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The Chuo Nichijou site reports on the first chemical analysis carried out in Japan of the Korean rice wine makgeolli, and in particular what makes it different from Japanese sake (known as nihonshu in Japanese).

While checking out the alcohol sections in various shops and convenience stores in Japan, I was foxed by bottles labelled マッコリ (makkori).

It turns out to be the Japanese version of the Korean term makgeolli, a traditional alcoholic beverage made by inoculating rice with a fermentation starter… does that sound familiar?

The Korean Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries asked the Department of Fermentation Science at the Tokyo University of Agriculture to analyse the drink. The results are expected to clarify what substances are contained in what amounts, such as the citric acid and pyruvic acid that give makgeolli its gentle wine-like acidity, or the succinic acid and lactic acid that give sake its umami.

An overwhelmingly pro-makgeolli article on the Korean Yonhap News site reports on the announcement of the results, headlining the finding that makgeolli has more lactic and citric acid than sake. The analysis was carried out on four unpasteurised types of makgeolli among the 11 currently available in Japan. Unlike sake or wine, they contained live yeast and lactobacilli. Sake contains some yeast, but lactobacilli are removed by filtration. Citric acid, which gives sake its gentle acidity, was found at levels 1.2 to 1.9 times higher in makgeolli. Organic acids, said to give better flavour, were also present at levels 1.6 to 2.3 times higher in makgeolli.

Citric acid, which gives wine its characteristic acidity, is present in wine at 0 to 500 mg per litre, in sake at 50 to 150 mg, and in makgeolli at 607 mg. Makgeolli was also found to contain 2.8 times as much protein as sake, and between 5.5 and 11 times as much as wine.

Makgeolli came to Japan in the late 2000s with an increase in popularity of Korean culture, but exports to Japan peaked in 2011 and have declined slightly since.