Koji is an edible fungus. Mushrooms are the fruits of fungi. Koji is a great tool for chefs and has been eaten for thousands of years in Japan. Fermentation is the traditional practice that enables the safe preservation of food. Koji makes Miso and Soy Sauce.
But what is fermentation? Fermentation is the transformation of raw ingredients into more human useful ingredients by microorganisms. Fermentation is not rotting as it is selective. We need to create the ideal conditions for our favourite microorganisms. All surfaces across the planet are coated in microorganisms, an unseen world all around us.
We need to take over the microorganism world so that safe microbes can rule supreme in our dishes. Adjusting parameters such as temperature, salinity, acidity makes the microbe world uninhabitable for unwanted residents. David Zilber, the head of the fermentation lab at Noma, the world number 1 restaurant, likens it to the selective nature of an exclusive club bouncer, we only want a select few guests.
From Koji’s perspective it is on the hunt for starch to convert into sugars. However, once all the starch of a substrate has been exploited the Koji will start using up the sugars it has created in order to go into spore production mode. This may or may not be wanted, chef’s choice. They best grow on grains but can have a number of different substrates. Rice and Barley are the most traditional.
We’ll be using UK organic pearl barley. Going to follow the recipes in Noma’s fermentation book, I highly recommend this book, Zilber is a genius!
Growth of the Koji is halted by refrigerating it or drying it. However, the magic of Koji is not over, it can further marinade ingredients it is mixed with via protein enzymes.
Koji is the national fungus of Japan, a nation of superb life expectancy. Is Koji fermented food responsible for this? Dr Weston Price was a dentist who in the 1930s wanted to understand why isolated primitive tribes had better teeth and health than people living in industrialised countries. He travelled the world researching the diet of the healthiest, longest living populations and found certain common denominators in their diet. They ate lots of pastured grass fed animals, unpasteurised dairy products, unprocessed whole grains and foods preserved by fermentation.
We will be making some Koji flour which is great for use in stocks, soups, salads and marinades!