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 How to Make Lihing

There are many ways of preparing rice wine, and many taboos to be observed, but recipes and taboos vary from region to region. A generally applicable recipe is given here below, the way the Kadazan of the Penampang area make their famous lihing.

Ingredients & Method

  • 1 gantang (3.5 kg) pulut (glutinous rice) cooked ‘al dente’, with just enough water. It is important that the rice is not overcooked, as this would spoil the taste of the wine

  • Once cooked the rice is spread on a mat, or on a tray called ‘kohintung’, and allowed to cool for a couple of hours

  • When the rice is not too hot any more (you can touch it without burning your fingers), the yeast, pounded and ground to a fine powder, is added. The whole is thoroughly mixed and transferred to a jar (a plastic bucket with a fitting lid will do the trick, too)

Fermentation

Traditionally the jars are washed, and scrubbed inside with guava leaves. Before rice enters they are thoroughly sun-dried. The jar is sealed with banana leaves, or tarap leaves (or, nowadays, with plastic bags and a rubber band).

Many taboos have to be observed during the making of rice wine. Thus one is not allowed to swear or fight during the cooking process, or to talk bad and loudly. Other taboos are connected to practical hygiene, such as the rule that one cannot touch lemons or any other sour thing during the preparations. This could turn the wine sour. Hygiene is paramount, and in olden days often the whole family was banned from the house when mother prepared rice wine.

Often a piece of charcoal, or a small knife called pa’is is placed on top of the jar with the fermenting rice, to prevent bad spirits from entering the recipient and spoil the wine – lihing, being an entirely natural wine, will turn into vinegar when left exposed to air.

Drainage

After two weeks, one can insert a straw into the rice, and add a little water to the slightly fermented mash. The thus served lihing is called sosopon, or siopon. If left to ferment for one month, one can drain (manganaas) the wine and drink it from traditional bamboo cup called suki. The Kadazan make a rice wine filter from bamboo (tataas), which is inserted into the jar and he wine is scooped out from the bamboo.

Storage & Aging

The wine ages very well in its jar (or bottle) and the best one can keep for several years. It will go through a sherry process and turn first an amber gold, then black. Some people burry their jars, and at very special occasions open the wine, which by then can reach around 22% vol., the highest degree of alcohol one can achieve by natural fermentation.

Rice Mash

The mash of the rice (hampas), after fermentation and drainage of the wine, is often distilled to extract rice alcohol (talak or montoku).

Headhunter's Lihing

The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd is the producer of the exclusive Headhunter's Lihing, which is packaged in an attractive souvenir bottle and sold in a few select souvenir boutiques in Sabah, such as the Borneo Trading Post.

Our rice wine is fermented for up to two months, then carefully drained. We use natural filtration and let sediments settle prior to bottling, but initially your rice wine might still be cloudy, or have a white deposit at the bottom of the bottle. If you keep it longer it will go through a natural sherry process and turn first an amber gold, and finally black.

For best drinking pleasure we generally suggest to enjoy the lihing within a year from bottling.

Lihing Uses

With its slightly sweetish, sherry like taste Lihing makes an excellent aperitif, chilled or at room temperature.

Lihing is also excellent in drinks and mixes very well with neutral alcohols such as white rum or vodka. Topped up with fruit juices and ice lihing makes for a ‘tribal’ long drink!

And lihing is very suitable for cooking. Traditionally local as well as Chinese women in confinement would eat chicken soup with ginger and fortified with rice wine for one month to strengthen the body after their pregnancy and birth. This soup is, however, not only for women in confinement; it is an excellent tonic for a tired body and to chase away the flu! But one can also cook other meats and even fish with rice wine, using it just like any other white wine in traditional cuisine, and in our recipe selection you will find some inspiration.

The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd also produces lihing for the local Sabah market.

Read our full feature on rice wine here.

For enquiries and to know where you can purchase lihing please contact us.

Yeast and glutinous rice


The rice is cooked and layered in pails (for maximum hygiene)


Fermentation storage at the Flying Dusun - the rice is fermented for 1-2 months


The rice is drained and filtered naturally by letting sediments settle


manual bottle filling...


... and braiding with rattan