Learn the basics of pairing sake with sushi!

First, let’s roughly categorize sake. The two main indicators that determine category are aroma and intensity. Is the aroma fragrant or mild? Is the taste mellow or sharp? This creates 4 categories, fruity (aromatic with a mellow flavor), light (mild aroma with a mellow flavor), umakuchi (mild aroma with a strong flavor) and matured (aromatic with a strong flavor).

Next, we will introduce the characteristics of each of the four categories, and the basic sushi toppings that pair well with each one.

When a fruity sake is poured into a glass, and when you take a drink, there is a sweet aroma that is almost fruity. The taste is juicy and elegant. We recommend pairing it at the beginning of a meal. However, the aroma may be overpowered by seafood, so it’s quite difficult to pair it with sushi. However, don’t be too concerned with the general theories, and instead, feel free to discover your own original pairings. We think fruity sake can be paired with robust-flavored fatty toppings such as fatty tuna and Splendid alfonsino, or rich flavored toppings such as sea urchin and conger eel.

e.g. Dassai Migaki Niwarisanbu

Light-flavored sake goes down easy and has a clean aftertaste. It is a refreshing taste. The aroma is very mild and it doesn’t linger. This type of sake goes with a wide variety of foods, and it is the best sake to drink while eating a meal of sushi. It goes especially well with delicate flavors like cuttlefish and octopus and it goes with toppings that have enjoyable aromas such as shellfish.

e.g. Hitakami Yasuke

Umakuchi sake has a subtle aroma, the innate sweetness of the rice, and a strong umami flavor. It is also characterized by the wide range of temperature at which it can be served, from room temperature to the very hot “tobikiri-kan” (55℃ or higher). The aftertaste lingers a bit, and you won’t tire of it even when drinking for a long time as part of your meal. This type of sake goes well with fatty Horse mackeral (Aji) or Japanese sardine (Iwashi). It also goes well with toppings known for umami flavors such as Japanese amberjack (Buri), oyster and salmon roe.

e.g. Shinkame Junmaishu

The moment matured sake is poured into a glass, it gives off a condensed aroma reminiscent of dried fruits. As the amino acids and sugars have changed over several years, it has an interwoven complex flavor and aroma. The aftertaste lingers and it is characterized by its smooth texture on the tongue. This sort of sake goes well with potent and fermented crucian sushi.

e.g. Daruma Masamune Koshu

Overall, the most important thing is that neither the sushi nor sake overpowers the other, and that the flavors and aromas harmonize in your mouth, without fighting each other. For example, sushi with a clear, rich flavor and a high umami content should be paired with a full-bodied sake, and subtle delicate-tasting sushi should be combined with a smooth and refreshing sake. That’s the basics.

Main Types of Sake

Generally Japanese sake is made from rice and water, but it can be divided into two major categories depending on whether extra alcohol is added or not. Sake without added alcohol is called Junmaishu (純米酒). When alcohol is added, it’s called Honzojoshu (本醸造酒) or Futsushu (normal sake).

Ginjoshu (吟醸酒) and Daiginjoshu (大吟醸酒) sakes are extremely rare as they were originally made as entrants in competitive exhibitions. A lot of careful work goes into the production from the selection of the rice used, high-precision milling, making of yeast and yeast mash, all the way to the final preparations.  If the milling percentage is 60% or less then it is ginjoshu. At 50% or less, it is Daiginjoshu and you can find variations of both Honjozoshu (sake without added saccharides and 120 liters or less seed alcohol per ton) and Junmaishu (sake without added alcohol or sugar). The Honjozoshu variations are just called Ginjo or Daiginjo sake, but the Junmaishu versions are called Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo sakes.

Alcohol is added to Honjozoshu before the pressing process in order to bring out the fragrance and attain a pleasant balance. The additive amount is always the same and remains within 10% of the weight of the raw rice used. The milling is also kept to 70% or lower. While it is more fragrant than Junmaishu, the flavor is clean and refreshing, making it pleasant to drink.

Futsushu (ordinary sake) is sake that uses rice with a milling percentage of 70% or more, with distilled alcohol that uses 10% or more white rice, or non-distilled alcohol added as a raw ingredient.

Sake Glossary

On the label of sake, various characteristics are printed – how to brew, press, heat, stock and so on. It is sure that you can be more delighted to taste sake after knowing them.

Sake-brewing rice (酒米):It means rice cultivars suitable for sake making.

Rice polishing ratio (精米歩合) :It is the weight percentage of white rice to brown rice.

Sake meter value (日本酒度):It is used as a general indicator of dry- and sweetness in sake. However, sweet and dry are sensory perceptions, where SMV is simply a reflection of specific gravity, so the two do not always appear to correlate. The sugar glucose is sweet, but, the more other sugars influence the SMV, the less sweetness will be apparent. Further, the sense of sweet or dry is affected by the level of acidity. The higher the acidity, the drier the sake will taste. Sake with low acidity tends to taste sweeter.

The average Sake meter value range is from 0 -+5. Sake sweeter than the zero mark (that is to say in the minus range) is considered ama-kuchi ; that which reads more than +5 may be said to be kara-kuchi. According to the Tax Agency’s market survey of sake products in 2012, the average values for various types of sake were: futsu-shu +3.7; ginjo-shu +4.3; junmai-shu +4.

Acidity (酸度):Those organic compounds which register as acidic are called organic acids, and these comprise almost all the acids found in seishu. 73% of sake acids are produced by yeast during the main fermentation, with about 17% coming from shubo, and the remaining 10% from steamed rice and koji.

Organic acids are important components of sake taste, giving acidity (sourness) and umami, with volatile acids also contributing to the aroma. In order of volume, there is most succinic acid, followed by malic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and acetic acid. In moromi, succinic acid is produced in the greatest amounts, followed by malic acid, then lactic acid. At the yeast starter stage, most lactic acid is produced, followed by acetic acid and succinic acid.

According to Tax Office statistics for 2012, the respective levels for futsu-shu, ginjo-shu and junmai-shu were 1.18, 1.32 and 1.50.

Amino acid content (アミノ酸度):The amino acids in seishu exist in the form of salts, and (together with lower peptides) displaying slight sweetness, umami, acidity and bitterness, are constituents of sake flavor. Where amino acid levels are too high, the sake is hard to drink with high levels of zatsu-mi off-flavor. When amino acid levels are low, the sake will be thinner and kirei (“clean”). Primary examples of amino acids include glutamic acid, glycine, alanine, valine, arginine and so on. Monosodium glutamate is sometimes used as an auxiliary material.

The average range of amino acids in sake is from 1.0 – 2.0. Light examples with a value of less than 1.0 can be said to be tanrei (light) sake, low in amino acids. Sake with high levels of amino acids at more than 2.0 will be full-flavored sake, often described with the adjective (noujun; tanrei and noujun may be considered opposites).

According to Tax Office statistics for 2012, the respective amino-acid levels for “regular” sake (futsu-shu), ginjo-shu and junmai-shu were 1.25, 1.30, and 1.54.

Kimotozukuri (生酛造り)

The first process of brewing sake is a pure culture of yeast to sake seed mash. Kimotozukuri is a traditional method of using lactic acid bacteria in this step. Sake made by this method is characteristic of the strong taste.

Yamahai-shikomi (山廃仕込み)

In the kimotozukuri method, the process of mixing rice and koji into a puree is cake Ymaorosi. In the meiji period, it turned out that it can also be done by a function of enzyme and yamaorosi process was abolished (haishi). This new method was called Yamahai.

Muroka-Namagenshu (無濾過生原酒)

As these sakes are not filtered and heated, you can enjoy their rich flavor. They have high alcohol content because not added water.

Nigorizake (にごり酒)

This sake is cloudy sake just made by filtering with a coarse cloth. One which is not pasteurized is called Kassei-nigorizake.

Namachozo-shu (生貯蔵酒)

Namachozo-shu is stored raw and pasteurized once when bottling.

Namazume-shu (生詰酒)

Namazume-shu is stored after pasteurized once and then bottled raw.

Nama-shu (生酒)

Nama-shu is stored raw and then bottled raw.

Hiire (火入れ)

Hiire is stored after pasteurized and pasteurized when bottling.

Fukuro-sibori (袋搾り)

The press method for premium sake like Daiginjo. To put the fermentation mash into a sake bag and drip with no pressure.

Hiyaoroshi (冷おろし)

New sake completed in early spring becomes aged well and the wildness of its taste is removed after stored during the summer. It is shipment in autumn.

Shiboritate (しぼりたて)

Sake shipped immediately after pressing in a sake brewery. It has a fresh taste.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 4, 2021

What is Fugu poison?

In most cases, Fugu (blowfish) poison is found in non-meat parts of the fish such as the liver, ovaries, stomach, intestine, skin and eyes. There are Fugu that do not contain poison in these parts, but most of the Fugu in the waters near Japan are poisonous. A mistake in preparations that allows the meat to touch the poison of the liver or ovaries results in immediate death. Therefore, the general rule is to only eat Fugu at restaurants with an expert licensed in Fugu preparation. Cases of poisoning by Fugu are nearly always a result of an amateur trying to prepare the fish.

The toxin in Fugu is a chemical substance called tetrodotoxin and even heat from boiling or frying can’t detoxicate it. Even Torafugu (Japanese pufferfish) that we find so delicious (we eat the meat, skin and testes) has poison in the liver, ovaries and intestines. The toxicity is said to be at least 1,000 times that of potassium cyanide. They say 10 people would die from the organs of a single Torafugu. In the case of Fugu poisoning, the first poisoning symptoms occur between 20 minutes and three hours after eating the Fugu. It starts with numbness in the lips, the tip of the tongue and fingertips. This is followed by headache, stomachache and severe vomiting. The victim will stagger when trying to walk. Soon they will experience sensory paralysis, speech disturbance and difficulty breathing, accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure. After that, the entire body becomes paralyzed and the victim can no longer move even a finger. Finally, they will fade out of consciousness and eventually both breathing and heartbeat cease, resulting in death. If the consumer doesn’t notice they are experiencing poisoning symptoms, they will surely die.

The strength of the toxin of the fugu also varies depending on the season. Even on an individual basis, some fish have toxins while others don’t. It’s not possible to determine this based on appearance, so it’s better to never eat the organs and eyes, which have a high probability of containing poison.

Fugu has already been successfully farmed and is on the market. No toxins have been found in this farmed Fugu. If farmed Fugu has no toxins, it’s only natural to question what factors generate toxins in wild Fugu and apparently it‘s a cumulative effect of toxins from the food chain. Fugu’s main sources of nutrition are starfish and shellfish. Starfish and shellfish accumulate poison in the body by eating zooplankton with vibrio attached to them. This vibrio creates poisons. Then, Fugu accumulates toxins in the body by eating starfish and shellfish that have toxins accumulated in their bodies. Therefore, farmed Fugu are raised on man-made feed that doesn’t contain Fugu toxins, and since they don’t ingest Fugu toxins and there is no bioconcentration, so the Fugu does not contain poison.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 1, 2021

What is Shusseuo?

During the Edo period, samurai would change their names at Genpuku (coming-of-age ceremony and career stages. Fish that are called by names as they grow older/larger are called “shusseuo (出世魚)”, are considered lucky and are used in cooking to celebrate milestones in life.

Shusseuo doesn’t just change in name, they also change in taste. The bigger the body, the more fat. However, young fish also have their own delicious, refreshing taste unique to their age. For example, using the young fish for deep-frying and fatty fish as sashimi is an interesting way to put it.

Shusseuo is not the only fish called by different names as they grow. According to the “Study of Japanese Fish Names”, there are 82 types of fish that are called by different names as they grow. Kuromaguro and kanpachi are popular examples. Kuromaguro changes from Komeji to Meji to Maguro and then to Oomaguro. Kanpachi changes from Mojako to Shiwoko to Akahana and then to Kanpachi. Even konoshiro, sawara, unagi, shake, koi, etc. are not shusseuo. Generally, it’s not those fish that are called by different names according to their growth stage that is called shusseuo. Fish that taste better as they grow, that changes little over time, and have been valued since eras when preservation and transport were not well-developed, are called shusseuo.

A good representative fish of shusseuo is the yellowtail. Its name changes as it grows and there are various forms of their names depending on the region. In the Kanto region, it changes from Wakashi (15-20cm) to Inada (30-40cm) to Warasa (60cm) and then to Buri (80cm or greater). It is said to be most delicious at 40 cm or longer and even if the body is plump, inada often has little fat.

Even if the name is the same, depending on the region, it may be referring to a different size. For example, inada is a fish up to 40 cm in Kanto but in Tohoku and Tokai, it refers to small fish of 15-20 cm. Further, although it is not related to its growth, those caught in Tohoku during summer are called “ao”. In Toyama, they are called “gan” and “gando”.

Finally, the changing names of fish demonstrate the breadth of culture. We should cherish this local diversity present in the names of our fish that capture the abundant food culture and importance of the seasons.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: January 5, 2021

What is a firm difference between sushi and western fish cuisine?

In Japan, they say, “Japanese cooking means taking away and Western cooking means adding.” This concept is well-known among Japanese chefs, but it may be difficult for western chefs to understand. This is verified in the way the white Japanese sea bass, the representative fish of summer, is prepared. This is all connected to clearly explaining the irrefutable differences between sushi and western fish cuisine, which also involves differences in cultivated history and culture.

In the case of Sushi, a representative of Japanese cuisine, the decisive point is to prepare the fish in a way that removes the fishy odor characteristic of Japanese sea bass. At the same time, the finished piece should be a simple dish that can be enjoyed with only a minimal amount of nikiri soy sauce and wasabi, so as not to override the natural refreshing flavor and umami of the fish. It should let the customer imagine sea bass swimming in the summer sea. And yet, the deep flavor required for the dish is successfully brought out using only a balanced combination of vinegar rice, the topping, wasabi and soy sauce. The method is really just to take out the excessive elements of the dish.

Meanwhile, the method for making sea bass dishes in French cuisine, representative of western cooking, includes seasoning the fish with salt and pepper and saute in butter, then adding rich, creamy sauce as well as other things like herbs, caviar, black truffles, etc., creating a dish that allows enjoyment of multilayered flavor. This sort of dish beautifully makes up for the flavors that the light, white fish lacks and portrays a flavor with depth through the finished plate over the individual flavor of the sea bass. In this cuisine, it can be said that the cooking method is more important than the raw ingredients. It can be thought of as cuisine that adds many ingredients.

Comparing the two, it’s clear that the approaches are completely opposite. Another difference is how the flavors are treated. Flavors that are experienced by “fragrance” can be defined as “fragrant flavor”.

If this fragrant flavor were not important in sushi, then there would be no debate on whether to use wild or farmed fish. For example, sea bream is available both in the wild and as farmed fish. There is not much difference in amino acid composition and umami content between the two. So how is it that farmed sea bream and wild sea bream end up tasting so different? The reason is undoubtedly the fragrance. The subtle fragrance components in the fat of the sea bream determine the essential flavor of the fish. You can’t expect to get this flavor from a farmed fish. Doesn’t that mean that the pleasure of eating sushi comes from the awareness of this fragrance?

On the other hand, in Western fish cuisine, the culture is to combine many different fragrances, as if concocting a perfume, probably because people want complex flavor. In addition, in French and similar cuisines, care to serve dishes at a temperature that is warm, but not hot, in order to bring out the natural flavor of the ingredients. While cooking the dishes, the temperature is strictly controlled so that the components of the ingredients don’t change from the heat, in order to maintain the taste and fragrance. This method does not neglect fragrance by any means.

In either method, the one essential element is this “fragrance”. The only true difference is how that is expressed.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: November 2, 2020