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Sake Sales Are Rising in Asia As Consumers Embrace Japanese Cuisine

The popularity of Japanese cuisine worldwide was surging before Covid-19 arrived, according to a Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries survey. From 2017 to 2019 the number of Japanese restaurants across greater Asia grew 30 per cent – from 118,000 to an estimated 156,000. Meanwhile, sake exports by value and unit price have been on the rise for the last 11 years.


While many people in the food and hospitality industry expected the advent of Covid-19 to spell an end to the boom in Japanese food and sake exports last year, the reverse occurred. Data from the Japanese National Tax Agency shows sake exports rose in six of the 10 main Asian markets in 2020, with the greatest increase in Hong Kong, the region’s third-largest sake market, where exports soared 56.7 per cent. In Mainland China, the largest market, exports rose by 15.8 per cent year on year, while in Singapore they rose by 30 per cent and in Malaysia by 14.8 per cent.


The Japanese government has set a target of doubling sake exports by 2025 and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is working with Saladplate to boost awareness of quality suppliers of the beverage across Asia by making it easier for wholesalers and restaurants to connect with Japanese manufacturers and suppliers.


“JETRO can help restaurants make money and boost their business during this time when more and more consumers all over Asia are discovering sake and learning about the wide variety of styles and flavours,” explained a spokesperson.


How sake is similar to wine


Japanese sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice, koji mold and water. For more than 2500 years Japanese have been brewing the beverage with fermentation and maturation techniques peculiar to the nation.


Although sake was traditionally drunk at room temperature, in modern days it is served in different formats – most commonly heated in a tokkuri (jar) or chilled. It is also commonly served in a small square wooden box, called a masu cup, usually made from hinoki or cedar wood traditionally used for measuring rice portions – and helpfully having natural antibacterial properties to keep food and drink fresh.

Sake being poured into a masu cup. Image: Carastian via Twenty20Sake being poured into a masu cup. Image: Carastian via Twenty20
Sake being poured into a masu cup. Image: Carastian via Twenty20

The Japanese describe sake as “the chief of all medicine” claiming properties which enhance health and beauty if consumed in moderation.


While most foreigners know sake as a drink, the Japanese also use it as an ingredient in cooking – as a seasoning it can remove smell and add flavour.


Like grape wine, sake comes in different styles, from full-bodied to light varieties, from well-matured and highly fragrant to refreshing and smooth. And much like wine, many people who consume it like to pair a style of sake with a matching food dish.


Finding sake on Saladplate


So where can buyers from the hospitality and restaurant industry find great Japanese sake outside the country, with surety of quality and supply? Saladplate is a great place to start with a broad range of Japanese sake and other liquor on offer at wholesale prices, often sourced directly from suppliers.


Tokyo-headquartered Curetex Corporation specialises in Japanese sake, sourced from a lot of small breweries whose products are not available through other wholesalers. The company’s range includes not only core traditional rice-based sake, but fruit sake and Shochu as well.

With an office in Singapore, Curetex can ship sake to buyers within as little as an hour, and the company has a trained sommelier on hand who hand picks blends and offers expert advice to restaurants and retailers. 


Nawatoki Food Co exports Japanese food products into Asian countries (mainly China), and produces its original products such as blue Japanese sake, which is naturally coloured with the blue butterfly pea flower (also known as Asian pigeonwings). The company is actively looking for good distribution partners and to build long-term business relationships.


Another sake specialist is Akashi Sake Brewery, a prime example of characterful sake from Hyogo – the birthplace of the rice-based wine.

Akashi Sake Brewery is one of the premium suppliers of sake featured on Saladplate. Akashi Sake Brewery is one of the premium suppliers of sake featured on Saladplate.
Akashi Sake Brewery is one of the premium suppliers of sake featured on Saladplate.

Akashi believes a respect for rice gives sake character. “You need to treat the rice with integrity, use the right water, know which variety to use at each stage of the process, proceed at as slow a pace as much precision as those processes demand, and – most of all – not cut corners where others might say you can get away with it,” the company explains on Saladplate.


The fertile land Akashi uses is ideal for rice-growing, with clean fresh springs supplying the region with the purest water. “These conditions mean it has become as famous for sake as it is for seafood. We aim to reveal and celebrate the diversity of taste that the different rice varieties can offer, not to drive for the homogenous erosion of taste and character.”


Akashi Sake’s Toji (master brewer) and President Kimio Yonezawa says his mission is to make sake with character.

Kimio Yonezawa, Toji at Akashi Sake Brewery. Kimio Yonezawa, Toji at Akashi Sake Brewery.
Kimio Yonezawa, Toji at Akashi Sake Brewery.

“Joyfully exuberant, generous and open-hearted sake. Sake with depth, with flavour and aroma that lingers. Enough to silence the table as that flavour keeps developing. Sake that can reveal the character of Hyogo’s water, rice and yeasts, among the finest in Japan, and really let them shine. Sake that makes every gathering a celebration of the simple joy of a shared meal. Sake that will pair up with your favourite food and dance.”


Japan Festival is the first country theme of the Saladplate Sourcing Festival. Supported by JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization, our Japan Festival celebrates ingredients and dishes that blend harmoniously together to create a memorable experience especially during winter.

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