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Japanese rice can be roughly classified into two varieties. The first is ordinary table rice. Generally eaten by most people, it encompasses a number of sub-varieties that are classified by how they are cultivated and the region in which they are grown. The second variety, sakamai is used exclusively for sake production.
While ordinary table rice can be used to make sake, it is typically made from the higher quality and more esteemed sakamai. The grains of this variety are larger and softer than ordinary table rice. Sakamai is also more expensive since it grows only in certain areas and requires more complex cultivation techniques.
These days new types of sake rice are being developed while heirloom varieties are being revived in many areas of Japan. In 2010 there were at least 95 different types of rice for brewing sake being grown in Japan.
Water quality is extremely important because the mineral content of the water affects the taste of sake.
Semi-hard water is ideal for sake production due to its lower iron and manganese content. Since Japan experiences significant annual precipitation (approximately 1,500 mm/year) and boasts ample high-quality ground water across the country, excellent sake can be produced in nearly every region.
Koji is steamed rice inoculated with koji mold . This mold's enzymes convert rice starch into sugar, which the kobo (yeast) feeds on.
During the process of brewing sake, a particular kind of yeast, called saccharomyces cerevisiae, converts sugar to alcohol. Both the Latin word cerevisiae and Japanese term kobo mean ‘mother of fermentation.’ While there are over 700 species of wild and domesticated yeast, the majority don’t play any role in sake brewing.