Sake in Traditional Medicine: Ancient Remedies and Modern Applications

There is a debate that has been raging for years, with no end in sight. It’s a simple one: is moderate alcohol consumption good for you, or not? The jury is still out, with experts on both sides giving contradictory answers

If you are an aficionado of sake, you’d hope this cherished rice wine is doing something useful. Getting blackout drunk on the stuff obviously does no favors for your liver. With moderate consumption, though, is sake good for you? 

It’s time to find a definitive answer on whether there are sake health benefits. Read on as we discuss sake history and how it contributes to health.

Sake History

There is no sake history without rice. For thousands of years, this grain has been a staple of Asian caloric intake. Rice cultivation began in China, arriving in Kyushu, Japan approximately 3,000 years ago.

The Japanese believe that it was the gods who taught them how to cultivate rice. Likewise, the gods gave them sake, too.

Shinto Rituals

Earliest records suggest sake appeared in the first century. Granted, this was not a drink you could consume at will. The common man tasted it only in special Shinto rituals.

Sake served as an offering to the gods for bountiful harvests. They poured, drank, and offered it in sophisticated ceremonies. Otherwise, it was a drink reserved for religious leaders and nobility. 

Naturally, this restriction was lifted as the years went by. Sake became readily available across the country. Shrines and breweries produced it in massive quantities for everyone. 

How Sake Was Made

In the beginning, villagers would chew rice and spit it into a vat. Over time, the process grew more refined and sophisticated. The Imperial Court established an official office charged with brewing sake.

Using polished, steamed rice, brewers would ferment it with lactic acid. They filtered it through charcoal for further refinement. Carpenters crafted massive vats (up to 1,500 liters) for large-scale brewing.

Sake is referred to as wine. Surprisingly, though, you brew it like a beer. This leads to it being a truly unique drink compared to all the others.

These days, the shrines no longer produce the majority of sake. That honor belongs to the breweries. 

Sake Health Benefits in History

If there’s one thing the Japanese are known for, it’s for being perfectionists. They take everything very seriously. Sake is no exception, and they brew it to the best quality possible.

Further, good health is inseparable from Nippon culture. After all, they have one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Their national drink follows in that tradition.

Ancient Sake Remedies and Ceremonies

The traditional sake remedy is by means of ceremony. As we’ve mentioned, sake was initially an offering to the gods. If you wanted a good harvest, you went to the shrine and performed omiki.

A similar ceremony occurred when groundbreaking for a home. Shinto priests took part in the same ceremony to purify the land of any evil. Once blessed, everyone partook to seal the deal. 

Every change of the season included a sake ceremony, too. Participants anticipated similar results. Bountiful harvests, good weather, and health for their families.

Even the emperor himself would enjoy sake remedies in ceremony. For a spell, American occupants post-WWII forbid any sake ceremonies. Still, the emperor conducted them in secret for the well-being of his people. 

Plain and simple, a sake remedy was a divine one. You used this blessed drink to obtain a deity’s favor–thus improving your physical health and good fortune. Sake remedies, therefore, are all the sake-oriented Shinto ceremonies that the Japanese perform.

Modern Ceremonial Sake Health Benefits

Many of these rituals as mentioned above continue to this day. Albeit, in more informal settings. Shinto temples host only the most special rites.

Almost all of the most important Japanese milestones in life involve drinking it. This includes weddings, sporting events, and corporate anniversary gatherings.

Importantly, you don’t drink sake alone. It’s very much a means of unifying families, friends, and associates. Businessmen use it to strike deals, and politicians use it to cement alliances.

Is Sake Good for You?

To the Japanese, sake has a transcendental, godly power. When blessed, it has the ability to alter fortunes–particularly one’s physical health. The question is, what does the science say on the topic?

Countless studies have been done on the drink. There is no clear, irrefutable verdict, as further research is necessary. However, here are some benefits studies have hinted at.

Improved Digestion

There is a lactic acid bacteria in sake called lactobacillus. This is a type of probiotic that assists in digestive problems. This does depend, however, on the lactic content of the sake in question.

Less Risk of Certain Diseases

Assuming light drinking, there may be a sake health benefit that reduces the risk of certain diseases. It may minimize heart disease and some cancers. It may even reduce the chance of ischemic stroke. 

It may also help to prevent diabetes. And for those that already have diabetes, it minimizes heart-related disease risks. 

Sleep Quality

Some have suggested that sake improves your sleep quality. That said, further evidence is necessary. This may be a result of certain yeast in sake, rather than the wine itself.

Skin Quality

Sake drinkers may also find that their skin is clearer. They may be less susceptible to breakouts or excessive dryness. This also may be a result of the yeast–not the wine.

Potential Sake Risks

Of course, sake is an alcohol. Any alcohol, regardless of the gods’ favor, comes with risks.

Heavy sake consumption may cause brain and liver damage. Those with a propensity for alcoholism should limit their consumption. 

Further, you should not consume sake when pregnant. Nor should you take it alongside certain medications. Check with your pharmacist for adverse reactions.

Plain and simple, speak to your doctor before consuming any alcohol. Sake is no exception.

Learn More at Sake School

Sake health benefits were once a result of the gods’ blessings. Deities aside, scientific evidence has shown it has numerous potential health benefits with light consumption. If Japanese health is any indication, this is the best liquor to choose for longevity and well-being. 

Sake School of America can teach you everything you need to know about this legendary drink. Take a look at our 2023 course calendar. Sign up ASAP and begin your journey toward being a sake sommelier.