TSUKUBA, Ibaraki -- While cherry blossom viewing parties are a spring ritual in Japan, participants may soon be able to toast the pink petals with liquor made from the trees themselves.
A research team has developed a technique by which wood can be fermented to create alcoholic drinks that possess a distinctive woody scent.
The Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) now intends to check whether or not its beverage is safe to drink, with the aim of collaborating with a private firm and unveiling the world's first "wood-based alcoholic drink" by fiscal 2020.
The institute has carried out test manufacturing with Somei Yoshino cherry blossom trees, cedar and white birch, and produced about 3.8 liters' worth of liquid from 4.4 kilograms of cedar -- possessing an alcohol content similar to wine.
Although there is already a technique of utilizing wood to make bioethanol -- a type of alcohol used for fuel -- the process requires sulfuric acid. As a result, the parts of the wood that provide its woody aroma are destroyed, meaning that the end product cannot really be used for anything other than fuel.
However, by pulverizing the wood into a creamy substance and adding enzymes and yeast used for cooking, FFPRI has created a technique of fermenting wood while maintaining the "lignin" polymer -- a primary component of wood -- as well as the parts related to scent.
The drink that is made from cedar using the FFPRI technique smells like cedar, while the beverage made from white birch smells like beverages such as cask-matured whisky. By changing the type of wood, it is apparently possible to create a range of drinks with various aromas.
"In the future it might be possible to enjoy cherry blossom viewing while drinking an alcoholic beverage that is made from the tree itself. Making alcoholic drinks with wood from the region could lead to a new type of revenue for the area, which in turn would provide a boost to the forestry industry," says Haruo Sawada, director general of the FFPRI. (Japanese original by Ai Oba, Tsukuba Bureau)