Sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. The rice used to make sake is polished, or in other words, milled to remove the husk, bran, germ, and varying nutrients contained in the rice. Sake is often called “rice wine,” but it is crafted more like a beer where starch from rice is converted into sugar and fermented into alcohol. Sake has a fruity, nutty, and slightly sweet taste with an umami character. Alcohol content in sake is around 15-20%. Whether you have been consuming sake for a while or have just recently been introduced to it, you may be wondering whether a bottle of sake goes bad.
Sake can go bad as it contains no added preservatives. Exposure to air causes sake to oxidize, changing its color, smell, and flavor. To minimize this, proper storage is important. Unopened pasteurized sake will last up to 10 years, while opened pasteurized sake will last 1-2 years. Unpasteurized sake will last 6 months unopened and 1-2 weeks once opened.
In this article, we will go over whether sake goes bad over time, as well as how to properly store sake. We will also introduce some alternatives to sake that are great options to try as well. Let’s get started!
- Does Sake Go Bad Over Time?
- Does Sake Need To Be Refrigerated?
- How Can You Tell If Sake Has Gone Bad?
- How to Properly Store Sake
- Can You Get Sick From Drinking Old Sake?
- Does Sake Contain Sulfites?
- Alternatives to Sake
- Related Questions
Does Sake Go Bad Over Time?
Yes, sake does go bad over time. The flavor and quality of sake will be best within the first week of opening. After 1 week, oxidation will progress and start to change the flavor. Other than it being fermented, which gives it a level of preservation, sake contains no added preservatives.
Sake does not have an expiration date on the bottle, but has a production date so that gives you an approximate drinking window starting date. Sake is still usable after the recommended drinking window (see introduction) if it has been stored properly, there is no mold on the cap or inside the bottle, the smell is not rotten, and has no strange taste. It can also be used for cooking just like rice wine or dry sherry.
Does Sake Need To Be Refrigerated?
Unopened and pasteurized sake does not need to be refrigerated and can last up to 10 years in a pantry and properly stored. Opened and pasteurized sake does need to be refrigerated and can last 1-2 years if properly stored.
Unpasteurized sake always needs to be refrigerated whether opened or unopened, as it did not go through a heating process to kill bacteria. This makes it spoil sooner than pasteurized sake.
How Can You Tell If Sake Has Gone Bad?
If sake looks yellow or brown in color, smells rotten or bitter, has a strange taste that is unlike the usual taste, it should be discarded. This means the oxidation process, which deteriorates and shortens storage life of sake, has caused too much damage.
Another indicator of bad sake is the development of mold on the mouth of the bottle and inside the cap. Do not consume sake in this state because it indicates it was not stored properly.
How to Properly Store Sake
- The best storage temperature for sake is approximately 41 degrees Fahrenheit, but can be safely stored at temperatures below 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If unopened and pasteurized, sake can be stored in a pantry at room temperature in a cool, dark, and dry place away from sunlight, heat, and humidity.
- If opened and pasteurized, sake should be stored in the refrigerator and kept in a section where temperatures do not fluctuate. The door of the refrigerator is NOT a good place to store sake as the temperatures change from the door being continuously opened and closed.
- Unpasteurized sake should always be stored in the refrigerator whether open or not.
- Always keep the cap on sake tight to prevent exposure to air.
- Do not store sake in the freezer, as it will alter the chemical composition after thawing. Harsh temperatures also affect the aroma and flavor of sake.
Can You Get Sick From Drinking Old Sake?
Depending on how well sake was stored, old sake should not make you sick. In fact, if it was stored properly and does not show any signs of mold, it can still be used for cooking such as adding it to soups or using it as a meat tenderizer. If it shows any signs of spoilage such as change in color, smelling rotten, strange taste, or shows signs of mold, it could make you sick.
Mold can cause allergic reactions, respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, mold can produce toxic chemicals that can cause disease and even death depending on the individual and the amount consumed.
Does Sake Contain Sulfites?
Sulfites are preservatives that occur naturally in grapes and hops used to make wine and beer, but most wines and beers have extra sulfites added to protect from oxidation and prevent unwanted bacteria from growing. Unlike wine and beer, sake does not contain any sulfites or any other added preservatives, which makes it highly susceptible to oxidation and degradation in color and flavor.
Alternatives to Sake
Eden Mirin Rice Cooking Wine
A sweet and savory fermented mirin like Eden Mirin Rice Cooking Wine is possibly the closest alternative to sake. Mirin is also fermented from rice and is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is similar to sake but is lower in alcohol content and higher in sugar content. Because it is higher in sugar content, it is best used in combination with saltier sauces such as soy sauce. It has a thicker consistency and stronger taste with an alcohol content of about 14%. It has a mild acidity and adds an umami flavor to savory dishes. It goes well in broths, glazes, and marinades.
Serra Mission Dry Sherry
A fortified wine like Serra Mission Dry Sherry is another acceptable alternative to sake. Dry sherry is a wine that has been fortified with brandy. Fortification gives sherry more complexity and higher alcohol content, which makes it similar to sake. The flavor profile of dry sherry is nutty and slightly salty with hints of dried fruit. Alcohol content of dry sherry is about 15%. The ratio for substituting sake for dry sherry is 1:1.
365 Organic Rice Vinegar
If you want a rice-based and non-alcoholic alternative to sake, 365 Organic Rice Vinegar is a comparable choice. It is also made from fermented rice and has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It gives a similar acidity to recipes as sake; however, it is more potent so the ratio might be slightly different if you are using rice vinegar instead of sake. If a recipe calls for ¼ cup sake, you would need to substitute 1 tablespoon rice vinegar diluted with 3 tablespoons water. Rice vinegar is a good option for replacing sake when making dressings, marinades, or sauces.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay
Whether you are looking for a sake alternative to drink or to cook with, dry white wine such as Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay is a good option. Any white wine will work as an alternative to sake, but because Chardonnay is a dry and full-bodied wine and has a higher alcohol content, that makes it a better choice. This wine features juicy citrus and apple aromas with delicate oak accents. It can be used as a replacement 1:1 in recipes.
GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha – Original
Another alternative to sake that can be used as a drink and for cooking is GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented and fizzy tea drink with probiotics that has a small percentage of alcohol. It provides a similar level of acidity as sake and can be substituted 1:1 in recipes. It also boasts health benefits from the presence of probiotics (healthy bacteria) that improves gastrointestinal health and boosts immune function.
Do you drink sake warm or cold?
Sake is usually served warm because it helps to bring out the natural flavors and fragrance of the sake, and balances its sweet and acidic qualities. It is still quite good served chilled and at room temperature as well. It is most commonly sipped on slowly like wine. The taste of sake is similar to white wine when it is chilled, and similar to vodka when it is hot.
What foods pair well with sake?
Sake is mainly found in Japanese restaurants so of course it pairs well with sushi, sashimi, tempura, miso, or any other Japanese foods. Many people do not know that it actually pairs well with a lot of other foods such as seafood and raw shellfish, vegetable dishes and salads, fried foods, ramen, cheese, melons and fruit, as well as desserts that have nuts or savory characteristics.
Can you make cocktails with sake?
Yes, you can make a variety of different cocktails with sake, as well as mix it with different types of alcohol. It is typically sipped on neat on its own, but can definitely be mixed into sangrias or added with ginger ale, tomato juice, fruit juices, Coca-Cola, citrus such as lime, lemon, and grapefruit, and combined with mint, celery, basil, and cucumber.
Is sake a healthy alcohol?
Premium Japanese sake offers many health benefits. It is low in sugar content; it is low in tartaric acid, which is a primary acid in wine that causes acid reflux and erosion of teeth enamel; it is free from tannins and sulfites that often cause headaches; it is 80% water-based; and it contains amino acids, enzymes, and antioxidants that can prevent osteoporosis and improve skin texture.