Food

Amazake is a Dairy-Free Sweetener Being Solely Marketed as Healthy which is Very, Very Sad, Believe Me

I have skepticism to anything that claims to be healthy, and never touts themselves as being great tasting because that would be like marketing a book as “not a good read, but hey if you are looking to blow some time, buy our book.”

If your only claim to fame is to come out and hype “gluten-free,” “soy free,” “dairy free,” “Kosher certified,” “low-fat,” “vegan,” “cholesterol free,” or “low sodium,” I think you’re doing it wrong.

Amazake and its base ingredient has such a long history being used extensively in Japanese cuisine from sake, soy sauce to miso, but it is solely being touted as a healthy alternative to dairy which is why all I hear is “blah, blah, healthy, blah, yoga pants, blah, blah, blah.”

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Image of amazake by Emily Harbour in July  (used under creative commons)

“Great tasting is” is nowhere to be seen, so are these products only for the “I eat to live” versus the “I live to eat” crowd?

Now, I don’t expect any company to literally have “great tasting” on the package unless you’re Miller Lite with their “great taste, less filling” ad campaign although in that case, people were already familiar with the beer, so they wanted to emphasize “same great taste, but with half the calories.”


Is it Amazing What You Can Make Out of Rice

As a kid, I’d go to school with some of my clothes stuck together because a piece of rice had bonded my clothes together like a covelant bond of two molecules. That is all I thought it could do, was a life hack, but now decades later I found out about Amazake (ah-mah-zah-kay). When translated means “sweet sake”, and it is a traditional Japanese drink made of fermented white or brown rice which is either a low or a non-alcoholic drink depending on the recipe (if it was alcoholic, it’d be nigori sake or sake).

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Aspergillus oryzae growing on rice to make koji

When making amazake, the rice is mixed with koji mold Aspergillus oryzae (麹 kōji – I initially read that as “asparagus”), and we’ve all had food that we didn’t know that was produced using koji because it is very common in Japanese food due to it being the base ingredient for miso, soy sauce, mirin, pickles, and sake… yea basically all of Japanese cooking/dishes.

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That rice pudding looking stuff that Ken is holding is the fermented rice which will be used for his amazake.

You Lost Me at “Non-Alcoholic”

The base ingredients for amazake can be used to make sake, but for the majority of the recipes, it is typically a low or non-alcholic drink in which you lost me at “non-alcoholic. To me, that takes all the fun out of it although this is an ideal product for people with allergies to milk like my good friends son has.

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Rice and kome-koji (that packet I’m holding) is all you’ll need to make amazake.

The Ingredients

  • Rice
  • Kome-koji

Why Should You Care?

It’s a dairy-free and alternative sweetener. The cultured rice converts starches into simple sugars which give the amazake drink and other prouducts their distinctive sweetness. From what I can tell, this is probably the biggest selling point for amazake.

rice-koji.png

Asians Love This Stuff

The Chinese, Koreans, and the Vietnamese all have a similar food which is jiuniang (Chinese), sikhye (Korean), and com ruou (Vietnamese).

I looked into all of these to see what the claims are on both of those foods, and the only re-occurring one is that sikhye has been claimed to help with hangovers.


So Why Amazake?

In Japan, amazake is a seasonal drink used during the holidays, but here in the U.S., we have no traditions or holidays to give us a reason to drink it. So why even consider it when you have several other non-dairy sweeteners?


Where to Find Amazake

The one brand had been doing amazake was Grainaissance, but I think they went out of business even though their website is still online. The phone is still connected, but they have not updated their social media since 2017. So it is fair to conclude like one commentor on Facebook had said they did go out of business, but I’d like to confirm that.

This company had a full line of amazake based drinks with flavors from “Almond,” “Cool Coconut,” “Vanilla Gorilla,” “Go Go Green,” and a few more.

Time to Go On a Tangent About the Grainaissance Brand

I wish these names weren’t so lame, and I have seen not seen something this bad in a while because this all sounds like an 8 year old came up with this (is that the demo they were targeting?)

About their branding and marketing: starting off with the labeling, it looks as though it is aimed at 2-4 y.o.’s with their out-dated typography and weak illustrations. Just from looking at it, I can tell you that they have nobody there under 50, or well anybody under 50 in a management position that matches their targeted demographic because it sure is not reflected in the branding. I say that, and I bet if you were to take their product and compare it to other products horizontally, you would know what I mean. The management here really needs to get a new marketing and creative team because their branding is non-existent, and it is reflected in the packaging.

Some of the other dairy-free alternatives

With that bad first impression, I was hoping they’d have a cool back story under their “About Us”, but they have a really generic Mission Statement with “fun”, “quality”, and of course “healthy” buzzwords all thrown in. Nothing they have communicated has any soul or personality in their product, on their social media, to their website. So you got to be very health conscious, or have dietary restrictions to want to buy their product.

Pricing for non-dairy products

  • Almond milk, Blue Diamond, 32 fl oz, $1.99
  • Coconut milk, So Delicious, 32 fl oz, $1.99
  • Rice milk, Rice Dream, 32 fl oz, $2.71
  • Soy milk, Silk, 32 fl oz, $2.39

Pricing for non-dairy sweeteners

  • Coconut sugar/nectar, Laird, 1 lb/$24.99 or about $50 for 32 ounces.
  • Fermented rice (amazake), Grainaissance
  • Freeze dried fermented(amazake) rice packets, Morinaga, 1.97 oz, $11.49

What a Coincidence: From the 303 to the LBC

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A fruit smoothie is just one of the many products that can be made using koji.

So I just met Ken, and I had only conversed with him a little over email, but I decided I’d pay him a little visit to his Long Beach facilities (unfortunately he is no longer in business) to learn more about amazake.

After learning about amazake, the conversation turned to where he had lived before, and he mentioned “Florida” and “Denver”. I was like “WTF, I’m originally from Denver,” so I still know a few people in the Japanese and Japanese American community in Colorado. A lot of them that I had met during my time at Sushi Den which I did a brief year at as a sushi chef to learn about the restaurant industry. Well surprise, surprise because it turns out that Ken had also worked at Sushi Den, and he knows several of my good friends and acquaintances, it’s a small world after all.


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