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The Newswitch site has an interview with Yōji Hata, director of Gekkeikan’s research institute, about the development of their Tōshitsu Zero (zero carb/sugar) sake. The product recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Gekkeikan hold a 50% share of the low/zero carb sake market.

The interviewer comments that it’s now 10 years since Gekkeikan released a product with less than 0.5 g carbohydrate in 100 ml of sake. Hata replies the company was relieved that they’d finally managed to do it. Immediately after it was released to the market in 2008, he received complaints from management that the taste was not acceptable, which was frustrating but also drove him to keep trying to improve the flavour year after year.

The next question is about the target market for the product. Hata replies that there are two: people who haven’t drunk much sake until now, and existing drinkers trying to look after their health and looking for low-carb/sugar products.

What does Hata look for in the taste? Rather than trying to make it taste exactly like regular sake, it tastes odd at first but the flavour isn’t something you tire quickly of.

What is it about this product that isn’t like regular sake? Cutting carbohydrate so drastically makes it taste different from normal sake. People who like regular sake wouldn’t go for it. But Hata’s aim to make something that plays a supporting role to meals, enhances umami in food, and delivers a pleasant aftertaste all while being kind to the body.

When asked about difficulties in development, Hata replies that finding a yeast that will use up all of the carbohydrates from rice is critical. Temperature and mixing of the moromi also needs to be carefully controlled to create the ideal environment for the yeast.

What next? Hata comments that current research trends focus on reducing easily understood components such as carbohydrates and purines. Drinkers also avoid sake that makes them feel buzzed for longer, or that makes their breath smell, issues caused by invisible components that research has to identify and overcome. Hata hopes that as sake recovers, it will lose its negative image and become something to be enjoyed.