What is sake lees?  - Mizkan

What is sake lees? 

17th August, 2021

Sake lees, popularly called ‘sake kasu’ or ‘sake cake’, is produced as a result of the Japanese sake brewing process.

The drink is traditionally made by brewing koji (a type of fungus) into steamed rice. This causes amylase enzymes to break down the rice starch into sugar, which is then converted into alcohol by yeast.

After fermentation, rice mash is compressed to express the alcohol. The residue that remains after this process is known as sake lees. 

How is sake lees used? 

Due to excessive production of sake (which creates sake lees) and the Japanese ‘no waste’ culture, sake makers and chefs have found many uses of sake lees. From being used in breads, crackers, ice creams, cheesecakes and yoghurts – there are plenty of dishes and foods that sake lees can complement. 

The product is also widely used in many restaurants to cut down the fishy odour in salmon and other seafood recipes such as Kasuzuke – a dish made by pickling fish (or vegetables) in sake lees. 

However, what’s interesting is its use in vinegars. Sake lees is being used to create sake cake vinegar or added to a spirit vinegar, such as our Shiragiku vinegar, to give you an explosion of umami taste and vinegar tang. 

What does sake lees taste like? 

Sake lees is described as having a mix of sweet, savoury and umami taste, the latter is one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. This flavour is found naturally in many foods including vegetables, dairy products, meat and fish. 

The simple way to describe umami is that it gives a meaty and savoury deliciousness that deepens the already existing flavour in any dish, as it has a tongue-coating sensation that lasts longer than any other basic taste. 

Pure sake cake vinegar vs spirit vinegar brewed with sake cake 

Sake lees is used on its own to create a pure sake cake vinegar or alongside other ingredients in spirit vinegars such as Shiragiku. 

Pure sake cake vinegar is produced by ageing the leftover sake lees until they turn brown. The ageing process will give the vinegar a deeper, full-bodied umami flavour. The product doesn’t contain any other ingredients, which means the taste found in the vinegar is purely a result of sake lees. 

While, when used in spirit vinegars like Shiragiku – sake lees’ deep umami flavour is accompanied by the mellow acidity and vinegar tang.

Why is sake cake vinegar used in Japanese cuisine? 

From enhancing the taste of seafood dishes to tenderising chicken dishes like chicken teriyaki, the product has many benefits, from accentuating dishes to making them easy to chew. 

Sake cake vinegar can not only be used in Japanese cuisine, but it can also be used in Mediterranean dishes such as pasta. Some ways sake cake vinegar is used include: 

  • To add an umami flavour to sushi rice, soup stocks, grilled dishes and soups.  
  • As a marinade to remove odours from meat and fish dishes. 
  • To tenderise tough meat with its moisture.
  • To intensify the overall aroma of any dish.  
  • To steam foods by using equal amounts of the vinegar and water as the base.
  • To add moisture to desserts such as cakes and breads.

Use our spirit vinegar, Shiragiku, as a salad dressing such as in our Carrot Pickle Salad or as part of a sauce to intensify the flavours of other ingredients. It can also be added to broths and soups to deepen their flavour and used as a marinade in dishes like Black Belly Pork to tenderise the meat and to add a unique flavour to it.

Can I substitute sake vinegar for sake cake vinegar? 

Although sake vinegar is quite popular within Japanese cuisine, it won’t give the exact deep flavour created by a pure sake cake vinegar. 

The sake vinegar adds a perfect tangy flavour to a variety of dishes including dressings and marinades. However, the product can’t be used to achieve that deep umami flavour found in pure sake cake vinegars. 

Mizkan’s Shiragiku however, a specially crafted spirit vinegar, can be used as a replacement of a pure sake cake vinegar as it contains leftover sake lees  – which is pure sake cake vinegar’s essential and only ingredient. 

Where can I find vinegar that contains sake lees? 

Mizkan Chef’s Shiragiku vinegar, which is made from grain alcohol and brewed with sake lees and rice is perfect for those who want to enhance their dishes by adding a rich umami taste to them. The vinegar can be used in a variety of dishes to either enrich their flavour or to tenderise the meat and remove odour. Get in touch with us today to enquire about the product. 

Check out our recipe page for inspiration on how to use Shiragiku and feel free to also sign up to our newsletter for all the latest chef news, industry trends, promotions and product information.