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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 6th January 2017 > A Big Year for… Koji

A Big Year for… Koji


EVERY FEW DAYS, David Zilber, the fermentation sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen, walks into one of the shipping containers that serves as his lab and peers into a tray of moldering barley. It looks, with its coating of fuzz, like something you might find growing at the back of your refrigerator. “It’s koji,” he explains with pride. “And it’s a game changer.”

Used for millennia in Japan and China to ferment foods and drinks, koji is a fungus—proper name Aspergillus oryzae— commonly grown on cooked grains. If you’ve ever eaten soy sauce, or sipped a bowl of miso, you’ve tasted the effects of koji: It gives those foods their punch of umami flavor, and also acts as the fermenting agent in alcoholic drinks such as sake and shaojiu. Now it’s working its way onto Western menus, in ways no sake master could have imagined.

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