Sikhye is a traditional beverage very popular in South Korea. Also known as dansul or gamju, it is generally eaten as a dessert. It is a soft drink, sweet and flavored with pine nuts and sometimes jujube. It is found in China, Japan and in the rest of Asia under different names.
What is sikhye?
Sikhye (식혜), shikhye or shikeh is a traditional drink made from rice and malt. It is a non-alcoholic drink based on simple ingredients that requires several hours of preparation.
A rice cooker is necessary in order to maintain a constant temperature of 150°F (65°C) during the fermentation stage. You can also prepare this drink in a steamer, but a few tricks are necessary so that the enzyme responsible for the fermentation (amylase) does not denature.
To succeed in making sikhye, you have to make sure you successfully ferment the rice. Indeed, enzymes are activated and transform the starch found in the rice into simple sugars. It is this fermentation of rice that is responsible for making the rice float on the surface.
This fermentation stage gives the sikhye the sweet taste typical of this drink. It is also customary to consume it cold. It is nicknamed “rice punch”. Many Koreans add cinnamon to it.
Healthy or not?
Rich in enzymes, sikhye facilitates intestinal transit. In South Korea, some mothers give it to their infants to help with gas pain. Even if there are no reliable sources that confirm the virtues of this drink, several scientific sources validate the fact that fermented foods are known to facilitate digestion. In addition, it does not contain any allergens.
The different variants of sikhye
Sikhye exists under several names. It is also called dansul (단술) or gamju (감주; 甘 酒). These two names meaning “sweet wine”.
Although there are several regional variants of sikhye, we distinguish these three main variants:
- Hobak-sikhye is a variant of sikhye made with pumpkins. It is left to ferment for several days after adding sugar to it.
- Yeonyeop-sikhye is an alcoholic variant of sikhye made with honey. It is more alcoholic than the previous ones due to the addition of sake. It is prepapred by adding honey, sake and a lotus leaf during the rice fermentation stage in the pressure cooker.
- Andong sikhye is native to South Korea and differs from the other types of sikhye. Indeed, it owes its red color to the use of red bell peppers or chili peppers in its preparation.
Amazake, a drink similar to sikhye very popular in Japan
In Japan, sikhye exists under the name of amazake. It is however a low alcohol drink. Amazake means “sweet sake” in Japanese (sake is a rice beer). In Japan, amazake is consumed during the doll festival, Hinamatsuri on March 3. It is also used as a sweetener in desserts.
Amazake is a sweet drink with a slight alcohol content. It dates from the Kofun period which extends between 300 and 538 AD.
Some Japanese people switch things up and prepare amazake with oats, buckwheat, barley or millet. That said, the rice-based version remains the sweetest. It is a thick, sweet drink.
The amazake is more or less liquid. Its consistency also varies depending on the amount of water added to the rice grains. Some Japanese people use a blender to obtain a creamy consistency.
Unlike sikhye, which is only eaten as a dessert, amazake can be eaten with savory or sweet dishes.
Makgeolli, Korean rice liquor
Makgeolli is another drink close to sikhye. Anglo-Saxons wrongly call it “rice wine”. Indeed, makgeolli is closer to beer. It has a milky consistency and usually contains between 6 and 7 percent of alcohol.
Like sikhye, makgeolli comes from the fermentation of rice starch. However, other grains can be used to prepare it, such as barley or wheat.
- 4.5 quarts cold water
- 8 oz. yeotgireum-garu (barley malt powder)
- 1 cup short grain rice
- ⅔ cup caster sugar (optional)
- Pine nuts
- Dried pitted jujubes
- Rice cooker (with “keep warm” function)
Mix the barley malt powder and 3½ quarts (3.5 liters) of cold water in a large transparent glass bowl.
- Mix well with a whisk.
- Let stand 2 to 3 hours until the powder settles at the bottom of the bowl.
- Prepare the rice in a rice cooker
- Wash the rice by rubbing it and changing the water several times.
- Drain it for 1 hour.
- Pour the rice into the rice cooker.
Add ¾ cup (200 ml) of water to the rice, mix and cook.
- When the rice is cooked, add the clear malt water to the transparent bowl, pouring it gently. Gently move the bowl and, while pouring the clear water, take care not to bring the lees up.
- Stir the rice with a wooden spoon and break it a little.
- Set the rice cooker to the “keep warm” function. Let stand and ferment for 4 hours.
- Add the rest of the water to the remaining barley malt sediment in the transparent bowl.
- Let stand while the rice is fermenting in the rice cooker.
- Open the rice cooker after 4 hours and check if some grains of rice are floating. Dozens of grains should be floating float. If they are not floating yet, let it ferment again for an hour.
- Pour the hot sikhye from the rice cooker into a large non-stick cooking pot.
Slowly pour the clear malt water that separated during the fermentation of the sikhye and discard the sediment. This results in about 3 cups (800 ml) of clear, malted water. Set aside.
- Cover the pot and boil for 10 minutes. Add sugar (optional) and mix well.
Pour about 1½ cups (375 ml) of sikhye into a bowl or cup and serve with a spoon. You can drink it like tea or just drink the liquid and eat the rice with a spoon.
- Pour the hot sikhye through a colander over a large bowl to collect all the rice. Collect the water.
- Rinse the rice under running cold water and transfer it to an airtight container with some cold water. Cover and refrigerate.
- Cool the hot water from the sikhye and transfer it to a glass jar. Refrigerate it.
When serving, pour about 1½ cups (375 ml) of cooled sikhye water into a small bowl and gently stir in about 2 tablespoons of rice.
- Add pine nuts and/or pieces of dried jujubes.