One of my food and drink goals in recent years (and certainly for the next few too) is to learn more about sake. Not just how it’s made (which I understand pretty well now) and the different categories of sake (which I finally have downpat) but – most importantly of all – working out what I like best in the hope of reliably being able to buy sake that I love.

Here, I share what I’ve learned over the last few years plus some of my favourites at this year’s HyperJapan Sake Experience.

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What is Sake?

Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from rice.

Although it is referred to in English as rice wine, it is often pointed out that the process is more akin to brewing beer, where one converts the starch to sugar and the resulting sugar to alcohol. In wine making, it is a simpler process of converting the sugars that are already present in the fruit. Of course, it’s not entirely like beer making either as the sake production process is quite distinct.

Wine is typically around 10-15% ABV. Beer is usually lower, with most beers coming in between 3-8%, though there’s been a trend towards ever stronger beers lately. Sake is brewed to around 18-20%, but often diluted to around 15% for bottling.

Until a few years ago I’d only ever encountered cheap sake served warm and was not a huge fan. However, since trying higher quality sakes served chilled, I’m an absolute convert.

In terms of typical flavours, my vocabulary is woefully lacking, but for me the core flavour is a subtly floral one – perhaps this is intrinsic to the rice and rice mould? The balance of sweetness and acidity varies though classic sake is not super sweet. Sometimes it is fruity and sometimes it has a more umami (savoury) taste. I am often able to detect clear differences on the palate but unable to define these in words – clearly I need to drink more sake!


How is Sake made?

Sake is made from rice, but usually from varieties with a larger, stronger grain with lower levels of protein than the rice varieties that are typically eaten.

The starch sits within the centre of the rice grain, surrounded by a layer of bran, so rice is usually polished to remove the outer layer before being made into sake. The more the rice is polished, the higher the percentage of starchy centre remains, but of course this is more expensive as it needs far more rice to produce the same volume of alcohol.

After polishing and being set aside to rest, the rice is washed, soaked and steamed. kōji rice mould (Aspergillus oryzae) is sprinkled over the rice which is left to ferment for several days. This mould helps to develop the amylase enzyme necessary to convert starch to sugar. Next, water and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are added and the mixture allowed to incubate. Water and yeast are added multiple times during the process. The resulting mash then ferments at 15-20 °C for a few weeks.

After fermentation, the mixture is filtered to extract the liquid, and the solids are often pressed to extract a fuller range of flavours.

In cheaper sakes, varying amounts of brewer’s alcohol are added to increase the volume.

Sake is usually filtered again and then pasteurised before resting and maturing, then dilution with water before being bottled.

These days you can also find unpasteurised sake and sake in which the finer lees (sediment) are left in. I’ve even had some very thick and cloudy sakes where more of the solids have been pureed and mixed in to the final drink.


What are the different categories of Sake?

Because the most desirable bit of the rice is the core of the grain, the amount of polishing is highly relevant. Labels must indicate the seimai-buai (remaining percentage) of the original grain.

Daiginjo means that at least 50% of the original rice grain must be polished away (so that 50% or less remains) and that the ginjo-tsukuri method – fermenting at cooler temperatures – has been used. There are additional regulations on which varieties of rice and types of yeast may be used and other production method restrictions.

Ginjo is pretty much the same but stipulates that only 40% of the original rice is removed by polishing (so that up to 60% remains).

Pure sake – that is sake made only from rice, rice mould and water – is labelled as Junmai. If it doesn’t state junmai on the label, it is likely that additional alcohol has been added.

So Junmai daiginjo is the highest grade in terms of percentage of rice polished and being pure sake with no brewer’s alcohol added.

Coming down the scale a little quality wise, Tokubetsu means that the sake is still classed as ‘special quality’. Tokebetsu junmai means it’s pure rice, rice mould and water whereas Tokebetsu honjozu means the sake has had alcohol added, but is still considered a decent quality. In both cases, up to 60% of the original rice grain may remain after milling.

Honjozo on its own means that the sake is still rated above ordinary sake – ordinary sake can be considered the equivalent of ‘table wine’ in France.

Other terms that are useful to know:

Namazake is unpasteurised sake.

Genshu is undiluted sake; I have not come across this yet.

Muroka has been pressed and separated from the lees as usual but has not been carbon filtered. It is clear in appearance.

Nigorizake is cloudy rather than clear – the sake is passed only through a loose mesh to separate the liquid from the mash and is not filtered. There is usually a lot of sediment remaining and it is normal to shake the bottle to mix it back into the liquid before serving.

Taruzake is aged in wooden barrels or casks made from sugi, sometimes called Japanese cedar. The wood imparts quite a strong flavour so premium sake is not commonly used for taruzake.

Kuroshu is made from completely unpolished brown rice grains. I’ve not tried it but apparently it’s more like Chinese rice wine than Japanese sake.

I wrote about Amazake in this post, after we enjoyed trying some in Kyoto during our first visit to Japan. Amazake can be low- or no-alcohol depending on the recipe. It is often made by adding rice mould to whole cooked rice, allowing the mould to break down the rice starch into sugars and mixing with water. Another method is to mix the sake solids left over from sake production with water – additional sugar can be added to enhance the sweetness. Amazake is served hot or cold; the hot version with a little grated ginger to mix in to taste.


HyperJapan’s Sake Experience

Last month I tasted a great range of sake products in the space of an hour’s focused drinking as I made my way around Sake Experience in which 11 Japanese sake breweries shared 30 classic sakes and other sake products.

Once again, this was my personal highlight of HyperJapan show.

For an extra £15 on top of the show entrance ticket, one can visit stalls of 11 Japanese sake breweries, each of whom will offer tastings of 2 or 3 of their product range. You can learn about the background of their brewery, listen to them tell you about the characteristics of their product and of course, make up your own mind about each one.

One reason I love this is because tasting a wide range of sakes side by side really helps me notice the enormous differences between them and get a better understanding of what I like best.

A large leaflet is provided as you enter, which lists every sake being offered by the breweries. A shop at the exit (also open to those not doing the Sake Experience) allows you to purchase favourites, though not every single sake in the Sake Experience is available for sale.

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Kavey’s Sake Experience 2015 Picks

My Favourite Regular Sakes

Umenoyado’s Junmai Daiginjo is made using yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 16% ABV. The natural sweetness is much to my taste and the flavour is wonderfully rich with fruity overtones, and a spicy sharp piquancy that provides balance.

Ichiniokura’s Junmai Daiginjo Kuranohana is made with kuranohana rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. This one is super fruity; the brewery team explained that they use a different yeast whch creates a different kind of flavour. There is less acidity than usual, which emphasises the sweetness.

Nihonsakari’s Junmai Ginjo Cho-Tokusen Souhana is made with yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. To me, this Junmai Ginjo represents the absolutely classic style of sake; it has a hint of dairy to the aroma and a typical sake flavour, subtly floral and very crisp.

My Favourite Barrel-Aged Sake

Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Taruzake is barrel-aged and bottled at 15% ABV. The wood flavour comes through clearly, though it’s not overpowering – this is a clean, dry style of sake with a hint of greenery. Although it’s not hugely complex, it’s well worth a try.

My Favourite Sparkling Sakes

Ichinokura’s Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi is made with Toyonishiki and Shunyo rice varieties and bottled at 5% ABV. Unlike some sparkling sakes on the market that are carbonated artificially, the gas is 100% natural, produced during a second fermentation. This sake is sweet but not super sweet, with a fruity aroma balanced by gentle acidity. If I understood them correctly, the brewery team claimed that they were the first to develop sparkling sake, 8 years ago. Certainly, it’s a very recent development but one that’s become hugely popular, a way for breweries to reconnect with younger markets who had been turning away from sake as their drink of choice.

Shirataki Shuzo’s Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi Sparkling Sake is made with Gohyakumangoku rice and bottled at 11-12% ABV. Although most sparkling sakes are sweet, this one breaks the kōji (mould, kōji, get it?) as it’s a much dryer style, though not brut by any means. I can see this working very well with food.

For the sweeter sparkling sakes (which are usually marketed almost exclusively to women by the breweries), Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Mio and Ozeki’s Jana Awaka are
sweet, tasty and affordable.

My Favourite Yuzu Sake

Some of the yuzu sakes I tried were perfectly tasty but very one dimensional, just a blast of yuzu and nothing else. One was a yuzu honey concoction and the honey totally overwhelmed the citrus.

Nihonsakari’s Yuzu Liqueur is bottled at 8-9%. The yuzu flavour is exceptional, yet beautifully rounded and in harmony with the sake itself. It’s not as viscous as some of the yuzu liqueurs certainly but has some creaminess to the texture. Be warned, this is one for the sweet-toothed!

My Favourite Umeshus

Learn more here about umeshu, a fruit liqueur made from Japanese stone fruits. Umeshu can be made from sake or shochu, but those at the Sake Experience were, of course, sake-based.

Urakasumi’s Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. Made with fruit and sake only, no added sugar, it’s a far lighter texture than many umeshu and has an absolutely beautiful flavour, well balanced between the sweetness and sharpness of the ume fruit. Because it’s so light, I think this would work well with food, whereas traditional thicker umeshu is better enjoyed on its own.

Umenoyado’s Aragoshi Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. A complete contrast from the previous one, this umeshu is super thick, in large part because the ume fruit, after steeping in sake and sugar, are grated and blended and mixed back in to the liqueur. The flavour is terrific and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of this one to bring home.

My Favourite Surprise Sake

Ozeki’s Sparkling Jelly Sake Peach comes in a can and is 5% ABV. The lightly carbonated fruity liqueur has had jelly added, and the staff recommended chilling for a few hours, shaking really hard before opening and pouring the jellied drink out to serve. The flavour is lovely and I’d serve this as a grown up but fun dessert, especially as it’s not very expensive at £3 a can. I bought a few of these home with me!


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Kavey Eats attended the event as a guest of HyperJapan.


Green smoothies are all the rage.

But I’ve just not developed a taste for kale, spinach, broccoli or any other green vegetable in my smoothies and prefer to stick to my fruit concoctions.


A banana is a great start to the day. In recent years, bananas have received some bad press because they do not score as low on the Glycaemic Index (GI) as many other fruits and vegetables. But, as this really excellent guide explains, there are weaknesses in using the GI to assess food – you have to eat a lot more of some foods to hit the 50 grams of digestible carbs on which the score is calculated than you do for others – although bananas have a GI score of around 50 (depending on ripeness) you’d need to eat 3 bananas to hit that 50 grams of digestible carbs. It’s also worth remembering that the GI doesn’t take into account the nutritional benefits (or lack of them) of different types of food – crisps are only a touch higher than bananas in terms of their GI score! A banana for breakfast not only keeps me feeling full for quite a few hours, it is also a good source of fibre, potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and B6.

Recently I’ve been drinking even more matcha than usual, after writing an article all about it for a recent issue of Good Things magazine. Although the method of grinding tea leaves into a powder originated in China, it was not until the practice reached Japan by way of Zen Buddhist monks that it developed into the drink we know today. Matcha is traditionally made by stone grinding green leaves of shade-grown tea (gyokuro). Before grinding the leaves are dried, de-veined and de-stemmed, in this state they are known as tencha. Growing tea in shade slows down the growth, stimulating an increase in chlorophyll levels. This turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids, in particular L-Theanine, which provides a distinctive umami flavour. L-Theanine is also claimed to reduce stress, sharpen cognitive performance and improve mood, especially when combined with caffeine, as it is in matcha.

Prunes – dried plums – have long been used as a mild natural laxative, although there’s no real evidence that they’re any more effective than other fruits and vegetables that are good sources of dietary fibre, bananas included. But I love their rich flavour, and they’re a great natural sweetener.

Of course, the dark colour of prunes turns what would otherwise be a brighter green smoothie into a less visually attractive brown one, so feel to substitute with dried dates or apricots, or a generous squirt of honey or maple syrup, each of which will create a quite different flavour profile for your 3 ingredient smoothie.

3 Ingredient Breakfast Smoothie | Banana, Prune & Matcha

1 large banana, peeled – about 125 grams peeled weight
2-3 teaspoons matcha (Japanese green tea powder)
60 grams pitted dried prunes*
1 cup of water, or more for a thinner smoothie

* substitute with dried dates, dried apricots, honey or maple syrup if preferred.


  • Place all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth.
  • Pour into a glass and drink straight away.

Tip: My Froothie Optimum power blender makes quick work of even the toughest dried fruits, but if yours is not as effective, soak the dried fruits in water for 30 minutes before blending – you can use the soaking water in the smoothie too.

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For more fruit smoothie inspiration check out:


In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.


Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.


Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Matcha Masterclass by Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co.

Not long before, I wrote an article about matcha for which I spoke to several retailers of high grade Matcha, Lalani & Co included. (Look out for the article in the March issue of Good Things magazine). During those conversations, Jameel recommended his recipe for a matcha and fruit smoothie, which sounded rather delicious. I was later invited to the masterclass to taste his tempting smoothie recipe and to learn how to make a matcha latte.

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Hosted by Curators Coffee near Oxford Circus, the evening class lasted one and a half hours, during which time Jameel not only introduced the class to matcha – what it is, how it’s made, how one assesses quality, how best to use high grade and regular matcha powders – but also took us through how to make matcha (both usucha thin and koicha thick style), matcha latte (with lessons on latte art from a member of the Curators Coffee team) and a matcha breakfast smoothie. Each of us made our own matcha and matcha latte, the smoothie was made in one batch, while we crowded around the blender.

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Little sweet treats were provided by Curators Coffee, very much in the matcha tradition; matcha is usually served with wagashi – Japanese confectionary. It was a lovely evening, and everyone really enjoyed it, none more so than the giggling gang of students celebrating a birthday and the latte addict who’d attended another class with Curators just the evening before.

This is an ideal class for anyone looking to learn a little more about matcha and, more specifically, how to drink it. Book via Curators Coffee. The class is priced at £40 per person, and includes a jar of Lalani & Co Matcha Gold to take home; this is a top grade stone milled Matcha that retails for £29.

Kavey Eats attended a Matcha masterclass as a guest of Lalani & Co.


Have you heard of supertasters? To my eternal regret, I have, because I’m one of them.

The label makes being a supertaster sound exciting, suggestive of a superior palate. The truth of the matter is that a supertaster is simply someone who “experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average”. Yes, that does mean a supertaster can detect hints of flavours that others may miss. A key identifier is an increased sensitivity to bitter flavours in particular; it’s usual for supertasters to dislike bitter foods and drinks.

A Guardian article about supertasters last year shares a wonderful quote from John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State University, who says of supertasterdom, “It’s not a superpower, you don’t get a cape and it doesn’t make you better than other people.”

I first came across the term several years ago, and immediately wondered if I might be a supertaster; I’ve always had a very strong aversion to virtually every food and drink commonly listed as items that a supertaster dislikes – grapefruit, carbonated water, several of the brassica family, many alcoholic beverages such as hoppy beer and dry wine. When we were little, my younger sister occasionally amused herself by merrily sucking on wedges of lemon; it made me wince just to watch!

The increased sensitivity to other tastes and textures (sweet, salty, umami, fatty) is less problematic. While I am known to have a sweet tooth, for me it’s very much about flavour – too much sugar blows out the other tastes, so I prefer fruity dark chocolate to cheap sugary milk chocolate, for example. I generally love creamy, fatty textures and the flavours that come with them. I like salty things but it’s all about balance; although salt is known to boost flavour it helps counter bitterness as well so I like it well enough but too much of it overwhelms the rest of the dish. Some chefs add so much salt to their food I wonder if they can taste it at all.

Embarrassingly for an Indian, I cannot tolerate heavy-handed use of hot chilli – it makes my tongue burn so much I can’t taste anything else at all. And the pain isn’t pleasant either. Chilli sensitivity is a pain in the arse, but I manage to cope with a low to medium level so I’m not totally limited to baby food!

Incidentally, children are usually supertasters and share an aversion to bitterness that most grow out of, so when they tell you they don’t like Brussels sprouts, they may not be lying!

Coffee is commonly cited as an ingredient that we supertasters tend to avoid and yet I drink gallons of it. But I always choose the least bitter instant coffee available; very, very light roasts with fruity rather than bitter notes, and always  drink coffee with plenty of milk or cream and a frankly ridiculous amount of sugar (or dulce de leche in place of both). Coffee ice cream is one of my favourite things. Strong, dark, bitter coffee – as enjoyed by coffee aficionados – is a complete no-no for me; it’s far, far, far too bitter.

You might be wondering what causes this supertaster condition?

Current theory holds that the presence of a gene called TAS238 is involved, which seems to govern the ability to detect bitterness (usually tested via reactions to propylthiouracil) plus a higher than usual density of fungiform papillae taste buds on the tongue. Being a supertaster to some extent is not that uncommon – I’ve seen articles suggesting it’s as high as one in four. But the level of sensitivity varies and many supertasters are only mildly so.

It’s thought that this gene could be an evolutionary remnant; since many toxins are bitter, a natural aversion to bitterness would have steered our ancestors away from potentially unsafe foods.

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Back in early December, Pete and I were invited to a food and beer matching event by Leffe. I don’t usually enjoy beer (the bitterness from the hops being the problem) but I have found the occasional lightly-hopped fruit beer palatable. Pete, of course, loves his beers.

To make the evening more of an experience, Leffe invited along The Robin Collective, a company that runs lively events for brands interested in exploring taste in a fun and light-hearted way.

As we sat down around the table, they handed out some tiny plastic bags of mysterious white powder, a pink pill and a tiny square of white paper. There were a few raised eyebrows!

With no idea what it was, we were asked to place the little square of white paper onto our tongues. Immediately, I grimaced with disgust at the intensely bitter taste flooding my mouth and asked if I could please spit it out. To my surprise, nearly everyone else looked at me in surprised disbelief, stating that the square tasted of absolutely nothing, or for a couple of them, very mildy bitter at most.


At this point, The Robin Collective revealed that the paper was a supertaster test (soaked in phenylthiocarbamide, which functions similarly to propylthiouracil). I was clearly towards the stronger end of the scale. The blue dye they asked us put onto our tongues next (commonly used to aid the visual identification and counting of taste buds) was a bust – the room was simply too dark to see, let alone count taste buds. It just looked as though we’d all eaten blue slushies! The white powder  was sodium benzoate, another molecule which supertasters are more sensitive to, and can detect more flavours from.

After this, we moved on to our meal, matching courses with different Leffe beers, including Leffe’s new-to-UK Ruby, a pretty rosé beer featuring red fruits of the forest along with their blonde, brown and nectar (honey) beers.

At the end of the meal, The Robin Collective also had us experiment with miracle berry, a fruit which naturally interferes with taste receptors such that your perception of sour ingredients is that they are sweet. We chewed on the pink pills before proving the effect by sucking on a plate of lemon wedges, which tasted wonderfully sweet.

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The beers were introduced by the very knowledgeable, charmingly enthusiastic and excitable Luke Morris, who has worked with many beer brands including Leffe. He told us about each beer, discussed the best food matches and guided us through our tasting.

As expected, different beers worked better or worse with different dishes.

Sometimes it’s a case of echoing the dominant flavour profiles in the dish with flavours also in the beer. Sometimes it’s better to contrast the beer and food. Either way, a great match can really make the food on the plate sing and likewise certain foods do a super job of bringing out different aspects of the beer.

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Of the four beers we tried during the evening, my favourite was the fruity ruby – drinking it with the food helped to lessen the light bitterness and bring out the fruity flavours. Pete was keener on the brown beer, with the blonde in second place. For him the sweetness of the nectar and ruby beers was less appealing.

Kavey Eats attended this beer and food matching event as guests of Leffe.


I don’t order bottled water in restaurants. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with safe, clean and reasonably plentiful drinking water. It strikes me as crazy to pay (financially and environmentally) to drink bottled water instead.

There’s an argument for those who prefer carbonated, in which case buying fizzy bottled water is no different to buying any other soft drink. But personally, I prefer still, so I always ask for tap. Often, it’s the lower end restaurants that get sniffy about it, never the posh ones.

I have occasionally bought bottled water when out and about. It’s a rare thing, as I’m conscious of the cost not to mention the litter.

We live in such a disposable culture. Now that a lot more packaging is labelled recyclable, people seem think there’s no environmental impact to throwing it away. But of course, even when something can be recycled, there’s a huge energy and resource cost to create the original item, to collect and sort the used item and to recycle it into something else. And, for various reasons, probably not least of which is that our recycling efforts are still rather half-hearted, 75% of post-consumer plastic waste in the UK is sent to landfill.

Pink Hydros Bottle

Recently I came across the Hydros Filtering Water Bottle. Instead of buying water, carry a Hydros bottle with you. You can either fill it at home, or if you’d rather not carry the weight around, fill it on the go. More and more restaurants and cafes are willing to fill reusable water bottles for free.

Made from Tritan plastic (BPA free) it has a filter embedded with an anti-microbial, to stop the build-up of bacteria which can be a problem when reusing some bottles. The filters are replaceable and last for about 150 uses. Oh and, best of all, it’s dishwasher friendly.

I like that you can fill from the top or through the side opening, which allows you to fill from a low or awkward tap – it’s a little slower but it works fine. The water passes through the filter into the bottle fairly quickly. Just make sure you close the bottle properly though, as a leaking bottle in your bag definitely won’t put a smile on your face!

The bottles aren’t cheap at £24.95 each. Replacement filters cost £7.94 each or £19.94 for three. However, given the price of bottled water, this doesn’t represent all that many bottles. When you factor in the environmental benefits, it makes the decision easier.

Another pleasing aspect to buying a Hydros bottle is that the company contribute about 60 pence / $1 from each bottle sale to “sustainable water infastructure projects”. They remind us that one in seven people around the world – that’s over a billion people – don’t have access to clean, safe water. They currently partner with Engineers Without Borders to fund rural water projects such as Project Gundom in Cameroon. Visit their website to read their mission statement, criteria for choosing projects and Project Gundom.


Other reusable bottles on the market include Give Me Tap (£12 for a metal bottle, no filter), LifeBottle (£12 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter), Camelbak Groove (Approx £25 for a plastic bottle with integrated filter), Ohyo (£4.99 for a collapsible plastic bottle, no filter), Brita Fill & Go (£14.99 for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), H2Onya Bottle (£8.50-£10.50 depending on size for a stainless steel bottle, no filter), Bobble Bottles (£8.99-£12.99 depending on size, for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), Klean Kanteen Wide (£13.50-£26 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter included, but compatible with standard filters), Aladdin Papillon (Approx £10 for a plastic bottle, made from recycled material, no filter), Aladdin Aveo (£9for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter). Contigo Autoseal Madison (£Approx £15 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter), Kor Delta Hydration Vessel (Approx £20 for a plastic bottle, no filter) and Nalgene On The Fly (£Approx £13 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter).


Kavey Eats received a review sample Hydros Filtering Water Bottle.


Billy Law will already be familiar to those of you who follow his very popular food blog, A Table For Two. He also made it into the top 7 on Aussie Masterchef 2011. Born in Malaysia, he moved to Australia in the mid ‘90s to further his studies and has lived there ever since. On his blog, he explains that it was only when he moved, and missed the home-cooked dishes of Malaysia, that he took up cooking himself. These days, he cooks not only the cuisine of his native country but a wide range of Eastern and Western treats and there are plenty of both in his first cookbook, Have You Eaten?

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My book has the cover on the left, I think the other may be an Australian edition

The book is named for the common Malaysian greeting – not “How are you?” but “Have you eaten yet?”, which shows a commendable focus on the importance of food in the culture. This appeals to me!

One of the things I’ve long enjoyed about Billy’s blog is the beautiful food photography, which really shows off all his dishes so temptingly so it’s great news that he did the styling and photography for his book himself, bringing his trademark rich and warm style to the book. Recipes are easy to read and the whole book is a true feast for the eyes.

Dishes are divided into sections called Snack Attack, On The Side, Easy Peasy, Over The Top, Rice & Noodles Sugar Hit and Dress For Success, most of which I found self-explanatory except for the last one, which was obvious once I looked – it covers dressings, of course!

There are lots of recipes which appeal, from Guinness battered prawns to Pandan chicken, from Deep-fried salt and pepper tofu to Watermelon, baby tomato, chevre and candied walnut salad, from Breakfast pie to Ayam pongteh (braised potato chicken, from Beef Cheeks Bourgignon (using my favourite, Pedro Ximinez) to Burnt butter lobster tail with apple and salmon roe, from Claypot chicken and mushroom rice to Curry laksa, from Popcorn and salted caramel macarons to Gingerbread ice cream, from Wasabi mayonnaise to Chilli onion jam. And that’s just two from each section, there are many, many more that sound delicious.

The recipe we decided to make first was Billy’s Cola Chilli Chicken, as I’ve been reading about savoury recipes featuring Coca Cola for such a long time.


We skipped the cashews, as Pete’s not a fan, but otherwise followed the recipe as it was. We did find it needed quite a bit longer for the liquid to reduce down, but that may also be a factor of the size and shape of our wok and the heat we cooked over. Otherwise, it was very straightforward.

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The finished dish was absolutely delicious. The sauce wasn’t sickly sweet but beautifully balanced. Given how easy it was to cook, this is likely to be something we make again.


And it makes me even more excited to try many of the other recipes in the book.


Billy Law’s Have You Eaten? is currently available from Amazon UK for £16 (RRP £25).

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Hardie Grant Books.


Setting booze as a theme for December’s BSFIC seemed a no brainer! Tis the season to be merry, after all. Or perhaps full on tipsy verging on drunk!

Booze certainly brought out the best in you, with some wonderfully creative and delicious entries:


Both Monica from Smarter Fitter and I made our entries this month during a shared weekend of laughter, friendship, cooking, eating and relaxing. The Brown bread & Guinness Ice Cream she made from The Icecreamists book was wonderful, and she made extra caramelised brown bread to scatter over the top. We had this with home made treacle tart by Chef Legs! Delicious!


I went for a super quick and easy ice cream using ready made chocolate custard and biscuits and a bottle from the booze custard. My Chocolate, Amaretto and Amaretti Ice Cream was a simple but perfect combination and needed only as long as the ice cream machine took to churn it! I’ll be making this one again!

Cognac and Raisins Ice-Cream

When I saw Michael’s Cognac and Raisin Ice Cream on his blog Me, My Food and I, I asked him whether he’d consider entering it into this month’s BSFIC as it’s such a super fit. As well as macerating the raisins with the cognac, Michael adds cinnamon, orange zest and vanilla to pack flavour into the custard.

malibu ice cream

Jo from Comfort Bites confesses that she’s previously been a bit too heavy handed adding alcohol to her ice creams and the result has been a sloppy watery mess. This time, she reined herself in and was much happier with the results! Her Malibu Ice Cream sounds like a taste of tropical summer!

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As has been the case more than once, Alicia from FoodyCat used the same core ingredient as I did to create a completely different treat! Her Amaretto Nougat Glacé features amaretto, Spanish turrón and dried apricots folded into a Swiss meringue base. Like the condensed milk ice cream I made a while back, this works well served in slices, cut straight from the frozen block.


Claire from Under The Blue Gum Tree combined plump medjool dates (which she had leftover from a delicious sticky toffee run cake) and the zesty taste of oranges in her Cointreau & Date Ice Cream. I love how she’s made generously filled ice cream sandwiches to serve.

Zabaglione Tiramisu close up

Laura definitely knows How To Cook Good Food, as is evidenced by the appeal of her Frozen Zabaglione Tiramisu. She based her tiramisu ice cream cake on a recipe by Bill Granger but substituted the vanilla ice cream he suggests for a more decadent zabaglione ice cream recipe from Epicurious, flavoured with marsala wine. I think tiramisu is a great Christmas day dessert; even more so Laura’s frozen version!


Pete was keen to take part in this month’s BSFIC, given how well the theme fits into Pete Drinks. Having played around with the perfect proportions for a whisky mac earlier in the year, he decided to make a Whisky Mac Ice Cream, substituting bourbon instead of whisky. For the ginger, he used chopped stem ginger and some of the syrup it came in. These were mixed into a no-churn whipped cream base. Having tried it, I can confirm how delicious it was!

Vanesther from Bangers and Mash shared the perfect recipe for using up some of your Christmas leftovers with her Christmas Pudding Ice Cream. All you’ll need is the leftover pudding, some brandy and a pot of vanilla custard! I made something similar a few years ago, and loved it and have made it again since, using ready made custard, as Vanesther does here.


Donna from Beating Limitations has been making wonderful home made frozen treats all year, inspired by BSFIC not to bother with the shop-bought stuff any more. This month, she made her mum’s favourite flavour, Rum Raisin Ice Cream. She used an adapted David Lebovitz recipe and Elements 8 Spiced Rum, which she recommends for it’s spicy and citrus notes.


I love the way Christina from Little Red Courgette echoes her “year of excess” with her very indulgent Chocolate-Baileys Ice Cream with Spiced Pecans. Definitely not a diet recipe, she uses “two different types of chocolate, crunchy smokey-sweet pecans coated in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and smoked paprika, and enough Baileys to fell a horse.” I don’t know about the horse, but I definitely want a taste!


And that’s it for our boozy BSFIC! Thanks, folks!

You can find January’s challenge here.


I love chocolate. I love amaretto liqueur. And I love amaretti (macaroon biscuits).

This month, I combined all three to make a very simple, very quick and very delicious ice cream for December’s BSFIC booze challenge.

Incidentally, whilst amaretti biscuits are traditionally made from almonds, amaretto liqueur, which has a similar almond flavour, is commonly made from apricot pits, with or without almonds included.

In the UK, amaretto has become almost synonymous with Disaronno.

I have found the gradual rebranding of Disaronno amusing. It’s been so successful that many people now don’t even realise that Disaronno is simply one brand of amaretto liqueur amongst others. When I was a teenager in the 1980s (and getting into such drinks), the brand was still called Amaretto di Saronno Originale, which simply translated as ‘original amaretto from Saronno’, a town in Lombardy, Italy. Sometime in late eighties or early nineties, owners ILLVA changed the name to Amaretto Disaronno Originale, changing Disaronno from a geographical indication into the brand. And around the turn of the century, they dropped the word amaretto from the bottles completely and rebranded to Disaronno Originale.

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That means it’s now far more common for drinkers to ask the barman for a Disaronno than for a generic amaretto, pushing competitors firmly to the side-lines. Clever marketing! Other well-established brands I’ve come across include Galliano, Lazzaroni (who dispute ILLVA’s claim to the story of the origins of amaretto) and Zuidam, though there are many others.

If you like Disaronno, as I do, it’s definitely worth seeking out and trying other brands.

You can also find many less expensive own-label amaretto liqueurs including Arino Amaretto from Morrison’s, Armilar Amaretto from Lidl, Belluci Amaretto from Aldi (which seems to be the cheapest), Soiree Amaretto from Asda and Sainsbury’s and Bella Veroni Amaretto from Tesco, which is available in standard and espresso versions.

If you’re worried how to use up the rest of a bottle, it’s lovely served after dinner over ice and it’s also a superb liqueur to use for making tiramisu.


Quick & Easy Chocolate, Amaretto & Amaretti Ice Cream

500 grams fresh chocolate custard (I used Waitrose Seriously Creamy Belgian Chocolate Custard)
4-5 amaretti biscuits, crushed
3-4 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (I used Tesco’s Bella Veroni espresso version)
To serve:
1-2 amaretti biscuits, crushed



  • Pour the custard directly into your ice cream machine and add the amaretto liqueur immediately.

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  • When the ice cream is nearly frozen, add 4-5 crushed amaretti biscuits.


  • To serve, sprinkle additional crushed amaretti biscuits over the top.


As you can see, this recipe is so quick that it really takes only as long as your ice cream machine takes to churn and freeze it!

The flavours and textures work very well. The crushed biscuits within the ice cream soften a little on exposure to the liquid, whereas the ones sprinkled over the top before serving give more crunch.

Try other variations by combining your favourite liqueurs with either a chocolate or vanilla custard base. I like using fresh, but long life custards do work too, and have the advantage of allowing you to make a stock cupboard ice cream dessert at very short notice – as long as you keep a few cartons of custard in your cupboard!


This is my entry for December’s BSFIC.


Earlier this year, Valrhona released what they’re calling the fourth chocolate (after dark, milk and white) and that is blond chocolate.

They’ve named it Dulcey, though I can’t tell you how that’s pronounced. At the London-based launch event, some Valrhona staff pronounced it with a soft “s” and others with a hard “ch“. “Dulsey” or “Dulchi“, take your pick.


Although home cooks and dessert chefs have been caramelising white chocolate for many years, Valrhona seem to be taking credit for inventing it, and even trot out the unlikely story of it being an accidental discovery on the part of a Valrhona chocolatier who forgot some white chocolate in an oven for a few hours. Who knows for certain, but came over as pure marketing story-weaving!

Regardless of the true origins, it’s definitely a fascinating product.

The sweet, butterscotch fudge flavours are reminiscent of childhood confectionery Caramac, though a side by side comparison by a friend makes it abundantly clear that the two products are nothing alike. As we all agreed, Caramac tastes of sugar and cheap fat, with a slightly grainy texture. Dulcey is silky smooth, with a far richer, more complex and delicious flavour.

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You could eat it on its own, if you have a sweet tooth. It’ll probably appeal more to fans of white chocolate than dark, of course. However, where it comes into its own is as an ingredient for desserts. At the launch, we tried a range of dainty treats such as panna cottas, tarts and chocolate truffles, all showcasing the Dulcey and all very good.

Leaving the launch, we were given a small sample to take home. Going through ideas for recipes, I considered making Cookies of Dreams, chocolate ice cream or a chocolate fondue, all of which I think would work very well.

In the end, I decided to make some quick and simple hot chocolate.

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Caramelised White Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

40 grams of caramelised white chocolate
500 ml milk, whole, semi or skimmed as you prefer

Note: If you can’t readily find Valrhona Dulcey, you can caramelise white chocolate at home. Here’s a handy YouTube tutorial.


  • Heat the milk to just below boiling point. I used a microwave, but you could also use a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Whilst the milk is heating, break the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Remove the milk from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and completely combined.
  • Pour into mugs and serve.

Of course, this is the same way I make dark hot chocolate too, and you can ring the changes by making this with the many great flavoured chocolates available such as Green & Black’s Maya Gold, which works really well.

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