Sake Lees Pickle Recipe

Infuse your vegetable pickles with the deep umami richness of sake lees and watch as their color brightens naturally!

| April 2019


Sake Lees Pickle Recipe

I’m pretty excited to be writing about sake lees right now. Initially I was worried that you wouldn’t be able to get your hands on any and didn’t want to tease you with this. But sake lees is experiencing a true renaissance in Japan, where it has long been easily available in the fresh food section of any grocer. It is also widely available in parts of the US. Just like a SCOBY this is something you may or may not need to search for.

 Sake lees is a by-product in the sake (rice wine) making process, and has been used for flavour and cooking in Japan for a very long time. Sake lees will add a certain umami when used with other products, or can be used as a vehicle for further fermentation. Fresh sake smells pretty yeasty, like beer or brewer’s yeast. You may get it in sheet form, or the softer, handpressed kind. I can get the softer variety frozen and imported from our Japanese food shop, but the sheet style comes from a sake brewery just outside of Sydney. Sheet form is probably more common, but has been pressed by machinery rather than hand squeezed. The hand-pressed kind is called namakasu (raw lees).

 Sake lees is a great marinade – blend it with soy sauce, honey and a herb, such as thyme, and use as a marinade for duck, chicken or a dense fish such as mackerel. We’ve done this quite a bit with chicken pieces before putting them onto skewers. Leave coated in this marinade, covered and refrigerated for a full 24 hours. The flavours are deep and the meat tender.

Sake lees pickle bed (sake kasu)

 It’s not pretty, but I use a zip-lock bag and it sits on the top shelf in the fridge door, so I can easily give it a bit of a massage and a feel when I remember.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Fermentation time: 4–5 days

Ingredients and equipment:

  • zip-lock bag or small bowl with a lid or pickle press or jar
  • 50 g (1-3/4 oz) sake lees, torn into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • herbs and spices, to your liking (optional; see notes)
  • carrots or burdock, washed, peeled and cut into rectangular slices (see notes)


  1. In a bowl, combine the sake lees and water. Massage the lees vigorously until you get a paste. Add the sugar, salt and herbs and spices (if using), then mix well to a thick consistency.
  2. Pour the lees mixture into a plastic zip-lock bag, small bowl with a lid, pickle press or jar.
  3. Add the carrot or burdock slices and massage through well, so that the vegetables are coated in the sake lees mixture.
  4. Leave to marinate in the fridge.
  5. In 4–5 days, the vegetables will have become delicious lees pickles. Wipe off the excess sake lees and serve.


The sake lees pickling bed can be reused 2–3 more times. When you’re finished with it, pop it into your compost, chook food or pet food, a bit at a time.

You can add chilli or herbs and spices to flavour the sake kasu.

You can also use other vegetables. For daikon (white radish), regular radish or cucumbers and other watery vegies, sprinkle with a little salt, let rest, then squeeze the water out before adding to the pickling bed. They’ll be ready within 24 hours.

More from Ferment For Good:


Cover courtesy of Hardie Grant Books

Recipes excerpted with permission from Ferment For Good by Sharon Flynn, published by Hardie Grant Books May 2017, RRP $29.99 hardcover.



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