I love it when two of my favourite things come together. The J-Cast television watch site reviews an episode of the late-night NHK educational Science Zero series that talks about sake and how science has helped it evolve over the years.
The article credits the rising global popularity of sake to two things: kōji and science. Specifically, brewers training in scientific methods and creating more delicious sake with stronger aromas, and a new genetic-level understanding of the microorganism that helps create it.
This rise in aroma is due in part to technological advances like genetic sequencing that have led to more effective use of the microorganisms essential to brewing - kōji and yeast.
The article further claims that the characteristics of sake are mostly down to Japan's "national fungus" kōji, stressing that it has twice as many genetically distinct varieties as yeast. Techniques for genetic manipulation to achieve desired functionality from microorganisms are also developing, and they have also been "manipulated" by selection throughout the history of sake brewing. The program aims to bring together the experience of breweries and the advances of biotechnology to see what is at the cutting edge of sake science.
The episode features Kazuhiro Iwashita from the National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) who presents sake made with different kōji to hosts Nao Minamisawa and Kaoru Takeuchi to see if they can taste the difference.
Unfortunately the series doesn't seem to be watchable outside Japan, but would love to see it.
- Original article (Japanese, J-Cast, 31 March 2018)
- NHK Science Zero page for episode "Kanpai with delicious sake! Kōji, the play maker for flavour" (Japanese)
- National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) (Japanese)
- National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) (English)