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Koji — the Biggest Food Trend of 2017?posted on 9 January 2017 | posted in Healthy eating
Slowly but surely, consumer behavior is changing in regard to food. Many have started embracing more traditional foods and are relearning ancient culinary methods such as fermenting.1
This may be one of the most positive food trends we've seen in many decades, as fermented foods are really important for optimal gut health. In more recent years, scientists have discovered just how crucial a role your microbiome plays in your overall health and mental wellbeing.
Indeed, some have suggested your body can best be viewed as a "super organism" composed of a diverse array of symbiotic microorganisms that need to be kept in proper balance for optimal physical and psychological functioning.
They've even realized your microbiome is one of the environmental factors that drives genetic expression, turning genes on and off depending on which microbes are present.
Research suggests many are deficient in beneficial gut bacteria, making it a really important consideration if you're not feeling well, physically or psychologically. Among the latest trends in fermentation are beet kvass — a fermented beet juice beverage — and koji-fermented foods.2,3,4,5
Koji May Become Biggest Food Trend of 2017
Chefs around the world are now embracing koji (Aspergillus oryzae6), a type of fungus used for millennia in China and Japan.
To create koji, Aspergillus culture is added to cooked rice, soybeans, potatoes or roasted, cracked wheat (depending on what it's going to be used for). The mixture is then placed in a warm, humid place for about 50 hours. The resulting koji is then added to the food being fermented, often along with a brine solution.
As Aspergillus ferments, it produces a number of enzymes known to be beneficial for animal and human health, including amylase, which aids digestion and promotes a healthy gut. As explained by Clearspring:7
Sake, soy sauce, rice vinegar8 and miso soup9 are all traditional Asian foods and beverages made with koji. Historically, koji has also been used to obtain protein substitutes from soy or grains like wheat and rye.
In the West, chefs are experimenting and coming up with all sorts of new koji-fermented products. As noted by David Zilber, a fermentation sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark:10
Making Koji from scratch
You can also make your own koji from scratch. Fermup.com's recipe12 calls for white rice and koji starter, and the whole process takes about 60 hours from start to finish.
Koji looks a bit like rice pudding, or little rice grains covered in powder. To use it as a meat tenderizer, simply blend it smooth in a blender and rub it onto your steak. Leave uncovered on a wire rack in your refrigerator.
Over the course of 24 to 72 hours, the enzymes in the koji break down the connective tissue in the steak and rid the meat of its moisture.
In other words, the meat is beginning to decompose — that's what makes it so tender. Just don't let it sit too long. After about three days, it begins to cure, which makes it tough. Before you cook the meat, rinse it thoroughly in cold water to remove all of the koji rub. Pat dry, then season and cook as usual. According to Bon Appétit:
Koji Can Be Used in Many Different Ways
You can also use koji as a marinade for fish, chicken and vegetables. In this case, as little as 30 to 60 minutes may be enough. Also keep in mind that the food may burn faster than normal, so keep a close eye on it as it cooks.
Avoid adding extra salt when using koji, as it's already salty enough. In fact, koji is often used as a salt substitute.
Besides that, koji can be added to any number of dishes as a seasoning, imparting a savory "umami" flavor cherished by chefs and food connoisseurs everywhere. Or simply add it to your vinaigrette or berry preserves to bring out the other flavors.
You can find a lot of different recipes using koji online. For example, Superfoods for Super Health has a recipe for homemade miso soup using garbanzo beans in lieu of soy.13
Why Ferment Foods?
When foods are fermented using either bacteria, yeast or, in this case, a fungus, it boosts the nutritional content of the food. It also preserves the food, allowing it to be stored for several weeks without the addition of preservatives. The fermentation process also produces:
While you can do wild fermentation (allowing whatever is naturally on the vegetable to take hold), this method is more time consuming, and the end product less certain. Inoculating the food with a starter culture speeds up the fermentation process and helps to ensure you'll end up with a consistent, high-quality end product.
Most Stand to Benefit From Fermented Foods
In my view, optimizing your gut health is a foundational step if you seek to achieve good health. Addressing your gut flora is also important for most health conditions, be they acute or chronic.
Considering current disease statistics, it seems clear that most people have poor gut health and would benefit from eating more fermented foods.19 Since different fermented foods will contain disparate bacteria, your best bet is to eat a variety of fermented foods to optimize microbial diversity.
Fiber serves as a prebiotic and is another important component, and may even take precedence if you're already healthy, as fiber-rich foods provide nourishment for the beneficial microbes already residing in your gut. By strengthening their numbers, these beneficial microbes help keep disease-causing microbes in check.
I recommend eating fermented and fiber-rich foods every day, as research shows your microbiome can be very rapidly altered based on factors such as diet, lifestyle and chemical exposures. This is a double-edged sword, no doubt, considering how many of our modern conveniences (such as processed foods, antibiotics and pesticides) turn out to be extremely detrimental to our gut flora.
On the other hand, your diet is one of the easiest, fastest and most effective ways to improve and optimize your microbiome, so the good news is that you have a great degree of control over your health destiny.
How Probiotic Foods Influence Your Health and Well Being
Research shows fermented or cultured foods have a wide range of beneficial effects, including but not limited to the following:
Fermenting Your Own Veggies Is Easy and Inexpensive
I recommend inoculating the food you're about to ferment using a starter culture to speed up the fermentation process. In the video above, Julie and I demonstrate how to make fermented vegetables at home.
You can find more advice on fermentation in my previous interview with Caroline Barringer, a nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP) and an expert in the preparation of the foods prescribed in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Program. Here's a simple recipe to get you started:
While some fermented foods contain vitamin K2, most notably natto, a fermented soy product typically sold in Asian grocery stores, you can create therapeutic levels of this vitamin in fermented vegetables by using a special starter culture like Kinetic Culture made with vitamin K2-producing bacteria.
(Please note that not every strain of bacteria makes K2, so not all fermented foods will contain it. For example, most yogurts have almost no vitamin K2. Certain types of cheeses, such as Gouda, Brie and Edam are high in vitamin K2, while other cheeses are not.)
Our Kinetic Culture Jar Lids Help Cut Offensive Fermenting Odors
Besides a starter culture, other helpful tools include a shredding disc, a kraut pounder/vegetable tamper tool, weights and kinetic culture jar lids. Some people find the odor emitted by fermenting vegetables objectionable, and the kinetic culture jar lids can help eliminate these smells.
The lid has a one-way valve that allows the gases to be released while preventing oxygen from entering the jar, which would stop the fermentation process. A charcoal filter cuts the odors. Again, they're by no means necessary, but can be useful if you or one of your family members isn't thrilled with the smell of fermenting vegetables.
Optimizing Your Microbiome Is a Potent Disease Prevention Strategy
I believe optimizing your gut flora may be one of the most important things you can do for your health, and here you can wield your personal power to the fullest by making healthy food and medical choices. The good news is that supporting your microbiome isn't very complicated. One of the best ways to improve your gut health is through your diet.
Fermented foods are ideal, but dietary fiber is also important. Some microbes ferment fiber and the byproducts nourish your colon. You'd also be wise to take other proactive steps to support your gut health and prevent damage to your microbiome. To optimize your microbiome, consider the following recommendations:
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