Why You Should Incorporate Koji into Your Diet

If you live in the U.S. like me, you may have never heard of koji before. Is it a drink†ó a brand new energy drink or perhaps a specialty tea ó or maybe it’s food that you’d find on a well-rounded sushi menu? Not exactly.

Even though I’ve never bought koji at my local grocery store, and I bet you haven’t either, you’ve probably already eaten some in one form or another and enjoyed it. I know I have, and I loved it.

So, what is koji? Simply put, it’s a fuzzy mold with an intoxicating scent, and it has been used for thousands of years to create umami-rich fermentation in food. Yup, what could turn into the newest trend in food is a fungus that’s been around for thousands of years.

What is Koji?

The word†koji†refers to grains inoculated with the†Aspergillus oryzae†mold. It can also apply to the mold itself, which can be a little confusing, I know. For the purpose of this article, I’m using koji to refer to grains that have been inoculated with the†Aspergillus oryzae.

Koji isn’t eaten on its own but instead grown on cooked grains where it creates an airy layer of white mold that releases an intoxicating floral, grapefruit scent and rich, umami-filled flavors. Interestingly, it’s one of the oldest human-domesticated molds.

According to John Gibbons, a biologist at Clark University who studies it, there’s evidence of†koji being used 9,000 years ago in China. Today, foods fermented with koji which has been staples in China and Japan are now starting to make their way to American dinner tables.

The process of making koji is rather interesting. The grains are partially or fully cooked and then inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae. As the spores begin to thrive, enzymes convert the grain into sugar, creating fermentation. Next, the enzyme-rich grain is added to a secondary product, like soybeans for example, for a second fermentation process. This second process causes a total transformation in both texture and flavor of the food.

It’s the magic that turns foods like soybeans into miso paste or soy sauce and rice grains into sweet sake.

Health Benefits of†Koji

Since koji isn’t eaten on its own but used in fermented foods, let’s take a quick look at some of the health benefits of eating fermented foods. When foods are fermented using bacteria, yeast, or as in this instance, a fungus, it boosts the nutritional quality of the food. Eating fermented foods, among a host of other benefits, can:

I bet you’re asking, how do you include koji in a healthy diet? Glad you asked.

Incorporating Koji into Your Diet

You can, of course, make koji yourself. First, you’ll have to source the Aspergillus†oryzae†starter. Once you do,†it’s time to learn†how to make koji at home. While seemingly complicated, the process is actually fairly simple if a tiny bit time-consuming. From start to finish, the whole process takes about 60 hours. Once you master proper temperatures and growing environments, the sky’s the limit in terms of flavors and uses for koji.

But if you’re like me and you’d rather enjoy koji without the hassle of preparing the culture yourself, no problem. I mentioned earlier that I had never bought koji at my local supermarket, but that doesn’t mean that you†can’t†purchase it locally. While you might have a hard time finding koji at mainstream grocery stores, you can source it at health food or Asian markets. If you aren’t able to find it locally, you can always find some online. It is also sold under the name kame-koji (rice koji) or†shio-koji (salt koji).

Now that you have koji, what do you do with it? Koji can be used as an excellent tenderizer or as a marinade for vegetables. Often, it is used to cure foods and, because of its salty flavor, as a salt substitute in recipes. Beyond that, koji can be used as a seasoning in a myriad of dishes. Its umami flavor is the perfect addition to your favorite sauce or vinaigrette, or even as a compliment to your favorite berry jelly or jam.

If you weren’t able to find koji locally and didn’t feel like ordering any online, you can still enjoy koji by simply incorporating foods like koji-fermented miso, soy sauce, or rice vinegar into your regular meal plans.†Koji helps to bring out the other flavors it’s paired with so experiment and have fun!

Have you ever tried koji? I want to hear all about it! Tell me your story in the comments.

Related Reading at Care2

Feature Photo: foodcraftlab/Flickr

72 comments

Carl R
Carl R8 days ago

Thanks!!!!

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heather g
heather g8 days ago

I have a vivid imagination, so any mention of fermentation makes me feel unwell.

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heather g
heather g8 days ago

I have a vivid imagination, so any mention of fermentation makes me feel unwell.

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Paola S
Paola S9 days ago

thank you

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D10 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D10 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D10 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara10 days ago

Does not sound attractive

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara10 days ago

Ergot is a toxic hallucinogenic fungus of damp rye.

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s10 days ago

Thank you

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