It’s a known fact that Japanese sake goes well with pretty much anything, especially chocolate! Alice Ngan has explored this combination with Ecila Sake Chocolates, a brand that uses sake and sake kasu to create premium chocolate products.
Yamato Magazine presents an interview with Alice that covers her experience in sake, opening up a chocolate business in Toronto and exploring the local nihonshu scene. Remember that stressed is dessert spelt backwards, so grab your favourite sweet treat and enjoy reading this interview at your leisure.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Alice. For those who’re unfamiliar with Ecila Sake Chocolates explain the story behind the brand and what inspired its creation.
Sake is an extremely refined drink full of delicacy, and I am fascinated by it! Hence, I decided to develop my expertise in sake, and enrolled in different levels of sake courses organised by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in 2017.
Then not only did I have the opportunity to understand the production methods that affect the style, quality and price of sake; but I also came up with an idea of using sake in chocolate!
Soon after I had this in mind, I began my research and interviewed with pastry chefs. Together with my knowledge and training at the Chocolate Academy in Montreal, I successfully created new recipes for my sake chocolates.
What was your first experience with nihonshu?
I started to like alcoholic drinks at an early age. This might be related to my family culture, as my grandparents, parents and their siblings are alcohol lovers.
I learned how to appreciate the taste of Japanese sake, a.k.a. nihonshu, from them. Although my first experience with nihonshu was a long time ago, I did remember how I liked it. My taste buds were delighted with the subtle alcoholic flavours in nihonshu, and the rice and grain flavours in it. What I enjoyed the most was the smoothness in the palate.
What is it about sake lees that make them such a great ingredient for making chocolate?
Sake lees, a.k.a. sake kasu in the Japanese language, are the solid cake left over from the filtration process during sake production. Sake lees contain undissolved rice, yeast, and about 8% alcohol.
They are jam-packed with protein, carbohydrates, fibre and other nutrients. When sake lees are used for making chocolate, they are mixed with other ingredients. The heat in the cooking actually causes a significant amount of alcohol to evaporate; therefore, the finished sake kasu chocolate bonbons just have a hint of alcoholic flavour, but they show off tremendous flavours from other ingredients that a chef wants to emphasise.
It’s scientifically proven that eating sake lees can improve our blood circulation, moisturises and whitens the human skin.
2020 was a difficult year to the say the least for hospitality and food businesses. What kind of initiatives did you introduce to bring Ecila Sake Chocolates to people in lockdown?
I joined online markets and have been creating interesting posts on social media to promote my products. Due to the lockdown, I’ve more time to research and do experimental cooking in the kitchen. So, I keep offering new sake chocolate products to customers through my online shop, social media platform and direct email to existing customers.
With sourcing local ingredients being an important part of your brand mission, which businesses do you work with to create your products?
Izumi, the only sake brewery in Toronto, supplies me with the fresh sake kasu. I also work with local chocolate ambassadors and food suppliers.
One of the many great things about sake is its ability to be paired with any kind of food. Which types of sake would you recommend people pair with your chocolates?
I recommend customers enjoy sake chocolates in their leisure time and regard the chocolates as your precious sweets. I think sake chocolates are good matches for ginjo and daiginjo, especially for the ginjo and daiginjo with heavy flower and fruit flavours.
Besides, it’s wonderful to pair sake chocolates with sparkling sake because the crisp and refreshing taste of sparkling sake contrasts beautifully with the rich and creamy texture of chocolate.
For the adventurous person who like to explore innovative tastes, I think pairing sake chocolates with kijoshu can satisfy their taste buds.
Nihonshu has become increasingly popular in the US in recent years and it’d be interesting to hear about what it’s like in Canada. Are there any other sake related businesses operating in Canada that you’d recommend people check out?
There are 3 sake breweries in Canada. Two of them are in British Columbia, and one in Toronto, Canada. Izumi is the micro-scale sake brewery located in the Distillery District in Toronto. Visitors can join their brewery tours on the weekends to learn how sake is made. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Izumi offers virtual brewery tours.
As for related events, I recommend sake enthusiasts check out the annual Kampai Toronto Sake Festival and pay a visit to the sake booths in the annual Japan Festival CANADA.
What kind of new releases are you working on for the future and are there any new partnerships you’re excited to talk about?
I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with Kiyoko and Massey Miyashita from Kado Enterprise to develop brand new fruit flavoured sake chocolate bonbons with higher alcoholic content.
Kado Enterprise is the agent to import the premium sake and shochu from Japan into Toronto, Canada. In our collaboration, I’m sure we’ll bring more creative flavours to chocoholics and sake lovers, while Kado Enterprise continues to scout exotic and innovative sakes in Japan and import them over.
Where would you like to see the business in five years’ time and are their plans to expand beyond Canada?
Our business is currently focusing on Toronto. Hopefully the market penetration will expand to all major specialty stores throughout Canada in five years. We also have plans to bring our products to Japan, China and Italy.