Japanese researchers hope to be the first to turn wood into booze
Besides making a pleasant drink, turning trees into alcohol will also ‘help promote the forestry industry’, says technique’s developer Yuichiro Otsuka
Researchers in Japan have developed a technique for making alcohol by fermenting wood, paving the way for the creation of the world’s first wood liquor.
The safety of the product, which carries the distinctive aroma of the type of wood it is made from, as a drink is yet to be confirmed, but the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute hopes people will be toasting with it soon.
While bioethanol, also an alcohol made from wood, has long existed as a fuel, it is made using heat and sulphuric acid, making the product unsuitable for drinking.
The technique developed by the institute does not require the use of such a harmful substance or heating, which takes away the unique scent of the wood used.
Instead, the alcohol is made by adding water to the wood chips, grinding them with a food-processing machine until the content becomes a liquid, and adding enzymes and yeast to ferment it before it is distilled.
The final product of the two-week process is a liquid with an alcohol content of 20 per cent and unique aroma of the ingredient wood.
“We can find a new appeal in trees if we can create a tasty alcoholic drink from them,” said Yuichiro Otsuka, who developed the technique, adding, “It will help promote the forestry industry too.”
Alcohol made from cedar has a refreshing smell, while that made from white birch has a fragrance found in whisky or brandy matured in wooden barrels for a long period. Cherry tree alcohol has a sweet scent.
The institute said it is still analysing the content of the alcohol and will seek to commercialise the beverages by partnering with businesses.
Japan has one of the highest ratios of forest areas among developed countries, with two-thirds of its land covered by forests, according to the Forestry Agency.
But the forestry industry has long suffered from labour shortages, falling demand and price competition as a result of cheaper imports.
Output by the industry stood at 466.2 billion yen (US$4.2 billion) in 2016, roughly 40 per cent of its peak of 1.16 trillion yen in 1980.