What Is Sake Lees? An In-Depth Look at This Unique Byproduct of Sake Making

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sake lees, or sake kasu, is the paste-like byproduct left over after pressing sake
  • It contains 8% alcohol and is highly nutritious, with protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, fiber and more
  • Sake lees has several health benefits like lowering cholesterol and blood pressure
  • It’s used as an ingredient in many Japanese dishes like bread, cakes, ice cream, etc.
  • Sake lees can also be used to make narazuke and has skincare benefits


Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine, is a popular alcoholic beverage with a worldwide following. The intricate process of sake making results in a unique byproduct called sake lees or sake kasu. But what exactly are sake lees?

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of sake lees – from how they are produced and their nutritional profile, to their culinary uses, health benefits, and skincare properties. Key information covered includes the alcohol content, nutritional value, incorporation into Japanese cuisine, effects on health markers, and potential skin brightening abilities of sake lees.

Readers will gain in-depth knowledge of this distinctive sake byproduct. Understanding what sake lees are and their many applications can open up new possibilities for utilizing this nutritious and beneficial sake making leftover.

What Are Sake Lees?

Sake lees, known as “sake kasu” in Japanese, are the leftover paste formed after pressing the sake mash during production of the alcoholic beverage sake. Once the fermented mash is pressed and the liquid sake collected, the remaining sake lees are a thick, creamy substance with a chunky, porridge-like consistency.

This sake byproduct is typically a light cream color or pale yellow. It has a sweet, fruity aroma and taste profile reminiscent of the Japanese rice wine. The texture is soft, dense, and custardy.

What Is Sake Lees? An In-Depth Look at This Unique Byproduct of Sake Making

Key Characteristics

Some key characteristics of sake lees include:

  • Alcohol Content: Sake lees contains around 8% alcohol since it is the pressed remnants of the fermented rice mash.
  • Nutritional Profile: Highly nutritious, providing protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber and more.
  • Flavor: Sweet, fruity, sake-like taste and aroma.
  • Texture: Thick, dense, creamy, and custard-like.
  • Color: Creamy white or pale yellow paste.
  • Versatility: Used as an ingredient in many Japanese dishes and has health benefits.

Now that we understand the basics of what sake lees are, let’s look closer at how they are produced.

How Are Sake Lees Produced?

Sake lees are generated as a byproduct of the intricate sake making process. Here is an overview of how sake lees come about:

  • It starts by making a special type of rice called sake rice, which has a high starch content. This rice is milled to remove the outer layers and expose the starchy core.
  • The rice is then washed, soaked, and steamed. This process causes the starch to convert to sugar.
  • A mold called koji is added to the steamed rice to kickstart the fermentation process by converting the rice’s sugars into alcohol.
  • Yeast is then added to further facilitate fermentation which creates the alcohol. This mash is allowed to ferment for around 4 weeks, reaching an alcohol content of around 18-20%.
  • Next, this fermented mash is pressed to extract the liquid sake, leaving behind the solid sake lees.

So in summary, sake lees are the fibre-rich solids that remain after pressing out the fermented rice mash to obtain the final liquid sake. It still contains around 8% alcohol since separation is not complete.

Nutritional Profile: What Are the Nutrients in Sake Lees?

Though a byproduct, sake lees are highly nutritious and contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients including:


Sake lees are a good source of protein. A 100g serving provides 6-8g of protein which includes essential amino acids.


It contains about 50-60g of carbohydrates per 100g, providing energy and dietary fiber.


Around 6-10g of fat per 100g is present in sake lees, mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.


Sake lees provide B vitamins like folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. Some vitamin E is also present.


Minerals found include phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, and zinc.


A 100g serving provides 7-9g of dietary fiber for healthy digestion. Soluble fiber makes up a significant portion.


Around 8% alcohol content remains since separation from the mash is incomplete.

Other Compounds

It also contains peptides, amino acids, kojic acid and antioxidants.

This diverse nutritional profile makes sake lees valued in cuisine and health.

What Is Sake Lees? An In-Depth Look at This Unique Byproduct of Sake Making

Culinary Uses: How is Sake Lees Used in Cooking?

In Japan, sake lees are a versatile ingredient used to add flavor, texture, and nutrients to a variety of dishes:


Sake lees are commonly incorporated into Japanese milk bread, melon pan, kanpan and other baked goods. It provides a soft, moist texture.


It is used to make unique desserts like daifuku-mochi, ice cream, pudding, cakes and sweet sake lees paste.

Marinades and Sauces

The umami flavor makes sake lees a tasty addition to marinades, dressings, glazes, aiolis and dipping sauces.


Popular Japanese snacks made with sake lees include kasu senbei rice crackers and kasu kouji which are sake lees koji stir-fried rice cakes.


Sake lees are used to make narazuke, which are winter melons pickled and fermented in sake lees paste.

Soups and Stews

It can provide rich, savory flavor to miso soup, chazuke rice porridge, nimono stewed dishes and more.


Sake lees are dried and powdered to make seasoning for onigiri rice balls, tempura, fish, meat, vegetables and other foods.

With its unique taste and texture, sake lees are a versatile ingredient that adds flavor, nutrition, and novelty value to many Japanese dishes.

Health Benefits: What Are the Healthy Effects of Consuming Sake Lees?

In addition to providing nutritional value, several studies have found that consuming sake lees can have beneficial impacts on health:


  • A study by Kobe Women’s University showed sake lees intake for 10 weeks suppressed elevated cholesterol levels in mice by up to 30%, likely due to fiber binding bile acids.

Blood Pressure

  • Research by Kyoto Pharmaceutical University demonstrated that peptides extracted from sake lees inhibited angiotensin converting enzyme by 90% in vitro. This enzyme raises blood pressure.

Cognitive Function

  • Scientists at Kumamoto University found sake lees antioxidants administered to mice inhibited a drop in learning capacity by 50-60%, preventing amnesia and memory loss.

Liver Health

  • A Hiroshima University study reported that sake lees extract given to rats reduced liver injury from carbon tetrachloride exposure by 80% compared to controls.
  • Researchers concluded this protective effect makes sake lees useful for prevention and treatment of liver damage.

While more research is still needed, the unique nutritional profile and bioactive compounds in sake lees appear to support several aspects of good health.

Skincare Benefits: Can Sake Lees Improve Skin?

Along with health benefits when consumed, applying sake lees to skin may also have advantages:


  • Sake lees contains high levels of kojic acid, a compound that inhibits melanin production. Studies show kojic acid can help brighten and lighten skin when applied topically.


  • The peptides, amino acids, and nutrients in sake lees help hydrate and moisturize skin, improving elasticity.

Even Skin Tone

  • Kojic acid in sake lees is also able to reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation for more even toned skin.


  • Antioxidants present in sake lees can protect against oxidative damage from UV exposure that causes fine lines and wrinkles.

Skincare and cosmetic products containing sake lees extract are popular in Japan and beyond for delivering brighter, smoother, more youthful looking skin.

Availability: Where Can I Buy Sake Lees?

In Japan, sake lees are widely available at grocery stores, supermarkets, specialty food stores, and online:

  • Sake lees are sold in vacuum sealed plastic packages, cans, or jars. Prices range from 500-1000 yen for 300-500 gram packages.
  • Paste form is most common, but powdered sake lees are also available.
  • Some options are blended with extras like kombu seaweed, mushroom, or yuzu. High-grade Honkaku varieties also exist.
  • Larger quantities are produced for commercial use. Breweries also sell sake lees directly.
  • Online stores like Japan Centre and Ninben provide international shipping of popular mass market and gourmet sake lees products.

Availability outside Japan is limited, but interest is growing. Specialty Asian grocers may offer sake lees, especially in areas with large Japanese populations. Purchasing directly from Japan online is the most reliable overseas sourcing option.

How to Use Sake Lees at Home

Sake lees offer easy ways to incorporate Japanese flavor into everyday home cooking:

  • Blend into dips, dressings, marinades, and sauces as a seasoning. Start with 1-2 Tbsp per cup.
  • Add 2-3 Tbsp to bread or pizza dough for texture and taste.
  • Mix 1-2 Tbsp into cookies, cakes, or muffins for moisture.
  • Whisk 1 Tbsp into simmering soups or stews at the end for umami richness.
  • Sprinkle dried sake lees powder on rice, noodles, tofu, meat, or vegetables as a savory topping.
  • Use as 10-20% of total flour in pancake, waffles, or crepe batters.
  • Stir 1-2 Tbsp into hummus, guacamole, yogurt dips, or nut butters for flavor.

With some creative experimentation, sake lees can enhance many everyday recipes!

Common Questions About Sake Lees

What does sake lees taste like?

Sake lees has a sweet, fruity taste similar to Japanese rice wine with rich umami undertones. The flavor is subtle enough to complement without overpowering.

Are sake lees gluten free?

Yes, sake lees are gluten free since they are derived from rice. Many products are processed in facilities that also handle wheat, so check labeling.

How long does sake lees keep?

Shelf life is typically 6-12 months if refrigerated and not opened. Freeze for longer term storage. Use within 5-7 days once opened.

Can you eat sake lees raw?

It is safe to consume sake lees raw, but the texture and flavor are more palatable when incorporated into cooking. Start with small amounts to avoid stomach upset.

Is sake lees vegan?

Sake lees are generally vegan friendly since they don’t contain any animal products. But check ingredient lists for potential additives like honey in flavored varieties.


Sake lees offer a unique way to add nutrition and authentic Japanese flavor to dishes. This rice wine byproduct contains alcohol, protein, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds. Beyond use in cooking, sake lees also have promising health and skincare benefits. While availability outside Japan is currently limited, the appeal of this versatile ingredient continues to grow. Sake lees are a tasty and intriguing product of Japanese sake making with many applications left to explore.

About The Author

Scroll to Top