Kitakyushu university students make tomato sake, eye market

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kosuke Tobita, left, works with a fellow student in preparation for the sale of tomato sake Wakamatsu no Soho.

KITAKYUSHU — A group of university students has succeeded in brewing sake using locally harvested tomatoes in Kitakyushu.

Shinpu Shokken, a group of microbiology and other students from the University of Kitakyushu, used the vegetable produced in the city’s Wakamatsu Ward, where their campus is located. Sake made only with tomatoes is rare, and the students found the best brewing method through trial and error.

Culture of fermentation

The tomato sake has a clear golden color and a slight tomato aroma. The pleasant taste is similar to that of white wine. It also has a mild acidity.

The sake was named Wakamatsu no Soho after soho, a traditional Japanese color that is tomato-like yellowish red.

The city is blessed with a culture of fermentation. Many households have nukadoko — a bed of fermented rice bran for pickling — in Kitakyushu, where the Ogasawara family, the lord of the Kokura domain, is said to have popularized nukazuke pickles during the Edo period (1603-1867).

Among their local specialties is nukadaki, which is mackerel or sardine cooked with seasonings and rice bran.

More than a dozen students established the group Shinpu Shokken at the university in 2019 to develop new products by making use of the fermentation culture.

While making trial products such as sauerkraut and bread baked with locally produced vegetable yeast, they began hoping to make sake from local specialties. They finally decided to do so using tomatoes from Wakamatsu Ward.

60 trials

To make the sake, they used nonstandard tomatoes, which would have been discarded for not conforming with the other standard-sized produce. The tomatoes were offered to the students for free from the local branch of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives.

Having also obtained a license to manufacture alcoholic beverages to conduct test brewing in their school laboratory, the students started the production in April last year.

At first, they had no idea how to go about test brewing. To squeeze out the juice of tomatoes, they adopted the method of crushing them with their peels on after trying various means. They experimented with about 60 different brewing methods, using seven kinds of yeast and changing the brewing time. To diminish the raw smell peculiar to vegetables, the students also spent time fermenting the sake at a low temperature.

There were many failures — one time when the temperature control did not go well, the laboratory was filled with a sulfurous smell — but the students looked up papers on yeast each time to find the best solution. In June last year, they succeeded in test brewing.

Trial sale in September

Brewing the sake for the market will be outsourced to Kyoho Winery, which produces fruit liquor in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture. The tomato sake will be sold by the glass on a trial basis at a pub in Kitakyushu from around September.

They plan to sell the sake by the bottle from next year after receiving customer feedback.

“The tomato sake has a more pleasant acid flavor than white wine. Partly because the sake is made from a vegetable, it complements the food well,” said senior Kyoho Winery official Takeshi Sagara.

Kosuke Tobita, the leader of Shinpu Shokken, said, “We want to turn the sake into a product that conveys the appeal of Wakamatsu tomatoes and make it a new standard Kitakyushu souvenir.”