November 10, 2011

Is Sake Gluten Free, Dairy Free & Soy Free? Not Necessarily

Last month I was all about Asian cuisine which leads me to one of my favourite drinks: Sake. Sake is by far on my Top 10 alcoholic drinks of choice. There is just something about the straight and earthy taste that makes it hard for me to shoot back. I love to linger on it and hold it in my mouth. I’m probably considered a cheap date because I like the less expensive, heated sakes but sadly for F. I can’t be too cheap because I ‘need’ my sake to be of slightly higher quality to avoid any food allergy mishaps.

Sake is an alcohol made from highly polished rice grains. For this reason people are quick to announce it as Gluten Free but between alcohol consumption and wishful thinking it is important to keep your eye on the game and take nothing for granted. The bad news is that sake can contain:

- Barley
- Wheat bi-products
- Lactic acid
- Soya

Obviously, as happens with most ‘added ingredients’, they are used for the overriding purpose of cheaper production. However, in the case of Barley (Gluten) the ingredient in question is Koji enzymes. The Koji mold is usually grown on miso which is made with barley (and fermented soy). A lot of people still consider this to be Gluten Free due to the double product separation and filtration. So it’s one of those foggy ones that has to weigh on personal opinion (note: I have seen a Sake advertised as 100% Gluten Free in America, if you can get your hands on it).
If you are a Sake lover then this might all come as a kick in the teeth but all is not lost. If you are Gluten Free (and feel safe with the product separation), Wheat Free or Dairy Free listen up... To ensure that you are getting top quality (additive free) sake you need to keep an eye out for a few words which will be labelled on the bottle identifying better quality sakes:

‘Junmai’ - means pure with no additional ingredients added. Nothing added except the traditional ingredients of rice, water, yeast and white koji mold

‘Gingo’ - similar to Junmai but of an even higher, purer quality

‘Daiginjo’ - an even higher grade of sake than both Junmai and Gingo

I hope this helps you let loose and get down to the business of enjoying your drink!


Anonymous said...

Hey, thats really intresting! Where do youbuy your Sake in dublin?

Aurea@Survival Guide said...

Well there's a few places that stock it, but a good starting spot is the Asia Market on Drury St. They have a good selection located on the (i think) top of the 2nd aisle across just from the cashiers

karim currimbhoy said...

Awsum !!!! Great research. I live my sake and soju, thought it is gluten free and paid the price. I liveb n India where we dont have good quality available. Good to learn on what to look out for, will look out for it in my travels

Peter said...

Hey, Koji is not grown on Miso! Miso is the final product which is made from Koji that's grown on rice, barley or soy. So Miso itself is not used for growing Koji. It's miso which uses koji, not the other way.

And sake uses only rice koji (legally required to do so). So no barley or soy is used for Koji or Sake making. Sake including cloudy sake is gluten-free.

I'm an American who lives in Japan, and know how miso and koji work. just wanted to correct the information. also there's a website who makes an amazing guide to glutenfree sake.

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