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Amazake is a traditional Japanese beverage made by fermenting rice to yield a sweet and nutritious drink. The fermented beverage is available in many specialty stores and can be found in health food stores because it has high nutritional value. For people who suffer from lactose intolerance, amazake is an excellent milk alternative, and it can be used in a variety of dishes in addition to being consumed plain.
To make amazake, rice is saturated in Aspergillus oryzae, a type of fungus. The fungus is also known as koji, and it is a crucial ingredient in Japanese fermented foods such as sake, soy sauce and mirin. After the fungus has taken, the rice is mixed with freshly cooked rice and allowed to incubate at a temperature of about 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) for about 14 hours. The koji breaks the starches in the rice into sugars, and the incubation is halted before the sugars can convert into alcohol. The mixture resembles porridge at this point, and it usually is puréed before sale.
After being puréed, amazake is extremely thick and resembles pudding. It sometimes is available in this form, and it also is sold diluted as a fermented liquid. Some companies add flavorings such as vanilla or chocolate, especially for markets outside of Japan. Without stabilizers, amazake is very perishable, so it should be kept under refrigeration and used quickly.
Slightly Fermented Flavor
In Japan, amazake is often served warm with a pinch of grated ginger. It also can be used in desserts, added to smoothies or used as a milk alternative in other dishes. The beverage has a sweet, slightly fermented flavor that reminds many people of sake. The similarity in flavor is not surprising, because amazake is closely related to sake. In fact, some sake companies distill leftovers from their brewing process to make a type of amazake, which is an efficient use of all of their ingredients.
People sometimes compare amazake to rice milk or other grain milks. The process for making grain milks is similar, but as a general rule, amazake is fermented and grain milks are not. Both can be made at home, although making amazake is somewhat trickier because cooks should avoid the promotion of unwanted bacteria. Koji is available from several companies, often in the form of rice flour inoculated with the fungus. Either brown or white rice can be used to make amazake, and cooks should wash the rice scrupulously first.