Sake Vaccine? Never Say Never.

 sake rice from tsuki no katsura brewery

Note: I’ve been transferring some stories from my old Blogger site. This is something from a few years ago.


Recent articles in health sciences revealing the multi-faceted usage of rice as a drug have piqued my sake interest. The origins of rice date back well over 5000 years in Asia and today is considered a staple for nearly half of the world’s population.


Rice with its high starch, but low protein content has already been viewed with massive potential as a construction material in parts of Asia, in its powder form as a polishing agent, its general lack of allergenic properties for baby food and skin creams, and it’s various food permutations as a gluten-free alternative. With such diversity of usage, rice can be considered a superfood—adaptable, easily digested, and healthy.


Scientists in Japan have taken rice to a new sphere of superdom in utilizing it for medicinal purposes. According to a recent article in the Financial Times, MucoRice, is being developed as an edible vaccine more efficient than immunization. When the vaccine rice is consumed, the body produces antibodies, which will combat the viral properties of the pathogen.


The University of Tokyo study, led by researcher, Hiroshi Kiyono, attempts to inoculate small amounts of a cholera toxin (which in such minute form is non-toxic for humans) on an intracellular level into the rice. The ability for the rice drug to digest and spread its antibodies beyond what a regular shot could defend against is proving to be far superior in cell uptake.


Tests on mice revealed the rice drug inoculated the rodents for over six months and an additional four with a single dose booster. Furthermore, the rice vaccine does not have to be refrigerated with a longer shelf life compared to a regular vaccine. The efficacy of such an oral vaccine would benefit developing countries where refrigeration is difficult to maintain and viral outbreak is high. It also does away with requiring needles or syringes.


Altering rice to build allergy tolerance is also being studied. Kameda Seika, one of Japan’s largest rice snack manufacturers, is researching the concept of germinating rice with lactic acid to produce better intestinal health and anti-allergenic properties upon consumption.


This lactic acid rice had me thinking about sake and how this new science may affect how sake will be made in the near future. If a rice laced with lactic acid can be produced, how about a rice with aspergillus oryzae already embedded within?  Perhaps once day omitting the need for the painstaking 48-hour koji process? This could be an extremely huge breakthrough in sake-making. Or maybe a sake that had greater measurable health benefits beyond its pleasant buzz. Of course there are many factors requiring ample questioning and reflection before we go too crazy with such assumptions, but the possibility is there with this new research. 


As sake lovers, we know the benefits of the drink as it stands, but with the advent of such medical rices, sake’s future could diverge into the realm of a new biotechnological niche.