional Japanese drink, rich in vitamins and amino acids to maximize its health benefits.

A quick search on the internet for 甘酒 amazaké, a fermented sweet, creamy rice drink will bring up a myriad of health claims from brighter skin (from the kojic acid) to immune boosting properties (from the ferulic acids).

Unless you have a centrifuge to condense these compounds or topically applying it your face, a single cup of amazaké unfortunately is not a cure-all nor a magical beautifying elixir, but drinking it routinely as part of your regular diet can deliver a boost of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and all of the essential amino acids in one little cup of fermented goodness. And that healthy glow that comes from a balanced diet is pretty hard to beat.

The main reaction that happens when you add a 麹 kōji fungus culture to rice to make amazaké is saccharification: the glucoamylase and alpha amylase in the kōji break down the rice starch into glucose which makes the rice taste sweet. Essentially you are making simple carbs into simple sugars. The activated kōji fungus itself is providing most of the health boosting nutritious B vitamins and antioxidants and amino acids, but its also suspended in a lot of glucose.

Sometimes all that simple glucose is good, white rice amazaké is a great candidate if you need to give patients with liver damage a nutrient rich equivalent of an IV drip in an edible form. But with the resurgence of whole grains and macrobiotic diets we’ve come to realize that we’ve been polishing off the most fiber-rich, nutritious part of the grains and its time to bring it back.

One way to elevate a cup of amazaké into an even healthier version of itself is to make it from scratch with brown rice. I’ve tested several different methods and ratios and the best results with balanced flavour and texture was from a base of mostly Japanese half-polished brown rice (rice where the fibrous hull is removed but the vitamin-rich bran and rice germ are still intact) and a small portion of sticky rice mixed in.

Amazaké made with brown rice has a higher level of antioxidants and the low temperature fermentation rate allows many of the vitamin E components in the bran to retain their anti-oxidative compounds. It also has considerably more manganese and magnesium and a few more grams of fiber compared to white rice.

Surprisingly versatile, the creamy brown rice amazaké mixture can be easily added to your daily routine. A 1/2 cup in your morning smoothie to replace yogurt or milk or add some amazaké to your oatmeal bowl and top with seasonal fruits for breakfast, or how about a warm glass at the end of the day with a shot of amaretto for a cozy winter pick-me-up?

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米麹 kome- kōji: rice inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae

Kōji is the fungus Aspergillus oryzae and while pure kōji spores can be purchased, most people will be more familiar with the readily available 米麹 “kome- kōji” which is sold in the form of inoculated rice grains.

To make home-made amazaké we will first cook the brown rice and sweet sticky rice mixture to feed to the kōji fungus inhabiting the rice grains. (alternatively you can make it with all white short-grained rice for a traditional recipe) The kōji I like using for making amazaké from scratch is the loose-grain dry-type of rice kōji vs the cake style or spent saké-lees type.

Tools needed:
Rice cooker or temperature controlled pot.
Thermometer.
Clean cheesecloth.

For 8 servings of Amazaké.
220–200g white rice kōji grains (about 1 heaped cup)
¼ cup sweet sticky rice
1 cup brown rice
2 ½ cup water
Additional 4 ¼ cups of water

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All photos and illustrations by the author ©

Soak: wash and soak the sweet sticky rice (also called glutinous rice) in water for 30 min.

Rinse: Wash the brown rice until the water runs clear.

Mix and Cook: Strain the sweet rice and mix together with the brown rice and add 2 ½ cups of water and cook in the rice cooker. Once the rice cooker is done, cool slightly and leave the setting to “keep warm” or about 60°C (140°F) if you can adjust the temperature.

Add Warm Water and Kōji: Warm the 4 ¼ cups of water to 70°C (158°F) and add to the rice mixture. Take the temperature of the mixture and when it’s about 60°C-65°C (140°F-149°F) thoroughly mix in the kōji rice grains.

Ferment: Cover the rice bowl with a clean cheesecloth and prop the lid of the rice cooker open with a wooden spoon (the kōji needs to breath to do its best work). It takes about 8 hours at 60°C-65°C for the kōji to activate and break everything down, making the mixture sweet and the nutrients more bio-available. It may look like an oatmeal at the end of this stage. (Cool and refrigerate if you plan to serve the amazaké at a later date. The mixture will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks).

Serve: Amazaké can be served hot or cold and sometimes the thick porridge-like amazaké is served with a spoon. I prefer a smoother drinkable style (shown in the top picture) which requires a quick blending and an addition of water.

Portion: Measure ½ cup amazaké mixture to ½ cup water per person and blend the mixture, or alternatively use an immersion blender to give it a quick bliz. If serving it hot, use a small pot to heat but don’t boil the mixture, heat it to only about 55–65°C (139–149°F) to retain the vitamins, (also the drink can cause severe burns if it’s heated too hot as it can be deceptively drinkable on the surface but still be magma hot once sipped)

Adjust: Using brown rice will make a less sweet drink than the traditional white rice amazaké so you can adjust to your preference with the addition of a sweetener of choice.

Garnish: Traditionally some grated ginger is added right before serving but I also like to add a sprinkle of Ceylon cinnamon on top for a fragrant comforting drink.

Nutritional information for Amazaké:

Source: Nagao Y, Sata M (2013) Effect of a Late Evening Snack of Amazake in Patients with Liver Cirrhosis: A Pilot Study.Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences 3: 223. doi: 10.4172/2155–9600.1000223

Per 100ml
122 kcal
Carbohydrate 28.0 g
Protein 1.8 g
Fat 0.3 g
Sodium 6 mg
Vitamin B1 0.01 mg
Vitamin B2 0.02 mg
Vitamin B5 0.12 mg
Vitamin B6 0.02 mg
Isoleucine (Ile) 63 mg
Leucine (Leu) 130 mg
Lysine (Lys) 54 mg
Methionine (Met) 45 mg
Phenylalanine (Phe) 82 mg
Threonine (Thr) 61 mg
Tryptophan (Trp) 23 mg
Valine (Val) 99 mg
Histidine (His) 37 mg

Japanese Canadian Nisei researching traditional recipes for the the curious and inquisitive.

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