Sourdough Bread & Japanese Sake: How Are They Made? | CoolJapan

Sourdough bread and Japanese Saké — two things you never thought would go well together. Did you know that these have so much in common? And both have been making some buzz lately.  

Sourdough bread and Japanese Saké(Left) Sourdough Bread, Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash. (Right) Saké

Sourdough bread has been making headlines and trending as a healthier, and some would argue a tastier alternative to commercially made bread. Saké, too, has received its fair share of accolades as a healthier alcoholic beverage when enjoyed in moderation.

Want to know more about the similarities between sourdough bread and Japanese saké? Keep reading to find out how they are made and what they have in common. 


For sourdough bread, the raw ingredients used are agricultural products which go through a milling or polishing process. As most of us would know, we use flour (e.g. wheat flour) to make bread. If we mill or grind grains, nuts or seeds into a fine powder form we get flour.

As for saké, the rice used to make it is polished or milled to a predetermined size, according to the grade of saké that the brewer is aiming to make. 

Sourdough bread and Japanese Saké(Left) Wheat. (Right) Paddy before the husk is removed to become rice.

In both sourdough bread and saké, the protein levels in the grains affect the outcome. Choosing the right type of grains, whether wheat flour or rye flour, will depend on the objective the baker is aiming for. For bread, flour that has a higher protein level will result in bread with chewier texture and higher volume. 

As for saké, the aim of polishing the rice to a smaller size is due primarily to the amount of protein content of the rice (besides lipids, minerals and vitamins). Think of it this way: a smaller rice grain has less protein and the sakés produced are generally softer, lighter and more aromatic like a Daiginjo which uses rice that has been polished down to 50 per cent of its original size or smaller. If you prefer a saké that has more body and structure, you can choose a saké, say a Junmai type that has a rice polishing ratio of 70 per cent which means only 30 per cent of the rice grain is polished off and will, therefore, have more potency.

Fermentation process

Both sourdough bread and saké go through a fermentation process.  According to the Etymology Dictionary, the word ferment is derived from the Latin word fermentare which means "to leaven or cause to rise", perhaps contracted from the root word fervere which means "to boil or seethe". If you have ever seen a sourdough or saké starter ferment, you will notice a lot of gas bubbles being produced, not unlike a boiling liquid. 

Sourdough bread and Japanese Saké(Left) Sourdough Starter. (Right) Saké Fermentation tank.

Shared history

Using sourdough to make bread was the norm even before the industrial revolution. Relying on the abundant beneficial microorganisms like wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria in our surroundings to inoculate and develop cultures for fermentation.

It was the same in Japan before modern science and equipment were introduced; saké brewers learnt that if they perform certain functions rigorously and consistently, they will be able to produce sakés. The traditional method of creating a saké starter called Kimoto, relies on using long wooden poles to pound rice and malted rice (kōji) into a paste. This laborious process allows the right kind of bacteria and wild yeast to fall into the mix and start the fermentation.

So there you have it, these are but just some of the similarities that sourdough bread and saké share. Fermented foods and drinks are generally rich in probiotics, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. They help enhance the health of our digestive and immune systems. In this stressful global pandemic environment, let us all take care of our health and boost our immune systems. Enjoy some sourdough bread with toppings of your choice with a glass of saké. Kanpai!