What Is Koji?
Koji is the hottest trend in culinary industry and chefs around the world are keen to explore how to apply it in their own cooking. However, until quite recently, it is hardly known outside Japan.
Why koji now? Why it attracts people so much? Let's find out.
Koji is a tool
with great transformative power
Proven examples in Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine is deeply rooted in fermentation and koji is at the very heart of it. No koji means no sake nor shochu. Also no soy-sauce nor miso. These Japanese signature drinks and important condiments which clearly characterise Japanese-ness in food wouldn't have existed.
Yet, the ingredients of these are surprisingly simple. For example, sake is made only from rice and water. Miso is made only from soybean and salt. With koji being catalyst, the deep aroma and complex tasted are magically produced during the fermentation.
And it is this catalytic power of koji, chefs around the world are eagerly seeking.
What is behind
ITS transformative power
Outstanding Enzyme production power
Where does the koji's powerful transformative capability comes from?
It is its outstanding enzymatic production which backs up these magical transformation and makes koji a very unique creature on this planet. Koji is also referred to as "the department store of enzymes" and known to produce numerous number of enzymes in abundant quantity. Among them, three of them are of particular importance in food application, ie amylase, protease and lipase which respectively create sweetness, umami and aroma from nothing. In other word, it creates tastes which didn't exist in the original ingredients as well as elevates flavour profile without adding anything else.
This is where the uniqueness of koji resides.
Great Maestro in fermentation
The picture on the right shows the uniqueness of koji ferments.
As you can see koji rarely works on its own. Rather it works in collaboration with other microbes such as lactic acid bacteria, yeast etc and create a beautiful harmony in ferments. The flavour deepens and layers of umami are created which appeals to human tastes buds.
Koji selflessly offers the substance which these other microbes please and they works in harmoniously. Great orchestral work created by Koji.
A mold called aspergillus oryzae
True figure of koji is the symbiotic mold lives in ears of rice and it grows well on steamed grains such as rice, barley and soybean.
Like other molds, it likes to be in warm humid place. Molds in general grows whether you like them to or not if the right conditions are provided. From this sense, against the general perception, it is actually not that difficult to master the skill of growing koji once you understand their nature.
Beyond food application
The usefulness of koji's enzyme is not confined only to the food application.
Because enzymes are the substances to break down large molecules into small, it contribute to the circulation of materials.
The potential of the area that koji would prove to be useful is limitless, to name a few, in livestock, sustainability and biomedical and the implementation has already began.
Extra Story :
How koji came into Japanese Lives
Japan is a beautiful mountainous country with lots of active and dormant volcanoes and is surrounded by the ocean. However, because of these unique geographical settings as well as the fact that it is located on the pass way of tropical typhoon, it has been struck by numbers of major natural disasters from ancient times.
The Japanese ancestor believed these disasters were underlined by the god’s anger and made offering of foods (typically rice) to shrines.
As Japan is a country of high-temperature and high-humidity, it is not hard to imagine that the rice quickly became mouldy and then turned into sake. This very mould was koji.
As in many other culture, then Japanese regarded sake being special medium to communicate with gods (because when you drink, your mind is freed from reality and you see different world as if you trance to spiritual world) and hence believed this holy mould, which turns rice gratefully into sake, was a gift from them.
Sake is deeply intertwined with the concepts of Japanese religion, which in turn led to the development of many traditional performing arts and music. From this sense, you could say that the whole of Japanese culture has been nurtured by koji.