[From May Issue 2012]
Furumachi Kouji Seizousho
There is kouji boom going on in Japanese food culture. “Kouji” (aspergillus oryzae) is a kind of mold made by breeding microbes on grains of rice or barley. Although it is cotton-white and tasteless, it becomes sugar-sweet and mellow after adding water and fermenting.
Kouji specialist store Furumachi Kouji Seizousho, opened their first shop in Niigata, Niigata Prefecture in July, 2009. Since they opened, the business has been so successful that in February this year they opened up new stores in Tokyo, in Jiyugaoka and Matsuya Department Store, Ginza. In addition to their salt kouji, drinks made with kouji and bottled kouji are popular.
HABUKI Masayuki, representative director of Wakyou Shouten Inc., the parent company of Furumachi Kouji Seizousho says: “Responding to requests for an enterprise that utilized rice and raised public awareness at the same time, we started up the business as a way to revitalize Niigata Prefecture. When we opened our first shop, many doubted whether a business based on kouji could be successful.”
Habuki has been interested in kouji for some time. “Kouji effectively gives rice a surprisingly sweet, rich and deep taste. In terms of delivering nutrition, it’s as effective as an intravenous drip. I really want to communicate the power of kouji to others”
Many products made with kouji, such as ice cream and cookies, have been released on the market, but the one that has generated the most interest is salt kouji. Salt kouji is a product made by adding salt and water to kouji and then fermenting it. It has become so popular that it has been featured on TV and in magazine articles. Many cookbooks containing recipes that use salt kouji have also been published.
Meat and fish marinated in salt kouji is softened and its umami (savory or meaty) flavors are enhanced. The reason it becomes soft is because the protein inside the food is converted into amino acid. In addition, the cleansing effect of its enzymes on the body results in beautiful and healthy skin.
Salt kouji is sold at supermarkets but can also be easily made at home. Just put 200 grams of shredded kouji and 60 grams of salt together in a bowl and add 300 cubic centimeters of water. Pour it into a jar or similar container for storage. Stir once a day. Repeat for about ten days, and the size of each kouji grain will be reduced, making smooth salt kouji.
YANAGISAWA Satoko, living in Saitama Prefecture, uses salt kouji in various dishes. “I got to know about salt kouji from TV. I had thought kouji was used in special cases, for making such things as miso or sake. I found out that salt kouji can be used instead of salt as seasoning for soup or with grilled vegetables. Everyday food became really delicious.”
In Japanese food there are many fermented ingredients, such as miso, mirin (sweet sake), soy sauce and amazake (a sweet drink made from fermented rice), which are all made by fermenting kouji. Until recently, kouji had been used just an ingredient in food manufacturing and was not something that attracted a great deal of interest. The kouji boom has made Japanese reassess the value of this foodstuff.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko