Red Yeast Rice (Hong Qu)
Red yeast rice, or hong qu, is a traditional Chinese food and herbal medicine. Following numerous clinical studies, it’s now received growing attention in the West for its cholesterol-lowering qualities and is one of the top-selling supplements on sites like Amazon. Thanks to its high nutritional content and smooth, unique taste, red yeast wine has been a popular drink in China for thousands of years, with new mothers in particular drinking it during the 30-day “confinement period” after giving birth, for nourishment.
In Chinese medicine, hong qu has been historically used to treat indigestion and invigorate blood circulation. It also relieves pain due to trauma and injuries when combined with other herbs, such as yan hu suo (rhizoma corydalis) and dang gui.
It’s easy to make red yeast rice wine and there are numerous recipes online but my mom’s secret tip is to use an oak stirring stick to enhance the flavor. She also keeps the storage area and equipment super clean to avoid any contamination, as the wine can easily spoil if it comes into contact with oil.
Time to Make Red Yeast Rice Wine! 🍷
Red Yeast Rice (RYR), also called koji, is a traditional Chinese medicine ingredient popular in China, Japan, and other Asian countries. A medicinal remedy and health food since ancient times, it has been used in at least 24 TCM prescriptions for treating various chronic diseases, and was first recorded in the Local Chronicles of Gutian, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD).
RYR has been used to lower cholesterol, relieve anxiety and stress, reduce inflammation, enhance immunity, and fight cancer. A recent research report also noted its anti-obesity, anti-fatigue, and anti-microbial activities. The fermentation used in making RYR wine further adds to its health benefits, producing GABA in the process. GABA helps lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety and stress, making RYR wine a drink that many like to sip at night, including former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping—his doctor actually ordered him to drink RYR wine before bed to reduce stress levels.
RYR has met with some controversy in the US, as it contains a cholesterol-lowering statin called monacolin K, which pharma company Merck has patented in its drug, Mevacor. Despite this, many have discovered the naturally occurring medicinal benefits of consuming RYR, and in capsule form, it is one of the top-selling supplements on Amazon.
In China, RYR wine is commonly made at home, as it is easy and requires only 3 ingredients—it’s also ready to drink in only 30 days. RYR wine is only made this time of year, as cooler weather produces the finest quality rice wine and the timing of the “harvest” is aligned with Chinese New Year celebrations.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to buy:
5 lbs. short grain sweet rice (glutinous rice) – Sho-Chiku-Bai rice is very high quality
0.5 lb. red yeast rice
3.5 dried yeast balls - rice wine starter (they also come in blocks)
Oak wooden dowel stirrer - this is the “secret ingredient” in my family – it enhances taste!
Red yeast rice wine is easy to make but a bit time-consuming, in that you need to dedicate about a minute a day to stir and clean the stirrer, and it takes around 30 days to “ripen.” My recipe yields a little more than a gallon of wine, and given the time and effort needed, how inexpensive the ingredients are, and how delicious and healthy the end result, I think it would be a waste to not make at least this amount—I usually make a batch twice this large!
Note: It is crucial that no oil touches the ingredients, as this will spoil the batch. Make sure everything is thoroughly washed and disinfected (hands included!)
1.Wash and soak glutinous rice overnight—add enough water to cover the rice by 2-3”
2. In the am, drain the rice
3. Fill a large steamer with water (about 3” high). Add rice, wrapped in muslin. Use your finger and poke a few holes through the rice so the steam can rise and cook the rice evenly. Steam on medium-high for 25 min. The steamed rice should be plump but remain individual grains (see photo)—it must not be mushy, which creates sour wine. Let the rice cool completely
4. Ground the yeast balls into powder using a mortar and pestle. Pour the red yeast rice into a bowl and add the powder, mixing well
5. Add a handful of glutinous rice into the bucket. Layer one handful of red yeast rice mixture on top and combine well with your hands, then repeat until all rice has been used up. Leave one handful of red yeast rice mixture for Step 6
6. Boil 1 gallon of water and let it cool completely. Add this water to the mixture, then sprinkle the last handful of red yeast rice mixture on top
7. Cover the bucket but leave the top untightened, as this will allow gas from fermentation to escape. The bucket should be kept at room temperature and out of direct sunlight
8. Stir the mixture once a day with a clean wooden dowel or spatula (wash it after every stir and store it in a clean place). You’ll start to notice that it smells quite delicious after just a few days!
9. Once all the rice has sunk to the bottom, the wine is ready to drink—this takes 20-30 days (with 30 days being the maximum time you should allow it to ferment). Harvest the wine by pouring out the liquid into a jug or bottle; store the residual rice, called the wine lees, separately—this is healthy and prized in Chinese cooking and can be used to make vibrantly colored savory dishes, buns, or even mooncake
10. Celebrate that you just made homemade rice wine!
Are you going to be trying your hand at winemaking?
Note: This photo was taken 3 days after starting the process, and it was already very aromatic!