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Three Facts You Must Know to Get Gluten-free Sake

Tom Inoue

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Have you ever skimmed over a sake bottle label and could not find anything about gluten?

While 18 Million people in the United States have gluten sensitivity, this condition is not common in Japan. That’s why food and drink manufacturers rarely provide gluten-related information.

But don’t worry. You only need to keep three things in mind for a gluten-free sake experience.

Read on!

1. Two sake ingredients with gluten

Among the sake ingredients, two are believed to contain gluten:

  • Distilled Alcohol
    Although alcohol does not inherently contain gluten and is usually made from sugar cane, there is a chance that the one used in your sake is made from wheat or barley.
  • Flavorings
    Some sake with relatively low quality also have undisclosed ingredients such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) that may contain gluten.

2. Types of sake that you should avoid

The ingredients above are used in some types of sake. For a gluten-free sake, we recommend you refrain from the following:

  • Regular sake or ‘Futsu-shu’
    Regular sake may use both distilled alcohol (up to 50% of rice by weight) and other seasonings. The chances of this type containing gluten is high. Definitely a No-no for this type.
  • Honjozo-type
    Honjozo is a type of premium sake made of rice, koji, water, and distilled alcohol. Although only less than 10% of the alcohol is added for this type, there are still chances of getting gluten in your sake. If you don’t want to take the risk, it is best to avoid it.

Honjozo type includes the following:

  • Honjozo
  • Tokubetsu Honjozo
  • Ginjo
  • Daiginjo

NOTE: Ginjo and Daiginjo normally don’t put ‘Honjozo’ on the label so be careful!

More importantly, most ‘Junmai’ –type which includes Junmai, Tokubetsu Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo, are guaranteed gluten-free!

3. Caution: Don’t drink ‘Oak or Wine Barrel-Aged’ sake

Aside from ingredients, gluten may be added to sake through the production process. If sake is aged in oak or wine barrels, that’s how contamination takes place. Wheat flour paste used in sealing wine oak barrels also contains gluten.

As of June 2016, the sake products below use oak or wine barrels in aging their sake:

AZUMAICHI, Junmai Ginjo Koshu Oak Barrel Aged

Junmai Ginjo Koshu Oak Barrel Aged

JOKIGEN, Junmai Ginjo “Napa Valley” wine barrel aged

Junmai Ginjo “Napa Valley” wine barrel aged

MIKOTSURU, Obuse Rouge wine barrel aged

Obuse Rouge wine barrel aged

NEXT 5, Enter.Sake

Obuse Rouge wine barrel aged

NIIDA HONKE, Odayaka Junmai Ginjo Shirokouji Dry Matured in Ork Barrel

Odayaka Junmai Ginjo Shirokouji Dry Matured in Ork Barrel

HANAGAKI, Junmai Daiginjo Ork Barrel

Junmai Daiginjo Ork Barrel

SUEHIRO, Junmai Aged in Oak Barrel

Junmai Aged in Oak Barrel

KAITO OTOKOYAMA, Daiginjo Aged in Oak barrel

Daiginjo Aged in Oak barrel

MASUIZUMI, Aged Kijo-shu Oak Barrel

Aged Kijo-shu Oak Barrel

DARUMA MASAMUNE, Shigeri 8-03

Shigeri 8-03

Because the ‘Aged in Wine Barrel’ type of sake is gaining popularity, products are expected to increase for the next few years. So next time you buy sake, remember to ask if it’s aged in wine or oak barrels or not.

Since the ‘Aged in Wine Barrel’ type is getting more popular, the number of this kind is expented to increase year by year. When you buy sake, don’t forget to ask if sake is aged in wine or oak barrel!

Here’s a quick guide when choosing gluten-free sake or not:

sake without gluten by sake type

Then, you can set your worries away. Enjoy your safe, gluten-free sake experience!

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