If you follow us closely, you’ve surely heard about shōchū several times. I’m about to make a small recap just to remind you what we are talking about: shōchū is a distillate made from barley, sweet potatoes or rice. Generally, it contains 25% alcohol so it is lighter than vodka but stronger than wine. The production area of this distillate is the island of Kyūshū, but today it’s produced practically everywhere in Japan.

The shōchū and its infinite pairings

Author: SaiKaiAngel


photo credits: japantimes.co.jp

The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has caused or even just resurrected many fears in the minds of many, from the fear of dying to the much lighter fear of gaining weight.
We are all, even more, looking for everything that can be healthy… well, it seems that shōchū may be just one of the things we should be looking for. Shōchū expert Stephen Lyman, the author of the book “The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks” also nominated for a James Beard Award, has replaced beer and wine with shōchū and thanks to this he has lost seven kilos in seven months! Obviously, if we give importance to weight loss, it is absolutely not for an aesthetic issue, but to avoid serious diseases such as obesity.

The shōchū in 2003 has reached a sales volume even higher than the sales of sake! Its popularity is growing, driven also by its alleged medical benefits – ranging from the prevention of blood clots to the containment of obesity – which make it a healthy alternative to other alcoholic beverages.


photo credits: japantimes.co.jp

Lyman, a native of New York, discovered this beverage in an izakaya bar in Manhattan more than 12 years ago and it was love at first sight. Lyman explains: “I’ve always loved wine and craft beer. Distilled drinks were a bit too strong for me and I was always looking for a drink that would have been perfect with food”.

Shōchū is good for diet too

In 2011 Lyman’s interest in shōchū became a real passion, and he started drinking it, even more, when a sports injury caused him a gain of weight. “I knew that shōchū was low-calorie, so I decided to give up wine and beer for shōchū six days per week,” he says. Within a month, Lyman lost two kilos; after two months, five. Because of this, having found the shōchū could make him lose weight without altering his lifestyle, he began to take an interest in this Japanese drink and all possible pairings. Lyman says that the pairing of shōchū is possible with more than 50 possible ingredients! Richer shōchū notes work with heavier foods and, in particular, with miso dishes.

The barley shōchū obtained by vacuum distillation with a lighter and more aromatic style is perfect with white fish dishes, delicately flavoured sashimi and simmered. In general, the sweet-potato shōchū instead goes well with meat such as pork, while the kokutō (black sugar) shōchū, which is similar to rum, harmonizes with grilled meat. The full taste of shōchū is a surprising accompaniment to dark chocolate.

Also, the Iichiko Silhouette also called “the Johnnie Walker of shōchū” tastes like stone fruit and paired with soda water can be served with watermelon and mint soup. The shōchū Yamatozakura resists the sweet and earthy spices of Taiwanese braised pork with aniseed and cinnamon, while the Komaki Issho Bronze, a shōchū of sweet potatoes easy to eat, goes perfectly with a vegan stew of sweet potatoes, chickpeas and peanuts.


photo credits: mtcsake.com

But let’s go more specifically and analyze some of the tastiest combinations:

Imo, sweet potato shōchū

Pork chops, pizza Margherita, fried tempura
Imo has a sweet aroma and taste, which goes well with substantial dishes or fried foods. It also is good with rich Chinese food or pizza with lots of cheese.

Mugi, derived from barley

Smoked salmon, caviar, sliced pork with lemon sauce
The mugi has a very clean and fresh taste. Technically this drink goes well with any kind of food, but it tastes better with a simple dish than with an oily dish. The aroma of barley enhances the vegetable sauce.

Kome, from rice

Sashimi, trout marinated in miso, tofu steak.
The kome has an umami (flavor) that goes well with any kind of food but particularly indicated with the delicacy of sashimi. It can also be enjoyed with rice dishes.

Kokuto, sugar cane shōchū

Yakitori (grilled chicken), pasta primavera, mozzarella salad
The Kokuto is made with sugar cane and can taste a bit fruity. The fragrance of kokuto is similar to the one of sweet syrup, but the taste is very simple and delicate and not extremely sweet. This particular taste can bring out the original flavours of the food and is indicated with soy sauce dishes that have a slight sweetness.

Awamori shōchū

Porkchop, lasagna, banana pancake
Awamori has a special aroma and rich flavour that goes well with spicy or heavy foods such as cheese and creamy dish.

Soba shōchū

Penne arrabbiata, fried oysters, meatballs
The characteristics of soba are very mild and clear-cut but at the same time a little bit bitter. This can be enjoyed with slightly spicy foods or juicy meats.

I’m sure that as soon as you’ve finished reading this article you’re already looking for the perfect shōchū for you, are you ready for a completely new adventure and completely different lunches and dinners?