Scientists at the Japanese Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute have developed a method to produce “wood alcohol”, which they hope will become a popular beverage in the country.
You may have heard of “Kuchikamizake”, a special kind of sake in which human saliva functions as a fermentation starter (after the rice has been chewed and spat out), but how about sake made from trees? Scientists at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute recently announced they have managed to create just this. By fermenting wood through a process similar to that used to make the traditional Japanese rice wine, the researchers have created an alcohol suitable for drinking, which retains the aroma of the wood, the Japan Times reported. The resulting “wood alcohol” tastes similar to alcohol aged in wood barrels, like whisky, and could be on shelves within three years.
Until now, methods used for the alcoholic fermentation of wood (for instance, in the production of biofuels) required the wood to be processed with sulphuric acid and heated to a high temperature to dissolve the cellulose or plant fibres, rendering the resulting product unsafe for drinking.
In the newly-invented method, the wood is crushed into microscopic chips which are mixed with yeast and an enzyme to start the fermentation process. Because no heat or harmful chemicals are used in the process, the alcohol created retains the aroma of the specific type of wood, and is suitable for drinking.
Using this process, the scientists produced 3.8 litres of liquid with an alcohol content of around 15% – similar to that of sake – from four kilograms of cedar wood. The researchers have produced alcohol from birch and cherry wood.
According to reports, the institute, which has a partial mandate from the Japanese government, plans to commercialise the venture with a private-sector partner, and begin selling wood sake within three years. It says it hopes the product will push demand for domestically grown wood in the future.
“We thought it would be interesting to think that alcohol could be made from something around here like trees,” Kengo Magara, a researcher responsible for the development project, was reported as saying.
“In Japan, there are about 1,200 species of trees. I hope people will be able to enjoy alcoholic drinks made from trees peculiar to each region.”
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