Okinawa, Japan, is home to some of the longest-living people in the world, with one of the highest rates of centenarians. It’s also home to awamori, the island’s signature alcoholic beverage not unlike sake.
Okinawans have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and dementia than Americans, and credit their longevity in part to close social circles, or moai. Blue Zones expert Dan Buettner explains that moai is a group of lifelong friends that provide varying forms of support ranging from social and financial to health and spiritual interest. Awamori is a big part of socialization in Okinawa, and Hayashi Nakazato, the president of Kamimura Shuzo Distillery, one of Okinawa’s key awamori producers, that it quite literally brings people together.
“Unlike wine and beer whose large glasses give a sense of distance from each other, awamori’s sake cups bring us together,” says Nakazato in an interview with Savvy Tokyo. Chibuguwa, the cups used to drink awamori are very small (the size of a thimble), so when groups come together to toast, they have to get very close. “It naturally makes you come closer to each other,” he says.
A rice-based distilled liquor, awamori doesn’t get much attention outside of Okinawa, but it has been a part of the island’s culture for more than 600 years. It’s made from long grain indica, or Thai rice, because it’s hard and smooth which makes it easier to malt. When malted, it becomes koji, a fungus that generates large amounts of citric acid and converts starch to sugar, which is then fermented with water and yeast, and distilled. When awamori has been aged for three or more years, it becomes kusu.
Many people drink awamori mixed with water. A 6:4 or 5:5 ratio of awamori to water is great when enjoying a vintage awamori, or you can enjoy a 3:7 ratio of you’re looking for a little kick while you quench your thirst. It can also be used in cocktails or enjoyed as a digestif.
Some Okinawans enjoy awamori alongside a delicious plant-based meal. Buettner explains that older Okinawans have eaten a plant-based diet most of their lives, and enjoy nutrient-dense meals including stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu. And now, a toast to longevity.