History of sake

Japanese rice wine, better known as sake, was developed a few centuries after rice was cultivated in Japan nearly 2,000 years ago.

Kuchikami-zake or Kuchikami-no-sake was one of the earliest variations of the drink recorded in Japanese history. It’s hard to believe all that was required to make this sake was strong jaws and teeth.

People would chew grains of rice, after which the “mouth-chewed-sake” would be spat into a wooden vat, allowing enzymes in the saliva to ferment and produce an alcohol of sorts. After the discovery of koji, a mold enzyme which helps start the fermentation process when added to rice, the Kuchikami-zake method was soon abandoned for the good of all.

Sake production was initially monopolized by the Japanese government, and it was only much later on that temples and shrines started brewing it for centuries. By the 1300s, sake was the most popular drink in Japanese ceremonies.

A holiday devoted to sake called Sake Day is celebrated worldwide annually on October 1st.

Today’s sake is mostly mass produced on an industrial scale with wooden vats replaced by steel tanks which allowed a purer tasting sake to be brewed. Sake faces tough competition with beer and wine today. However premium sake brands produced the traditional way still manage to hold their place in Japan and with sake enthusiasts worldwide, mainly due to their scarcity.

Sake’s health benefits:

Listed below are some of the proven health benefits and the role sake plays preventing or reducing the risk of the following common diseases:


The Japanese National Cancer Centre found a 17-year survey restricted to Japanese men and found those who drank sake daily have less risk of getting cancer compared to non-sake drinkers.

Researchers in Aichi University led by Dr Okuda found some elements in sake inhibit proliferation of prostate, bladder and uterine cancer cells. They also found glucosamine in sake activates anti-tumour killer cells. There is a lower mortality rate from cirrhosis and lung cancer from consumption of sake compared to beer, whiskey and shochu.

Cardiac disease

Moderate consumption of sake was found to prevent blood clots and reduced cholesterol levels, thus prevents or reduces cardiac disease and cerebrovascular disease, as it increases urokinase which releases blood clots.


Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine which are amino acids present in sake, help build up and recover skeletal muscle, which prevents osteoporosis. Koji, the mold enzyme added to rice to aid fermentation, has 5 types of Cathepsin-L inhibitors which also aids in the prevention of osteoporosis.


Sake has 9 peptides that inhibit overactive enzymes that cause high blood pressure or hypertension.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Three peptides in sake have been found to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, by inhibiting the main cause of the disease, PEP.


Dr Okuda’s researchers found an insulin-like activator in fresh sake that may help prevent diabetes. More research is being conducted on this.

Sake’s beauty benefits:

Here are some benefits of sake related to beauty.

Skin whitening

Sake and koji (the mold enzyme) have chemicals that inhibit the function of melanin which is responsible for causing freckles, age spots and sun spots.


Moisturizing elements like glycerol, glycerine and amino acids which are often used in moisturizers, are found plentifully in sake than in other alcoholic drinks.

A sake bath has moisturizing and heat-retention effects. Researchers attribute this to the interactions of numerous nutrients in sake, e.g., amino acids, vitamins, nucleic acids, esters and saccharides.


Ferulic acids in sake are a powerful UV light absorber, thus preventing aging. They are also a powerful antioxidant, which also helps aging.

Rough skin

Due to the high content of saccharides, amino acids and a-Ethyl Glucoside, sake has been used as a skin toner, softener and as a bath for centuries in Japan.


The calories in sake are lower than in beer, even though it contains sugar. Sake also has elements that inhibit absorption of starch and promote build up of protein, which may prevent obesity. Here again, it must be emphasized that drinking sake must be practiced in moderation.


Note that the medicinal benefits of sake apply to moderate sake drinkers. Heavy consumption of sake will lead to the reversal of the benefits and possible serious health problems. Studies in the American Council on Science and Health show that alcohol abstainers have a higher mortality risk than light to moderate drinkers, whereas heavy drinkers are at the highest risk.

This article is a general insight into the world of sake, and is in no way intended to provide any medical advice. Readers should consult their doctors for medical advice on the consumption of sake, especially if they are on medication for current health issues.

By Aaron
17th July 19:40 2020 

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