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Sake rice spills over from cup to plate

Courtesy of Oisix ra daichi Inc.
Risotto cooked using sake rice

In a bid to support sake rice-growers, who are suffering from the sluggish demand for the crop, there are moves to promote sake rice for cooking dishes such as risotto and Chinese-style fried rice.

Demand for sake rice grown in fiscal 2020 is expected to fall by 10% year on year.

Tomio Kishimoto produces Yamada Nishiki, dubbed the “king of sake rice,” in Hyogo Prefecture, the largest producer of sake rice in the nation. Kishimoto held down cultivation of Yamada Nishiki to half the amount of his overall rice cultivation last year from the usual 70% to 80%, and instead increased the planting of Hinohikari, a rice for staple foods. He was requested to reduce production of sake rice by the Japan Agricultural Cooperative, as orders from sake brewing companies declined.

While Yamada Nishiki can be sold for about ¥25,000 per 60 kilograms in normal years, Hinohikari fetches only about ¥12,000 for the same amount. The fiscal 2020 growing season suffered the additional curse of unusually high temperatures, which deteriorates rice quality. Sales dropped by almost half compared to the previous year, Kishimoto said.

According to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, due to sluggish demand for dining out and other factors, the shipment volume of sake dropped in April and May by more than 20% from the corresponding months of the previous year, and sales have been sluggish ever since.

The demand for sake rice grown in fiscal 2020 is estimated to total around 73,000 tons, down about 10% from output in fiscal 2019, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, and is expected to decline further by a few percentage points in the following year.

Although the volume of sake rice output accounts for only 1% of overall rice production in Japan, Kishimoto said worryingly, “There may be more and more sake rice-growers who will give up or abandon farming.”

In response to this situation, there have been moves to market sake rice as a food staple.

Sake rice contains little protein or few lipids, both of which tend to generate an unfavorable taste in sake. When cooked, sake rice tastes less sweet and is less glutinous than staple rice.

It is, however, said to be suited for cooking such dishes as risotto, Chinese-style fried rice, and curry and rice, because its structure has many cracks in its center to facilitate koji — a starter for the fermentation in sake — to allow infiltration.

Oisix ra daichi Inc., a Tokyo-based company marketing home-delivery meals, has begun selling a risotto set that combines sake rice and a flavoring, first released in December. The company put the set of products on the market in hopes of tapping into the overabundance of sake rice grown in Hyogo Prefecture.

With this sales move, the company was able to help about 30 sake rice-growers. The product has enjoyed a favorable response from users, receiving comments such as, “This rice doesn’t get overly sticky when cooked al dente, making a delicious risotto.”

Asahi Shuzo Co., a sake brewery in Yamaguchi Prefecture known for its product Dassai, also launched efforts last year to sell Yamada Nishiki, sent from its contract rice farmers across the country, to be used as food. Priced at ¥375 per pack of 450 grams, with tax included, the product is sold at its online store and also at liquor stores selling Dassai.