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The Asahi Digital newspaper site has an article on research conducted by Tōru Fushiki of the food science department of Ryūkoku University into a seemingly obvious phenomenon – sake tastes different depending on what you ate just before drinking it. An article on the research was published in the Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Agrochemistry’s English-language journal.

Fushiki asked 94 men and women in their 20s, 30s or 40s to drink the popular Niigata sake Kubota Senjū and rate it based on their immediate impression. They were told about the well-known brand, a light, refreshing ginjō with little aftertaste, before starting.

Participants answered questions such as “Do you want to keep drinking it?” and “Does it seem like a high quality sake?”, rating the sake from 1 to 5. They were also asked to answer “How delicious is it?” by putting a mark on a line with the ends labelled “Not at all” and “Extremely”, which was converted into a score between 0 and 100.

The experiment then looked at how the rating changed in each of three cases: the sake drunk on its own, drunk immediately after eating flatfish sashimi, or drunk immediately after eating grilled mackerel with miso.

Compared to the average rating for sake alone (70.5%), it got higher ratings with the flatfish sashimi (76.7%). It didn’t do quite so well after the grilled mackerel with miso (72.6%). The difference between sake alone and sake with flatfish sashimi was statistically significant.

One question strongly linked to the rating was “Is there a flavour you could get hooked on?” Addictive flavours like sweetness or umami seemed to determine how well the sake was perceived and rated.

The research can be used to give a more objective approach to pairing sake and food. Fushiki commented that as one of sake‘s effects is to gently clear the flavours of food, a richer sake might be more effective with the grilled mackerel with miso.