Ingredient Spotlight:Takara Sho Chiku Bai Classic Sake

Takara Sake, Sho Chiku Bai

Whenever a recipe calls for sake, sherry, or shao hsing wine, I reach for Takara Sho Chiku Bai Classic Sake. Takara is a company with deep Japanese roots and has offices and a sake museum/tasting center in Berkeley, CA. My Takara sake is brewed in Northern California using the pristine mountain water there, according to the company.
I contacted the Takara folks up in Berkeley, CA, and they assured me their sake does not contain nor is processed in facilities that handle: gluten sources (wheat, barley, rye, oats), dairy, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, and/or sesame. Hooray!!!
Cooking purists and nationalists of certain Asian countries (one especially big one in particular) are no doubt shaking their heads (or fists) at my use of sake for recipes that call for shao hsing wine or America’s time-honored shao hsing substitute, sherry wine.
Admittedly, the three are not the same (although sherry really is a great and readily available substitute for shao hsing); they don’t even come from the same country! Furthermore, sake, to me at least, tastes sharper and brighter than shao hsing wine and sherry wine. Sake is perfect for Japanese and other dishes that require it, but that effect is not always what you want when cooking certain dishes that require a softer, more mellow wine note.
Having said that, though, I would argue that provided you adjust the amount and perhaps add/subtract additional ingredients to suit each recipe (sake:shao hsing substitutions are not always 1:1), sake makes a more than a respectable substitute. Add to that Takara’s allergen-free assurances, transparency about their operations, and utter lack of allerg-o-sketchy tendencies (more on this one day), and I am one happy camper.
The truth is, I’ve been on the lookout for a shao hsing wine and sherry wine that is fer sure, fer sure 100% free of gluten (wheat, barley, oats, rye), dairy, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame (and that includes cross-contamination at brewing facilities).
My search had barely begun in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, no doubt home to every major Chinese supermarket in existence in the U.S. (and thus probably every shao hsing wine label you could shake a stick at), when my family unexpectedly uprooted itself and moved to Saipan, a small island near Guam in the Pacific Ocean. There are quite a few Asian-run markets here, but the San Gabriel Valley this is not. Suffice it to say, I’m going to have to postpone the search for confirmed allergen-free shao hsing wine till I get back home to the SGV.
Sherry, unfortunately, sometimes includes caramel coloring, which may or may not be derived from a gluten source. (There is a whole debate about the gluten status of caramel coloring that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that I will not use anything if I have any lingering concerns — and I do have concerns when it comes to sherry.) I’ve contacted some overseas sources of sherry to ask about allergens in their products, but I have yet to receive a satisfactory (or any, for that matter) answer. The search continues….
If anyone out there can recommend at trusted brand of shao hsing wine that performs well in the kitchen and is likely allergen-free, do let me know and I’ll contact them and see what they say about allergenic ingredients and cross-contamination. Primarily, I am concerned about possible gluten contamination.
For now, Takara Sho Chiku Bai Classic Sake provides both the flavor and the allergen-free assurance I need, and I will continue using it whenever sake, shao hsing, or sherry are required. Hooray for Takara Sake!!!
Takara Sho Chiku Bai Classic Sake is available at the two Whole Foods markets in Pasadena, CA. It’s probably available at other Whole Foods outlets and is also sold at Japanese markets, such as Mitsuwa in San Gabriel, CA. I’m still looking for it in Saipan. Yes, I guard my bottle of Takara with my life.
Note: Takara’s Sho Chiku Bai Classic won the top prize in the Junmai category of the 2011 U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Of all the 326 entries, this sake was the only U.S.-brewed sake to win the Gold Award, according to the company’s website. Neat, huh? As they say, never cook with an alcoholic beverage that isn’t good enough to drink.

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