What is koji and how can it affect gut health?

UPacking a pack of koji for the first time can easily make you feel like a professional chef about to take out the competition on a sizzling cooking show (or a kid on Christmas morning). After all, you’re dealing with an ingredient bursting with umami that will take your cooking skills from 0 to 100.

You ask what is koji? It is a safe to eat mushroom, also known as Aspergillus oryzae, traditionally used in Japanese cuisine to make everything from sake, miso to soy sauce. It has also been linked to improved digestion, skin, and gut health. To learn more about the benefits of consuming koji, we spoke with a number of experts, including a Japanese food historian, a nutritionist and a culinary chef, to get Full details about this fermented food. Plus, a summary of how consuming koji for a week affects my digestion and sleep—FYI, that’s 10/10 in my book.

What is koji, according to a Japanese food historian

To learn more about the cultural significance of cooking with koji, we spoke with Eric Rath, PhD, a professor of premodern Japanese history and dietary culture at the University of Kansas. “Koji refers to a variety of molds used in fermentation…[it] There are about 50 enzymes, says Dr. Rath, and they break down starches in grains like rice into sugars to make them available for yeast to consume during fermentation.

According to the professor, the product made from fermented rice dates back many centuries in Japanese history – up to the eighth century – and was used to make many of the Japanese ingredients we know, love and consume. daily. “In Japan, koji is essential for making alcoholic beverages like sake and awamori, flavorings like miso and soy sauce, and fermented foods like traditional sushi and pickles,” says Dr. Rath.

In recent years, chefs and food enthusiasts worldwide have begun experimenting more and more with koji, as it’s an easy and delicious way to infuse tons of umami-rich flavors. for protein and vegetables, and can also be used to cure meats. “A modern use of koji is ‘salt koji’ – known as shio koji in Japanese – which is a mixture of salt, koji-soaked rice and water,” says Dr. Rath. amazed at the many ways koji can infuse both sweetness and umami into food.”

A registered dietitian weighs in on the health benefits of consuming koji

In addition to its rich history and delicious salty-sweet flavors, know that koji is really Good for you. “Like other fermented foods, koji is beneficial because it contains probiotics, friendly gut bacteria that can improve digestion,” says Laura Iu, RD, CDN, CNSC, a registered dietitian. chemistry and overall health. “It’s also rich in essential B vitamins, which are important in skin cell regeneration, energy, and brain function.”

Iu explains that koji can be found in many different food products and is a gut-healthy way to add umami flavor to any food. “For example, a common use of shio koji is to marinate and soften proteins, while shoyu koji is a soy sauce that can be delicious in a salad dressing. As a super versatile ingredient, koji adds rich flavor to plant-based dishes and enhances meat-based dishes,” she says.

For those who can (and should) eat this flavor-boosting food, Iu says it’s been around for centuries and is a staple in Japanese cuisine that’s considered safe for human consumption. most people when consumed in moderation. Studies have also shown that this ingredient contains a compound called glycosylceramide that functions as a prebiotic that could be the link between Japanese cuisine, gut microbiota and longevity. Though, as always, she recommends consulting a dietitian to make sure it’s right for your individual needs.

How a professional chef recommends cooking with it at home

Christopher Arturo, chef and Culinary Arts instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, has such a deep love for koji that he began cultivating it himself in the school’s fermentation lab. With a balance of ingredients, science and a lot of patience, Arturo discovered the best ways to incorporate koji into his everyday dishes. He explains that humidity and temperature are the two main factors he has to control when making koji from scratch.

In the lab, Arturo grows koji in a temperature- and humidity-controlled cedar chamber set to around 85°F and 70% humidity, allowing mold spores to grow on cooked rice. While it can take weeks to hone, the chef prefers to make it from scratch, as it gives him the freedom to more precise flavor control and gives him access to freshly made ingredients at all times. . Of course, he notes that if you don’t have the time or fancy equipment to make your own, he says you can find lots of great packaged koji products at Japanese grocery stores. Village, specialty market or online. To find a high-quality product, Arturo says that a good batch of koji smells like a freshly opened bottle of sake and has a “sweet delight.”

One of Arturo’s favorite ways to use this ingredient is with “quick-dry aging” steak, where he uses shio koji as a marinade to transform the protein into a super tender and umami-rich dish. “Koji is a super thirsty mold, and through excellent osmosis science, it will continue to draw moisture out of the protein to drink,” he said. When this happens, Arturo explains, mold undergoes an enzymatic reaction that breaks down the outside of the protein to form glutamate, one of the ingredients that gives umami flavor, creating a sweeter, richer dish. more and even more flavorful.

While making a koji-marinated New York strip steak is Arturo’s way of doing it, he says you shouldn’t stop there. He’s also experimented with soaking everything from chili peppers to cucumbers to plums with his koji’s morphing powers.

I Tried Eating Koji Every Day For A Week — Here’s What Happened

Growing up in a Japanese-American family, eating koji-based foods like soy sauce and miso was the norm. However, with limited access to imported Japanese foods in my hometown, koji by itself is not something I’m used to. Now, I live in California, where there are specialty markets with greater access to international ingredients — and thanks to next-day delivery on Amazon — I get a pack of shio koji so easy. To truly understand the benefits of this fermented food, I decided to follow the advice of our helpful koji experts to try a variety of koji-infused dishes in one week — here’s what I discovered.

First, my taste buds jumped for joy when I tasted shio koji made with only four ingredients (rice, sugar, salt, and koji). I quickly realized what the hype was all about. The mix is ​​tangy, savory, and a little fun, like creamy salty butter mixed with a hint of miso-y tangy. I’ve used this product to marinate New York strip steaks, pickled thinly sliced ​​carrots, and roast sweet potatoes. Every one of these dishes was finished on the spot. Shio koji has tailored each recipe with its enzymatic power to create super tender steaks, fragrant yet sweet carrots and ripe sweet potatoes. My favorite poop? The sheer versatility of this component. Regardless of protein or product, koji infused so much umami that I stayed on cloud nine all week.

In addition to my taste buds feeling great, my gut also benefits from this fermented food. Shio koji, which already has salt in it, means I have reduced the amount of sodium I use while cooking, as the product has its own flavor. My gut feels balanced and digestion is regular – but maybe that’s because I’m so comfortable enjoying all the delicious food.

Want more of a koji-fermented taste? Check this out:

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