January 2008 Issue

Spiced "O-toso Saké" - New Year's Medicinal Tonic

Spiced Saké "O-toso" - Toso or Medicinal Wine is drunk in Japan at the New Year to ensure health for the coming year and is served in specially decorated vessels. Every family has their own special recipe for otoso and much of the mixture and type of saké used depends on the region. This very traditional recipe was given to my by my host family of Yamagata, a prefecture in Northern Japan.

Before Oshogatsu or the New Year arrives, many Japanese will gather at locally prominent shrines and temples, where they greet the stroke of midnight with exclamations of "Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!," or "Happy New Year!" At home, the celebrations include exchanging O-toso, a sweet kind of sake and enjoying the special dishs of the New Year called, Osechi.

The New Year, is Japan's most important yearly observance and a time of renewal for families. The Japanese make special effort in the final days of December to clear away debts and obligations so as to start the new year fresh. O-toso is only drank at this time to cleanse onself of their past bad deeds and ward off any evil spirits or demons in the new year.

Otoso is saké or mirin that has been specially prepared by steeping a mixture of herbs in it for several hours or weeks. Drinking it with family in a ceremonial fashion on New Year's (Chinese New Year is Feb. 5, 2008) morning is said to ward off sickness for the entire year ahead, as well as invite peace within the household. Cheers!

  1. Infuse for at least 9-10 hours the following 8 herbs (otososan) with a 1/2 gallon of sweet (not dry) Saké or Mirin:
  2. 1 teaspoon Japanese Mountain Pepper, sold as Sansho
  3. Cinnamon Stick
  4. 2 teaspoons Asian Ginger Root Powder
  5. 1 teaspoon Cumin
  6. 1 whole Mikan or Tangerine Peel (Dried)
  7. 1 small dried Ginseng root
  8. 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  9. 3 Tablespoon Mizuame (Japanese Rice Malt)
  10. The longer you age the more medicinal the tonic becomes. Drink a shot-glass size throughout the year. Here's to good heath in '08!

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