History of Amazake and Rice Milk (1000 BCE to 2021)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-55-7

Publication Date: 2021 Oct. 25

Number of References in Bibliography: 658

Earliest Reference: 1000 BCE

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Brief Chronology of Amazake and Rice Milk

Amazake is a nondairy beverage made in the traditional way using enzymes from koji. Rice milk is made by grinding rice then extracting the milk using commercial enzymes (e.g. Rice Dream) or simply water.

1000 BCE – A fermented rice beverage which seems to be very similar to today’s amazake is mentioned in the Shijing [The Book of Odes] in China; it is called li.

300 BCELi is mentioned again in the Zhouli [Rites of the Zhou dynasty]. Chêng Hsüan's commentary (c. 127-20 CE) explains that li is a weak, cloudy wine prepared by using large amounts of “cooked rice” and a small amount of ch'ü (pinyin: qu, i.e., koji in Japanese), and allowing the mixture to ferment overnight. It tastes slightly sweet.

121 CE Li is mentioned again in the Shuowen Jiezi [Analytical Dictionary of Characters, by Xu Shun.

1597 – Amazake is first mentioned outside of China in Japan in the Ekirinbon Setsuyôshû [Early Japanese dictionary]; it is called both amazake and ko.

1603 – Amazake is called Amazaque in the famous dictionary Vocabulario da Lingoa de Iapam, compiled and published in Japan, in Portuguese and Japanese, by the Companhia de Iesus [Society of Jesus (Jesuit)]. Amazake is defined in Portuguese as a still-bubbling fermented liquid that has not yet completely become sake; or sweet sake.

1637 – Li is mentioned again in China – with remarkable illustrations – in the Tiangong Kaiwu [Exploitation of the Works of Nature], by Song Yingxing. It states in Chapter 17, Yeasts: In ancient times, qu (rice koji) was used for making wine (jiu) and nie (malt) for making sweet wine (li). In later times the manufacture of sweet wine was discontinued because its flavor was thought to be too weak, and the art of using malt [to make li] was consequently lost.

1643 –The Ryôri Monogatari Yorozu Kikigaku [Many Tales of Cooking I Have Heard and Recorded], by an unknown author, is widely quoted in many subsequent cookbooks. In the section on “Foods, Sake,” is a section on “Quick preparation of amazake. Wash 1 sho (1.8 liters) of cooked and dried glutinous rice (domyoji) in hot water and drain. Mix in 1 sho of koji and 1.5 sho of water; grind in a suribachi very well. Strain in a strainer (suino), then simmer in a pot, while stirring. It will become good amazake. Adding white sugar is good.”

In the section titled “Man Kiki Gaki” is a description of “How to make Shirokawa Amazake. Crack by grinding 3 sho white rice, steam well and cool. Mix in 5 sho of koji, 5 sho of water, and knead well. Strain in a strainer (suino). Discard the pulp and keep the liquid to make amazake. Mix it occasionally. In summer it takes 3 days and in winter 5 days until it is ready.” Translation by H.T. Huang.

1693 – In Japan, the Yaoya-Shû [Collection of Various Things] describes a quick way to prepare amazake.

1711 – In Japan, the Wakan Sansai Zue [Collection of Japanese and Chinese Diagrams and Drawings of All Things], by Terajima Ryôan contains an interesting ½-page section on amazake after the 3½-page section on sake. That term “amazake” is written in hiragana (Japanese phonetic script) beside the main Chinese character Ko. An illustration shows an iron teapot next to a wooden tray, upon which is a small bowl. The text is difficult to decipher since it is in kanbun, but it seems to contain a short description of the method of making amazake and how to use it.

After this, many Japanese books and articles mention amazake during the 1700s and 1800s.

1867 –“Amazake” is first mentioned in an English-language document in A Japanese and English dictionary; with an English and Japanese Index, by James C. Hepburn, published in Shanghai, China, by the American Presbyterian Mission Press. On page 9: “Amazake: Sweet sake, a kind of fermented rice.”

This is Hepburn's earliest Japanese-English dictionary. The words are arranged alphabetically by their Romanized spelling.

1901 Oct. 10 –“Amazake” is first mentioned in a German-language document, a newspaper article titled Die Hausindustrie in Japan [Household Industries in Japan] from the Scranton Wochenblatt (Scranton, Pennsylvania). It notes that The Japanese make ricebeer [Reisbier] or Amazake. An illustration shows the seller of amazake, standing, with lightweight boxes hanging at each end of his shoulder pole.

1913 Jan. 28 – Amazake is now in the United States; it was imported (New York Times, p. 13).

1921 Oct. – Unfermented rice milk (not amazake) is made commercially in Beaumont, Texas. “Friend cow has a new rival in rice” (Rice Journal, p. 19, 25).

1970 – Aveline Kushi recalls (in 1988) that she first saw amazake in America in Los Angeles in about 1970. She bought some at the time. It was a white rice amazake imported from Japan, probably in a plastic bag.

1972 – In her Chico-San Cookbook, Cornellia Aihara publishes America’s first recipe for homemade amazake – which, like most macrobiotics, she spells “amasake.”

1978 Oct. – The first person (so far as we know) to make amazake commercially in the United States is Charles Kendall of Kendall Food Co. in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. His organic “Amazaké” comes in Regular [Plain] and Almond Flavors. He wants to keep the company local and small.

Other pioneers who made commercial amazake included Roy Steevensz of Grain Country in Los Angeles (1980), Paul Miksis, founder of the San Francisco Macrobiotic Center (1981), Jean Ponce and Daniel Collin of Ponce Bakery in Chico, California (1981) who baked a line of mouth watering Amazake Pastries made from innovative oatmeal amazake (probably the world's first non-rice amazake), Gary Granas of Harmonious Living and Amashake in Los Angeles (1981), Tony Plotkin of Grainaissance in Berkeley (1981), Bill Spear and Roberto Marrocchesi of The Bridge in Middletown, Connecticut (1981), James Budnicki of Infinite Foods in Philadelphia (1982), and Mary Lee Bergman of Price Rice Foods Co. in Price, Maryland (1983). All (including Charles Kendall) come from a macrobiotic background.

1979 – Tony Plotkin of Grainaissance starts making mochi (pounded rice cake that puffs) at 800 Heinz, Berkeley, California 94710. By 1983 he is making over 3,000 pounds a week and shipping it around the USA (Leviton 1983).

1981 April – Tony Plotkin of Grainaissance starts making Amazake Drink in Plain, Carob, and Strawberry flavors. He renames it Rice Nectar from 1983-86, then Amazake Rice Nectar from 1986, then Amazake: Naturally Sweet Rice Drink from 1989 [Plain, Almond, Apricot, Mocha-Java]. Tony bought his amazake equipment from Paul Miksis, an early amazake maker, in early 1981. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, Plotkin’s amazake is made from brown rice. But he filtered out some of the rice bran to give it a smoother flavor. Under Tony’s creative guidance, the product takes off.

1981 April – Gloria Gilbert of Fresh Foods in Boulder, Colorado, introduces America’s first Amasake Rice Pudding in Plain and Cinnamon flavors.

1984 July – Robert Nissenbaum introduces Rice Dream nondairy amazake frozen desserts at the NNFA trade show in Atlanta. On 10 Feb. 1984 he had purchased the name “Rice Dream” for $2,000 from Gloria Gilbert of Fresh Foods in Boulder California.

While Rice Dream was by far the most successful amazake ice cream, it was not the first. Roy Steevensz was making Frosty Amazake in 1981 in Los Angeles. In 1983 Mary Lee Bergman of Price Rice in Maryland began to make and sell Yahmee!, a frozen amazake popsicle. In August 1983 Gloria Gilbert of Fresh Foods in Boulder, Colorado, started to sell the world’s first hard-pack amazake ice cream. The name? Rice Dream. It was made for her by Steve Demos of White Wave (a small maker of tofu and soymilk) in Boulder.

1985 Jan. – Imagine Foods starts using commercial enzymes to make a completely new type of product somewhat like amazake. It is made by Cheryl Mitchell (PhD) and her husband Pat at California Natural Products, Inc. (CNP), Manteca, California 95336 (near Stockton).

1986 April 25 – Cheryl and Pat Mitchell and Robert Nissenbaum file an application for a U.S. patent titled “Nutritional rice milk production. U.S. Patent No. 4,744,992 is issued on May 17, 1988.

On March 29, 1988, they file a closely related patent that is issued as U.S. Patent No. 4,894,242 on Jan. 16, 1990.

1988 Jan. – Grainaissance moves into a new manufacturing plant in Emeryville, California.

1993 Sept. – Grainaissance pays for a license to the two CNP patents (Health Foods Business).

2002 March – To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Imagine Foods runs a large, creative, humorous color ad in Natural Foods Merchandiser. It contains a timeline, with many dates, of Imagine Foods’ many pioneering products.

2002 Dec. – The Hain Celestial Group acquires Imagine Foods. But the Imagine Foods’ innovative rice products slowly die.

2021 Oct. – This book records the details – with many color labels – of 156 commercial amazake and rice milk products made in the Western world.

2021 Oct. – A search of the Web for “amazake” gets 1.37 million results, including many commercial products.

Wikipedia has a fairly accurate entry for amazake. It begins: “Amazake (2 Chinese characters) is a traditional sweet, low-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice. Amazake dates from the Kofun period, and it is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki. It is part of the family of traditional Japanese foods made using the koji mold Aspergillus oryzae (koji), which also includes miso, soy sauce, and sake.[1][2]”

It says that the Chinese equivalent of amazake is jiuniang; the Korean equivalent is gamju.

Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of Amazake and Rice Milk (1000 BCE to 2021)