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Flavors of Summer 2012

Food Trends in Japan 2012:
Maximizing Umami and Inspiring Creativity

Shio Koji (Salt Koji)

Japanese people really understand that the fermentation process creates an indescribably savory flavor, and they are masters of making good use of this flavor, which is called umami. This explains the fact that the staple seasonings for Japanese cuisine, soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin and rice vinegar, are all fermented products. The ingredient currently sweeping the Japanese culinary scene from home cooking to the food service industry is also the product of fermentation.

Although it is a tradional seasoning that has been used in some regions in Japan for centuries, “shio koji” has become well known nationwide quite recently. Made simply from rice koji, salt and water, shio koji magically enhances the umami of the ingredients that it’s used with, as well as gives subtle, elegant umami and a touch of sweetness to a dish without overpowering its main ingredients. It’s used just like other Japanese seasonings in sautéed dishes, simmered dishes, pickles, and as dressings and marinade sauces. Shio koji is tasty and versatile for use in cooking, but another reason for its recent popularity is that it’s also nutritious. Through the fermenting process, it increases the amount of vitamin B1, B2, B6, H and Pateton acid. The Vitamin B group helps you to recover from fatigue, so it’s perfect when you feel summer lethargy. Also, shio koji has a fair amount of lactic acid, which is known to be effective for intestinal disorders. All nine essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized in the human body are also contained in shio koji. It is a healthy substitute for salt. Since it’s easily made at home, you can try incorporating shio koji into your regular cooking repertoire. We will introduce how to make shio koji and examples of dishes using shio koji.

Maze-men

Another hot trend is “maze-men.” This is a type of ramen noodles without soup, but with a little bit of sauce and various toppings. It is eaten after mixing noodles, sauce and toppings well before eating, and this action gaves it its name: “mazeru” (to mix) and “men” (noodle). Maze-men emerged at almost the same time as the craze of tsuke-men (ramen with dipping sauce), but the maze-men boom itself followed that of tsuke-men. The strongest appeal of maze-men is that its menu is not bound by any standards and its creativity has no limits. For example, if you like you can use pizza sauce, Indian curry, guacamole, pad Thai sauce, honey mustard or even chocolate sauce. As long as you think it’s tasty, that’s okay. Here we offer two maze-men recipes, one of them including shio koji.

How to make shio koji
Koji comes in two types, fresh (wet) and dried. In the U.S. you can find dried koji in Japanese grocery stores.

Ingredients: 1/3 cup salt
1 cup dried rice koji
1 cup (250 ml) water

Mix the dried koji and salt and pour water until just covered. Ferment for about 10 days to 2 weeks at room temperature with loosely sealed. Mix once a day.

About 1 hour after adding water, koji absorbs all water. In about a day, the koji grains (grain of rice) will start to melt, giving a syrupy consistency.
With time, the aroma of koji will be strong, and increase in salt and sour taste.

The retention period is about half a year in the refrigerator. As a guideline it can be stored long term if it contains the right amount of salt. If the amount of salt is too little, it will be difficult to last. Too much salt and it will be too salty to eat. Be careful of the amount of salt.
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