Groundbreaking Terroir Research


Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture (KMIITC) is part of  a groundbreaking consortium “Next Generation Sake Rice” with a view to double the export value of sake.

Sake Experience Japan spoke with KMIITC Head of Research, Dr Kiyō Hirōka.


Partnering with KMIITC, Bio-oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), five prefectures (Hyogo, Kyoto, Tochigi, Ishikawa and Yamaguchi) and the National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) are using innovative cultivation and brewing techniques to develop new sake rice varieties that have the sake production suitability of Yamadanishiki variety but may have additional strengths, such as tolerance for climate change or resistance to pests.

The 2020 strategic target export value of processed goods (including sake) is USD 540 million. The 2016 sake export value in 2016 was USD $140 million and sake is considered to have the most potential to drive the increase necessary to meet the 2020 target. Farmers and breweries are not yet satisfied with the rice varieties and quantity of sake rice needed, so the consortium is turning to development of new high-quality sake rice that can produce a stable supply. Using thorough knowledge of the growing conditions in each region, this project has been tasked to solve this dissatisfaction, despite regional variations.

For example, to achieve double the export value of sake, the Hyogo prefecture team is trialing using a new sake rice which is similar to Yamadanishiki in terms of suitability but is also resistant to pests and impacts of climate change. Similarly, Tochigi prefecture is promoting the sake export increase through new rice variety “tochigisake No.27”, which is also pest resistant.

Given the regional differences, this project has tried exploit regional terroir, with each sake variety reflecting that. By applying the best cultivation method for each regional sake rice, a stable supply chain of high quality sake rice can be established. At the same time, regional breweries will be able to apply the most suitable brewing technique for each sake rice, creating sake that reflects the regional terroir and also meets the palate preferences of importing counties.

Unlike Hyogo and Tochigi, the Kyoto team is investigating the perfect cultivation period and fertilizing method for “Iwai” and “Kyo-no-kagayaki” varieties. In the simplest terms, this involves knowing how much ester, glucose, amino acid and peptide will be created under the various conditions. These four components affect either aroma or taste as a metabolite of the brewing process under certain conditions. The Kyoto project team consists of:

  1. Sake rice supplier: Biotechnology Research Center of Kyoto Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Technology Center
  2. Cultivation and component analysis of sake rice: Kyoto Prefectural University
  3. Production and evaluation of sake: Kizakura Sake Brewery
  4. Component analysis for finished product: KMIITC
  5. Integration of characteristic of sake rice and finished product of sake: Kyoto Prefectural University & KMIITC




In this project, KMIITC analyzes the components of glucose, amino acid, organic acid and components of aroma with a mass spectrometer (through both gas chromatography and high performance liquid chromatography)

Through this project, the Kyoto team has established an improved cultivation method for sake rice and are producing and selling sake using rice grown under the new method. Behind this research is the winemaking concept of terroir.

The Kyoto project team is now tackling the introduction of a more strictly scientific approach to rice cultivation, similar to that of the wine industry. It is expected that the best period of cultivation and the fertilization method will be determined scientifically. As far as is understood at the moment, once parameters in the process are changed, water absorption of rice and the degree of rice solubility is changed. If rice is dissolved well, acidity level is increased, affecting the taste. However, the relationships between the cultivation and fertilizing process and the flavor components have not been scientifically analyzed, so this research has the potential to effect pioneering change in the sake industry.

Dr Hirōka told us that it is too early to conclude in this early stage, but project outcomes are hotly anticipated.

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