Best cooking sake | Differences with drinkable sake & tips

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 11, 2020

There is no right or wrong answer here, but it will change depending on your particular situation.

So we will share our best picks and the best budget cooking sake depending on what you might want to use it for.

Continue reading to know more about cooking sake and how we decided on the best one.

Best cooking sake brands reviewed

What is the best cooking sake?

If you want the best cooking sake for your dish, you can try

However, any kind of sake can work for cooking purposes, and I prefer using drinkable sake, because the cooking sake has added salt in it (more on that later in the post).

My favorite brand is this:

Now that might leave you wondering, how is the cooking sake different from drinkable sake? This article will inform anything you need to know about cooking with sake.

What is Sake?

First, we need to discuss, what is sake precisely?

Sake, pronounced SAH-keh, is made from rice and water.

While sake is referred to as a form of rice wine in English, which is produced by fermenting the sugars naturally present in the fruit, sake is actually produced through a method of brewing such as beer.

Rice starch is converted to sugar for sake, then yeast converts sugar into alcohol. A good sake quality lies in the quality of the rice and the water used for brewing.

The starch from the rice will turn into sugar, which will eventually ferment into alcohol. The alcohol by volume (ABV) content of sake is around 15-20%.

Japanese have their own rules and ethics in drinking sake, especially on formal occasions.

Even so, they also drink casually from time to time. Sometimes, sake is also served alongside food in a restaurant or at a dinner.

But people also use sake for cooking a lot.

Japanese use sake to cook, much like how you’d cook with wine. Alcohol evaporates along with the smell of the meat/fish.

Sake can tenderize meat, making the liquid popular to braise or marinate beef or fishes.

Moreover, sake can also eliminate the fishy odor from seafood due to its alcohol content.

But the main reason why people love pouring sake in at the middle of the cooking process is that the traditional rice wine strengthens the umami flavor.

It does provide umami and a naturally sweet flavor (from rice – sake‘s main ingredient), so Japanese cuisine usually adds sake to

Historically, sake has been around for more than a century. But since about 150 years ago, there is a new type of sake called Ryorishi, a sake intended for cooking.

Traditionally, there was no such thing as a cooking sake in the world of authentic Japanese cuisine.

Japanese people use their Futsushu (I’ll get into the types of sake next) sake to cook, although they sometimes use the premium one for cooking a fancier meal. 

Types of Cooking Sake

There are many varieties of sake available, similar to white wine, where they can be classified from dry to sweet, and from delicate to robust.

You can find cheap bottles, such as Gekkeikan, Sho Chiku Bai or Ozeki, at Japanese or Asian grocery stores.

Sake comes in many variations based on its quality, process, and ingredients. Here are the variations of sake, starting from the highest class:

Daiginjo

The finest type of sake is Daiginjo with 50% or less of the rice remaining unpolished.

The production method is more complicated, resulting in the richest complexity of the taste and aroma of the beverage.

Without added alcohol, this type of sake is called Junmai Daiginjo.

Ginjo

Ginjo sake uses 60% or less of unpolished rice in the production. The fermentation process goes at a colder temperature and for a longer time.

This type of sake tastes light and fruity. Ginjo sake with no added alcohol content is called Junmai Ginjo.

Honjozo

Considered as the entry-level of sake, Honjozo uses 70% or less of unpolished rice. With a strong flavor of rice, this type of sake is refreshing and easy to drink.

Junmai also refers to pure sake, as it contains no added starch or sugar for the fermentation.

Futsushu

Futsushu is the most common type of sake, where people buy and drink it casually. Almost 80% of sake in the market is Futsushu.

The cheap sake usually contains added sugar and organic acids to create a tasty flavor. This type of sake is similar to what westerns usually call “table wine”. 

Ryorishu

Cooking sake (Ryorishu) can also be used. Cooking sake is a kind of sake especially crafted for cooking.

Manufacturers are required by law to add salt (2-3 percent) to cooking wine so it’s unfit for drinking, that way the products can be carried by shops without an alcohol license.

I prefer to use regular drinking sake since cooking sake includes salt and other ingredients (like the 3 brands mentioned above in the article), but I think a small amount of cooking sake should be okay.

Best sake for cooking

You might be surprised to discover that you can find great sake in Walmart!

So you don’t even need to visit a Japanese market to get it, although we do recommend it to get the best sake you’ll ever taste.

Sake is fermented from four basic ingredients: water, rice, a microbe called koji and yeast. Brewing just the right batch of sake takes skill, precision, and patience.

My advice: use drinking sake for cooking

We’ve had great results with the Takara brand. Depending on how you might want to spice things up on your meal, you could use the Takara Masamune Sake:

Takara Masamune Sake

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For more flavor you could use this flavored Takara Hana Apple Sake:

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

flavored Takara Hana Apple Sake

(view more images)

You also can’t go wrong with the Tozai Sake Well Of Wisdom:

Tozai Sake Tozai Well Of Wisdom

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However, the absolute best cooking sake in our opinion is the Sho Chiku Bai Sake:

Sho Chiku Bai Sake

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You can get the 750ml version or the small version. This sake is also very affordable so you won’t mind testing with the bigger bottle.

Best cooking sake brands

Understanding the difference between drinkable and cooking sake, it would be better to just opt for a cooking sake if you only plan to use a little, and want to spend less.

But which brand of Ryorishi is best to try? Here is what we recommend:

Kikkoman

Kikkoman Ryorishi cooking sake

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An old Japanese company, Kikkoman, has been famous for its distinct products of Japanese condiments and cooking ingredients such as soy sauce and tempura batter.

Undoubtedly, they also provide high-quality Ryorishi. The brand is popular worldwide, so it must be easy to find in the US.

Kikkoman Cooking Sake has an alcohol content of 13%.

Per 100 grams, this Ryorishi contains 2.7 grams of salt and 17 grams of carbohydrate, with about 2.5 grams of it coming from sugar.

The total energy for this portion is 446kJ/106kcal.

Check it out here on Amazon

Yutaka

Yutaka cooking sake

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Although Ryorishi originated from Japan, Yutaka Cooking Sake is a product of China. Even so, it has an authentic flavor of Japanese cuisine.

The brand is notable for various foods and ingredients of Japanese cuisine.

The alcoholic content of the Yutaka Cooking Sake is about 13.5%. The total energy contained in 100 grams of this liquid is only 91kJ/ 21kcal.

This cooking sake also contains less than 0.1 grams of salt and 5 grams of carbohydrate, with about 3.2 grams of them being sugar.

Check the latest prices and availability here

Hinode

Hinode Ryorishu Junryou Cooking Sake

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Hinode is one of the most loved brands of cooking sake in Japan, so you might want to consider trying out this one as well.

This Japan company is an expert in delivering many kinds of high-quality Mirin and Sake, including cooking sake.

Hinode Ryorishu has an ABV of 13-14%, which is similar to other cooking sake brands. Per a portion of 100 ml, this liquid contains 347kj/83kcal of energy.

There are also 2.1 grams of salt and 1.5 grams of carbohydrate without any sugar content.  

Check the lowest prices here

How to drink Sake

Top quality sake (Ginjo grade or higher) is best if drunk between chilled and at room temperature.

Quality sake is served chilled most often, while average sake is usually served hot to mask its bad flavors.

Think of sake as it is a fine chardonnay wine that is

For years, sake was identified by most Americans with the teapots used to heat it up and the small ceramic glasses into which the steaming liquid was poured.

But this step was not merely aesthetic, it was to cover up the poor sake quality that was being served.

So put away the sake warmer, and serve your sake in your finest glasses of wine, (as many high-end Japanese restaurants do nowadays), and experience one of the most fascinating rituals in the potable world.

The sake degustation procedure is exactly the same as you would a wine, tossing the sake around the mouth to ensure that it also touches the taste buds underneath the tongue.

Swirl the sake in the glass. The sake should have more body (more anatomy), usually rich flavors, and feel more full or round in the mouth if rich legs appear on the glass.

It should be clear, but occasionally it can look a bit yellow.

Swirling the sake releases tiny droplets in the glass that let us smell the sake more easily. Try it by smelling the sake before swirling, then swirl it and sniff again.

The intensity difference should be considerable.

Using sake in your meals

There are two ways to pair sake with food. One, as mentioned above, you can serve the sake as a condiment beverage for a meal.

Somehow, many kinds of dishes will taste even better if you eat it alongside drinking sake. The tastes complement each other.

Almost any type of sake can pair well with any kind of food. But some pairs are much more enjoyable and popular.

For example, sushi and sashimi will go perfectly with Junmai Daiginjo sake. Fatty meals like yakitori can be paired with dry Junmai Ginjo.

Not only Japanese food. You can also drink sake to complement dishes from other countries.

Honeydew, cantaloupes, peach, tropical fruits, minerals, dirt, green apples, coconut, and anise are popular sake aromas.

If your meal is enriched by these aromas (think tropical fruit salsa on grilled chicken), then the sake and food will fit together well.

You’ll taste flavors similar to some of the aromas you’ve encountered, but not necessarily all.

The simple tastes your tongue is able to identify are sour, sweet, bitter and salty.

Needless to say, sake has no salt and should not be bitter. But the palette often notices tropical spices, mineral, coconut, earthiness and, of course, rich creamy sake rice.

Sakes infused with fruit should have aromas and flavors which are true to their particular infusion. Ideally, the taste will linger.

A long finish is a good indication of high-quality sake.

What’s the difference between Cooking and drinkable Sake?

A cooking sake, also known as Ryorishi, is not much different from regular sake for drinking. Even the alcohol content is the same.

The only difference is that cooking sake contains salt, making it taste less sweet.

The production of Ryorishi started when the government mandated that stores have special permits to be able to sell alcohol-based substances.

By adding salt in the liquid, the sake becomes no longer fit for drinking.

Stores with no alcohol permit can still sell cooking sake under the section of cooking ingredients, alongside soy sauce and mayonnaise.

Moreover, the tax for alcoholic beverages is pretty high, making the products generally expensive.

But as Ryorishi no longer falls in this category, manufacturers would be able to sell it at a much cheaper price.

The alcohol content of Ryorishi is slightly lower than the regular drinking sake. Most brands offer cooking sake with only 13-14% of ABV.

Where Can I Buy Sake?

If you’re in the US, you’ll be able to find a well stocked liquor store with drinking sake.

These can also be found in any Japanese grocery store or Asian grocery store that have an alcohol license.

You may be able to find cooking sake in your local grocery store in the Asian aisle or online at Amazon.

How should you store sake?

For cooking purposes sake can be kept in a cold, dark place for two to three months, or even half a year.

 Most sake contains no preservatives, making it vulnerable to changes and spoilage.

Sake is sensitive to light, temperature, and humidity. Hence, you should never store it in a place where the condition fluctuates.

Both drinkable and cooking sake requires similar treatment of storing.

Keep the bottle in a cool and dark place. A temperature of 41°F is ideal for sake storage, but it should never go beyond 59°F. A refrigerator can be your best bet for it.

The shelf life of unopened sake, in general, is about one year after the brewery process. But if you store it well, a good quality sake might even last up to two years.

After you open it, unlike wine, you don’t have to finish the whole bottle of sake in one go. You can close it tight and store it back to the refrigerator.

As long as you seal the bottle properly, Ryorishi can last longer, up to 2-3 months or even half a year.

Without a refrigerator and proper sealant, sake can only last for no more than three days before losing its best taste.

After that, the sake would still be consumable. It just won’t taste as good as it used to be.

Best Substitution for Sake in Recipes

I hope you’ll find sake in your vicinity, as this is one of Japanese cooking’s most important ingredients.

If for whatever reason you can’t find sake or cooking sake, however, you can replace it with dry sherry or Chinese rice wine.

The easiest substitute for cooking sake is obviously drinkable sake. Besides that, some other ingredients might work as well.

Also, it is important to notice that some ingredients can seem very much alike to cooking’s sake that people can get confused.

If in your cooking you can not consume alcohol, you can easily omit sake, or substitute it with water or broth when a recipe calls for sake to steam or creating a sauce.

You can also use mirin in some cases, so in the next section we’ll discuss the differences between these two.

Mirin

Cooking Sake and Mirin can replace each other in a cooking recipe as these two can serve similar purposes.

Both also have a kicking umami flavor to enhance the taste of the dish. It is easier to replace Mirin with cooking sake as you just need to add more sugar in the dish.

But if you need to replace cooking sake with Mirin, you need to anticipate the extra sweetness in your food.

Chinese Rice Wine (Michiu)

Michiu is like a Chinese version of sake. Both are the results of fermenting rice and water. Furthermore, Michiu is also common to use both for drinking and cooking.

The alcohol content of Michiu is around 15-20%, pretty much the same as Japanese sake.

And as alcohol tax is expensive, manufacturers add some salt in some of the product variations so they can sell the products as cooking ingredients.

With so many similarities to share, Chinese rice wine becomes the most perfect substitute for the Japanese cooking sake.

This product is also easier to find in the US and other countries.

Dry Sherry

Dry sherry might be the easiest substitute for cooking sake if you live in the US because the product is much easier to find.

The booze has a salty and sweet aroma, as well as a slightly nutty flavor. Similar to sake, dry sherry is also commonly used for cooking.

With similar features and 17% of ABV, you can consider dry sherry to fill in the call of cooking sake in a recipe.

Grape Juice with Vinegar

Some people are not able to consume alcohol in any way, either it is for religious or health reasons.

In this case, you can try mixing one part of vinegar with three parts of grape juice.

For the vinegar, you can either use rice vinegar or apple vinegar. And as for the grape juice, a white one would be a better fit than the purple one.

You can also use less grape juice and add more plain water to create a lighter taste.

Other ingredients that many people consider using as substitutes for cooking sake are rice vinegar and white wine.

However, these two are not the best fit to replace a splash of Ryorishi. Both have low umami kicks.

Using either one of them for cooking would make your dish lacking depth in its taste. Rice vinegar is also too acidic to create a flavor balance.

Meanwhile, white wine has too wide of ABV ranges, from 5-23%, making it hard to get the right measurement.

Differences Between Sake & Mirin

Many people sometimes confuse mirin with cooking sake as both are Japanese rice wine intended to be food flavoring.

The difference between these two is that Mirin can have lower alcohol content, around 1-14% of ABV. Mirin contains more sugar, so they taste sweeter than Ryorishi.

Moreover, Mirin is mostly used as dipping sauce or condiment, while cooking sake is used in the cooking process.

Throughout Japanese cuisine, sake & mirin are often used hand in hand in a recipe.

Mirin has a high sugar content and low alcohol content, while Sake, on the other hand, has a high alcohol content and low sugar content.

On top of that, Mirin can be added to a dish untreated, with ease.

Contrary to sake which is added at the beginning of the cooking process most of the time to let some of that alcohol evaporate.

Recipes You Can Make Using Sake

We’ve talked about how important sake is for Japanese cuisine, so now you’re probably curious and want to try out making a dish of your own.

Sake’s strong and distinctive taste can accentuate the flavor of any meal when paired with simple seasonings.

It’s perfect for chicken, pasta, seafood and even pork. Below we’ll share a couple of recipes that are delicious with sake.

The most popular Japanese cuisine that uses Cooking Sake as their key ingredients is nabe (hot pot soup) and teriyaki.

People also love using the sake to marinate chicken or seafood before frying or roasting them. Here are some recipes to try out:

Sake-Steamed Clams

Ingredients

2 pounds of Manila clams or cockles, scrubbed

1 cup sake

1 cup water

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

Salt

(Optional) Togarashi spice blend

Note: Togarashi is a Japanese blend of cayenne, sesame seeds and seaweed. It is available at most Asian markets.

Preparation

Use a medium bowl and fill it with cold water, then add 1 tbsp of salt. Let the clams stand in this salted water for 1 hour. Afterwards, drain them and rinse well.

Take a large, deep skillet and combine the measured sake and water and bring them to a boil.

Add the clams and cover the skillet tightly.

Start cooking them until most of the clams have opened. This takes about 4 minutes, make sure to shake the pan every now and then.

Our recipe serves four.

Serve the clams and broth into medium-sized bowls and top them with butter, then garnish with the scallions and (optional) togarashi.

Serve immediately for the best taste!

Sake-Marinated Beef Ribs

We recommend serving the beef ribs cut across the bone, since they are more manageable pieces that way.

Ask your butcher to do this for you and let the ribs marinate overnight

Ingredients

8 meaty beef short ribs (8 pounds), cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths

3 cups sake (rice wine)

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

1 celery rib, finely chopped

24 green olives, pitted

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp finely grated ginger

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Pinch of saffron threads

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

2 cups short-grain rice (about 14 ounces)

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mascarpone cheese

(Optional) 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preparation

Spread the ribs in an even layer in a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Pour 2 cups of the sake over the ribs, cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Drain the ribs. In a large roasting pan, toss the ribs with the onions, carrots, celery, olives, coriander, garlic, ginger, turmeric, curry powder, cayenne, saffron and the remaining 1 cup of sake; season with salt and white pepper.

Cover with foil and roast, turning the ribs halfway through cooking, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender; skim the fat occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil over moderate heat until tender, about 17 minutes.

Drain the rice and return it to the saucepan. Stir in the soy sauce and mascarpone.

Spoon the rice into 4 bowls. Spoon the short ribs and sauce over the rice, garnish with the parsley and serve.

The dry but sweet sake marinade calls for a soft, generous red wine without too much tannin.

Consider the Rosemount Estate South Eastern Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia or the Markham Napa Valley Merlot.

Yosenabe

Hot pot soup (nabe) is the best comfort food in cold weather to enjoy in a group, either with friends or family.

Japanese cuisine has a large variety of Nabe. Yosenabe is the easiest one to create.

Ingredients:

Basic Broth:

12 cups of dashi

¼ cup of Japanese soy sauce

½ cup of cooking sake

salt if necessary

The Soup Contents:

300 grams of meat (any kind)

200 grams of tofu

one piece of carrot, sliced

100 grams of enoki mushroom

100 grams of Chinese cabbage

Spring onion as sprinkles

Direction:

Pour in dashi, sake, soy sauce, and salt in a hot pot to make the broth.

Once it boils, add in the meat and vegetables gradually, starting from ones that take longer to cook.

Sprinkle it with spring onion

Shrimp Yakitori (Grilled Skewer)

Traditional yakitori requires a special grilling device. But you can still use a regular grill to cook the dish. Instead of shrimp, you can also use chicken or beef for this dish.

Ingredients:

½ cups of water

⅓ cups of rice vinegar

¼ cups of brown sugar

¼ cups of Mirin

¼ cups of sake

½ teaspoon of ginger powder

one teaspoon of onion powder

1 pound of peeled shrimp

bamboo sticks for the skewer

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients for the glaze and boil it over medium heat.

Turn down the heat to low and simmer the glaze until it thickens. Set aside to cool.

Marinate the shrimps with the glaze and leave them for 15 minutes

Spear the shrimps in skewer while preheating the grill

Starts grilling. Brush more glaze to the skewer and flip occasionally.

Teba Shio (Chicken Wing)

Chicken wings are easily lovable by a lot of people. By marinating it with sake, you will elevate the savory taste of the flavor with an ultimate umami kick.

To make it taste even more perfect, you can add some spices to the dish.

Ingredients:

15 pieces of chicken wings

1½ cups of sake

a pinch of sea salt

a pinch of black pepper powder

one piece of lemon

two tablespoons of Japanese seven spices

Direction:

Soak the chicken in a bowl of sake for 15 minutes

Pat dry each piece of wings

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and black pepper on both side

Roast in 500°F for 10 minutes, flip them all upside down and continue roasting for 10 more minutes.

Take the tray out of the oven and sprinkle the chicken with Seven Spices and lemon

Takeaway

If you want to explore more about cooking sake, try using these ingredients when cooking dishes from other countries.

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

For example, any western-food recipes that call for wine, you can substitute it with sake. It

Cooking with sake can be such a unique experience in your kitchen. And you don’t even have to spend a lot of money to get the best cooking sake as any kind of sake will do.  

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.