Amazake, literally "sweet sake" (甘酒), can be made in two ways:
- With the magical fungus kōji in the same way as the initial steps of sake, where it breaks the carbohydrates in rice down into sugar to produce a strikingly sweet opaque white drink.
- Using the lees from sake brewing process, which already contain kōji.
Japaaan points out that amazake has attracted a lot of attention for its purported health benefits. The kōji version has no alcohol while the sakekasu one has less than 1% ABV, which makes it unsuitable for children, pregnant women and drivers. (I suspect the first two groups would survive >1% ABV, although the drink-drive limit in Japan is zero.)
They both look almost identical, so what's the difference? The author tried one of each type from major manufacture Melodian and compared them closely, starting with the ingredients.
- Kōji version: kome-kōji (rice treated with the kōji fungus to break down carbohydrates) preparation (rice, kōji, salt), sugar, sakekazu, starch, salt, stabiliser (polysaccharide thickener), aroma. The front of the packalso has "non-alcoholic" in red lettering.
- Sakekasu version: sugar, sakekasu, starch, salt.
(Hmm. That's a lot of ingredients for the first one, and sugar as the first ingredient in the second?)
The writer then goes on to compare the smell, taste and texture. After removing them from their respective containers there's no way to tell them apart by sight, so it's a bit like a blind amazake tasting.
- Kōji version: stronger aroma, but nothing special. Good depth of flavour from ingredients and refreshing, slightly coarse texture.
- Sakekasu version: mellow and rich aroma reminiscent of sake, which might not be to everyone's taste. Tasted like a more classic amazake.
The author concludes by saying they couldn't really choose one over the other, but the kōji one went down easier while the sakekasu one had more mellow aroma and flavour.
See the original article for photos of the packaging. (And a cute kappa ochoko.)