The unique flavor of Korean Rice Wine (Makgeolli)

Step foot in any Korean restaurant, and you’ll find beer, soju and makgeolli on the menu. Makgeolli (pronounced mə-ˈkˈgō-lē) is the oldest known Korean alcoholic beverage, dating back to the first century BCE. Fruity, sweet and slightly sour, this unfiltered traditional rice wine has gained popularity in recent years. Makgeolli is consumed straight or used as a flavorful base for trendy cocktails, desserts and more.

The aromatic profile of Makgeolli

At Foodpairing® we begin each of our studies of various ingredients with a thorough aroma analysis. This information enables us to determine best matches for makgeolli based on its aromatic profile and the principle that ingredients that share key scents pair well with one another. Read more about the science behind Foodpairing®.

The findings of our molecular analysis of makgeolli are visualized in the easy-to-understand aroma wheel. As you can see below, the different aroma molecules have been broken down and sorted by category and are labeled using more general, familiar aromatic descriptors like fruity, floral, spicy and woody.

Makgeolli’s dominant fruity apple and banana-scented aromas are derived from its fermentation process and pair well with black currants, camembert, blue cheese, cardamom and black teas.

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Makgeolli and its aromatic pairings

The four main categories of aromas present in makgeolli provide us with links to many other types of ingredients. Its dominant fruity apple and banana-scented aromas are derived from the natural fermentation process and pair well with black currants, camembert, blue cheese, cardamom and black teas.

We also find floral rose and honey-scented notes that complement other ingredients such as blueberries, apples, tomatoes, artichokes, beets, butternut squash, basil, cinnamon, chiles and even roast chicken.

Spicy vanilla and woody aromas are also present to a lesser degree in makgeolli. During the fermentation process, this complex rice wine develops cheese-scented notes, along with some green, caramellic and even animal notes.

A hundred days of fermentation

Makgeolli is made from a glutinous rice porridge (also wheat or barley) that has been inoculated with noorook enzymes (the whole wheat-based starter mold Aspergillus kawachi), before being left uncovered to ferment for one hundred days. During this period, the noorook enzymes convert the rice into a milky, whitish alcohol mixture. The makgeolli is then strained and pressed to extract the unfiltered, naturally fermented liquid.

Glutinous rice porridge is inoculated with noorook enzymes that catalyze the fermentation of makgeolli, transforming it into a naturally carbonated, milky alcoholic mixture.

Commercially produced makgeolli is available in a variety of fruit flavors such as raspberry, peach, apple and strawberry. Its sweet taste and low alcohol content of 6 to 8% proof makes it especially easy to drink. Unlike other alcohol beverages, makgeolli is enjoyed in its unfiltered form and shaken or stirred before drinking.

Studies show…

Makgeolli has many health benefits. The naturally fermented rice wine is comprised of 80% water and 10% dietary fiber, with a remaining 10% made up of lactic acid bacteria, enzymes, proteins and vitamins that are a product of the fermentation process. Researchers have determined that there are 100 million anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting lactic acid bacteria per every one milliliter of makgeolli, which Koreans say is the key to longevity!

How to use Korean rice wine in cocktails

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