Two ancient traditions come together in an unexpected way: Sake, made from water, rice, koji (a type of mold) and yeast, is a perfect match for biblical kosher laws.
In the mid-2000s, as the word “organic” was on everyone’s lips, a couple of breweries expanded upon the trend and adopted kosher standards to appeal to consumers who were looking for an added level of care or oversight in production. A few years later, kosher sakes from breweries like Kikusui debuted in places with large Jewish populations like Los Angeles. Demand grew quickly. Other breweries, seeing sales of kosher sake increase “20% year over year,” according to Toshio Ueno from importer Mutual Trading Company, soon followed suit.
Along with its kosher-compatible ingredients, sake’s production practices align with kashrut regulations. Most sakes are pasteurized, a process used to make some kosher wines.
Only junmai sakes, which don’t use additives like alcohol (adhering to kosher’s strict purity standards), are eligible to receive the kosher seal. Tamanohikari, which dates to 1673, only produces junmai, so “certification was an easy step,” says Yuji Fukai, from the brewery’s international sales division.
Monica Samuels, national sake sales manager for importer Vine Connections, thinks the kosher trend will continue. She says that it reinforces the message of quality.
Kikusui has seven kosher sakes in its lineup, while Ama No To received certification a little over a year ago.
Tsuneki Kakizaki, president of Asamai Shuzo, the company that brews Ama No To, says the company’s “philosophy of purity will resonate further throughout the world, thanks to kosher certification.”