How waste can do wonders for your body
Sake is the national beverage of Japan, and one of the most quintessential exports in the world today. (Pronounced “sa-keh” not “sa-kee” by the way.) Made with the finest of Japanese rice, this elegant and easy-to-drink liquor has a place in most Japanese restaurants around the globe.
But what of the leftovers?
As a nation that prides itself on economizing waste and prioritizing recycling, the lesser-known Sake Kasu has been used in Japanese culture for centuries via cooking, drinking, and even in beauty!
Sake Kasu (‘sake lees’/糟) is a byproduct of the sake making process. In fact, according to Sake Times, the sake we drink is only 75% of the original brew while the rest of the batch is left to waste as sake lees. When you buy lees in the store (or if you’re lucky: a factory), it comes in three forms: as a sheet, a thick crumble, or as a thick, off-white paste. Depending on the format, you can either use it as is or after adding some water to reconstitute it.
The most popular usage of sake kasu is, of course, cooking! There are two major ways to use it: for flavor and for fermenting.
When using the lees for flavor, you’re going to give your dish a slightly sweet, umami note. A popular winter soup in Japan is Kasujiru — a creamy salmon soup that includes both miso and sake kasu! According to Kyoudo Ryouri, this soup originated from the Kansai prefecture known as the Osaka region of Japan. This is due to the large number of sake manufacturers from the area, making it convenient for people in the region to access fresh lees straight from the source — and help reduce waste!
Another way to use sake kasu for flavor is in desserts like cheesecake or ice cream! Not only will they be more creamy, they can up your gourmet game and give your classic recipes a unique, Japanese twist.
As a fermenting agent, you can also use your kasu to pickle vegetables! The low levels of alcohol (around 6–8%) and leftover rice koji naturally ferment vegetables, meat, and fish. When adding it to meat marinades, the sake kasu will start breaking down proteins to make it more tender and the flavor more concentrated. As a start, Japanese Food Guide recommends using the basic kasudoko (粕床) mixture (made of kasu, sake, miso, sugar, and salt) to begin experimenting with different products.
Japanese people love pickled foods (or tsukemono). Start by adding a little bit to your lunch bento, garnishing your bowl of rice, or having it as a palate cleanser paired with your favorite beer or sake! A good snack that’s good for you too.
While there is a trace amount of leftover ethanol, a traditional way of using sake kasu in the winter is by making a nice, non-alcoholic brew of Amazake — a sweet and creamy drink that is perfect on a cold night. This drink is usually made during the winter months and for holidays like New Years and Hinamatsuri or “Doll Festival”. Much like many celebratory foods in different cultures, the sweet element of amazake symbolizes good fortune and perhaps to have a “sweet” year ahead.
It is prepared simply by gently heating up water on a stove and mixing some of the paste first into a ladle, and then into the rest of the pot much like miso! The lees itself also has an adequate sugar content that sufficiently sweetens the drink without having to add anything extra.
If you’re looking for something healthy too: amazake has got you covered. The active enzymes will help maintain your gut health that can assist in breaking down carbs, proteins and fats stated the Japan Store Blog. They also reported benefits for your brain via glucose and your sleep health through vitamins like B1 and B5.
There are two versions of Amazake — a traditional one with sake kasu and an alcohol-free version made with rice koji. If you are alcohol-sensitive (or giving it to children), you can use the koji recipe or just cook the kasu version a bit longer for quicker results! Check out this post by Just One Cookbook for a step-by-step guide to both!
Asian skincare and natural skincare has been on the rise for the past few years — and there’s a good reason why. Instead of using products that all pack a punch, Asian and natural beauty both work more gently on the skin to give you a natural glow while lowering the chances of your skin getting overwhelmed by too many active ingredients at high percentages.
According to Kurashu, the story goes that the skin benefiting properties of sake kasu was discovered when a veteran sake brewer was observed to have such youthful hands when compared to his aging face. They also stated that the natural lees can help with skin firming, brightening, age spots, acne, and even have soothing properties for those with eczema and acne.
Skincare brand Edobio reports that the anti-ageing properties of Sake kasu can be attributed to:
- Vitamin B — which helps with skin renewal,
- Arbutin — which helps fade pigmentation
- Linoleic Acid — which supports the skin barrier and hydration
Another skincare brand, Hakko, emphasizes the benefits of the fermented rice within sake kasu; one being ferulic acid. They said that this acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps with the overall appearance of your skin through skin brightening and reduction of fine lines and age spots.
Fair Warning: Many at-home face mask recipes recommend mixing the sake kasu with rice water or other solvents like rose or coconut water along with a dash of honey. However, beware when using citrus fruits for DIY face masks as the juices of fruits like lemons aren’t necessarily formulated for your skin and can lead to irritation over time and sensitivity under sun exposure.
In Japan, you can typically find sake kasu in most grocery stores. In the US, your best bet is to go to a Japanese market or a brewery. If you live outside of Japan and without a market in sight, you can also order it online!
Support your body — the Japanese way — by giving sake kasu a try in your meals and on your face!
Next up: Summer Veggies. We’re all familiar with ripened tomatoes, fresh cucumbers and tender courgettes… But what do Japanese people eat in the summer? Check back on June 19th at 12pm EST to get to know some more produce and recipes that can cool you off this year. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!