Shio Koji

Shio Koji

Traditional Seasoning Back in the Spotlight

Shio koji (salted rice-malt) is the latest craze coming from Japan’s ever-evolving food culture. Shio koji is a fermented seasoning made up of rice that has been inoculated with the mold (specifically, a type of fungus) Aspergillus oryzae. It is then called koji, mixed with salt and water, and blended to a paste-like consistency.
It is currently basking in the spotlight because it goes with meats, fish or vegetables, as both a tenderizer and flavor enhancer; it is easy and convenient to use, and it has the added benefit of being good for the health!
But, is it really the newest food sensation? You might be surprised to know that shio koji was used during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868)! Shio koji was principally used as the starter for pickling vegetables in Tohoku (northeastern Japan) and one area of Kyushu. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that might account for its recently renewed popularity.

What is koji?
When we talk about shio koji, we must first talk about koji. Koji is both the rice that has been inoculated with the spores of the A. oryzae mold, but it is also the word used to refer to the spores of the mold itself, usually as koji-kin. Koji-kin is said to have been first mentioned in a Chinese text dated about 300 BCE. These koji-kin are inoculated into steamed rice, wheat, beans and other grains and cereals which give us end results such as miso, shoyu, mirin, nihonshu, and other traditional fermented food items. When koji-kin propagates, it produces over 100 types of enzymes which break down the starches, proteins and fats in food, making them easy to digest as well as more flavorful. Koji-kin is also responsible for producing through fermentation some types of amino acids, saccharides (carbohydrates) and vitamins that we need for good health.

Merits of shio koji
Below we list a trio of benefits that shio koji brings to our table.

1) Heightened flavor (a.k.a. umami up!)
The enzymes produced by koji-kin break down starches and proteins, tenderizing and bringing out the flavors in foods. This is most noticeable when we prepare meats or fish. By marinating them with shio koji they gain heightened savoriness and rich, mellow, flavor. Another bonus is that the fermented product allows for easier assimiliation of the foods’ nutrients.

2) Nutritionally rich
Shio koji is rich in Vitamin B complex and amino acids. It’s said that these aid in promoting a healthy metabolism and in recovering from fatigue. Shio koji also generates a lot of oligosaccharides which are necessary for the growth of the healthy bacterial flora (bifidus bacillus) in our intestines, effectively improving our intestinal health.

3) Lower sodium
It’s possible to replace the amount of salt listed in your recipe with twice the amount of shio koji and still only consume one quarter to one fifth the amount of sodium of the original recipe. (Please note that there are slight differences in sodium amounts in different brands of shio koji). This is because while shio koji brings a savoriness and depth of flavor to the food, even more than salt, shio koji contains much less sodium. This is a boon for those watching their sodium intake and whose low-salt diets may be leaving their tastes buds unsatisfied!

There are two uses for shio koji as a seasoning: one is using it in place of salt, and the other is as a marinade. The following three recipes will help get you started exploring the versatility of shio koji!

The current craze for shio koji might just stem from the fact that recently our society as a whole, by seeking convenience over nutrition, is seeing an increase in poor eating habits, which include consumption of fast- and instant-foods. As a result, many of us now have health concerns such as undesirably high sodium levels, allergies, etc. And so, it is really no surprise that we now find ourselves exploring the merits of traditional additive-free seasonings such as shio koji as a way to get back on track towards a healthier dietary lifestyle. With shio koji, we can do it without sacrificing convenience or flavor, which is undoubtedly a major factor in its current popularity!

Marukai is pleased to offer a variety of shio koji. How about introducing shio koji as a member of your starting lineup of seasonings today? Remember the lines from an old song: What’s old is new again!