The secret’s in the sake

3 minutes read
Posted 9 June, 2023
Kasu product copy

It’s long been known in Japanese circles that the secret is in the sake, but hidden in the residue from sake production is the best-kept secret of all.

Sake kasu – the fermented residue from sake processing- is renowned for its health and cosmetic benefits and its incredible umami flavour in cooking.

Tucked away in Queenstown, three Kiwi Japanese women have taken recycling to a new level turning this sake kasu from Zenkuro Sake’s local brewery into a profitable business.

It all started in 2016, not long after Yasuko Joll’s husband, Dave, Zenkuro Sake’s head brewer and director, and his mates began producing what is now internationally acclaimed, gold medal-winning sake – NZ’s first and only sake.

Japanese women began lining up outside the Gorge Road brewery in search of sake kasu, the residue, or lees, left behind by sake production. Japan has long prized the by-product for its nutritional and health properties.

Before long, Yasuko Joll, and friends Noriko Sharp and Azumi Brewster, spotted a business opportunity and began making sake kasu soaps. In Japan, sake kasu soap is renowned for being beneficial for the complexion and is said to help alleviate skin conditions like acne and eczema.

It took a while to catch on, but during Covid times, Yasuko says the business really took off. Online sales blossomed as people focused more on their health.

“One of our very good customers uses it every day on her skin or in cooking, and hasn’t been unwell for a couple of years,” says Joll.

Sake kasu’s slightly sweet, fermented rice flavours has also become increasingly popular with top chefs in Queenstown, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Its pesto-type texture produces a delicious marinade for meats and other dishes.

Rata head chef Michael Bickford is turning out a mouth-watering sake kasu ice cream sandwich dessert at the restaurant. Nestled between sesame crackers, the savoury-sweet sake kasu ice cream sandwich is topped with miso-based icing.

“Fermented food is really good for you, and adding sake kasu brings out that umami flavour,” says Yasuko Joll, adding that it’s a perfect match with miso soups, seafood, fish and shellfish dishes.

Joll, Sharp and Brewster supply Wellington’s Hana-Akari beauty salon with the product, where it’s used in cosmetic face masks. Noriko Sharp makes lotion with it, and Azumi Brewster makes sake kasu soap, selling the products online via Zenkuro’s website. The soaps are also sold at Buzzstop with Buzzstop’s local Manuka honey incorporated into one variety for its natural antibiotic properties.

Dave Joll says online sake kasu sales have grown by about 40 per cent during the past year, with the most significant market being home use for food preparation.

Close behind is beer brewing, with local craft beer producers Altitude Brewing winning an award for its sake kasu beer last year.
“It helps create a lot of body in the beer and gives it a tight, solid head,” says Dave Joll.

“As we increase our sake production quantities, we also create more sake kasu for the ladies to work with. This is ideal as demand for both products is steadily growing.

“More and more people are using sake kasu at home in their cooking and food preparation. Interestingly, more Japanese are finding out about its availability and benefits too,” he says.

The Queenstown-produced sake kasu is now distributed in Auckland due to the growth in demand, and they’ve even had inquiries from Taiwan.

With Zenkuro’s local brewery about to double in size, the women are expecting their burgeoning business to double in production during the next few years.

Soap Azumi

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