If you’re a carnivore then you’re definitely a fan of umami. Get to know the ingredients that help boost the ‘meatiness’ factor, like Shio Koji.
Umami is often referred to as the fifth taste, rounding out salty, sweet, sour and bitter. More specifically, it is a measure of the level of glutamates in certain ingredients. These glutamates (yup, the same stuff that comprises monosodium glutamate) present to us as a meaty flavor, so it’s a natural progression that those of us who love the taste of meat would be into foods with a heavy umami profile. Examples of umami rich foods include mushrooms, cheeses, oysters and even seaweed.
Here’s a bonus fun fact – MSG is actually a naturally occurring amino acid found in certain foods like tomatoes. It has developed a bad rap over the years, notoriously associated with Chinese food, with a somewhat rare connection to asthma. However, this is largely because it’s added in concentrated doses, rather than the naturally occurring amounts.
I’m going to explore some of the more magical umami ingredients which should be a welcome addition to your cooking arsenal. We’ve already covered the salty-goodness of Vegemite, so let’s take a look at koji!
What is Shio Koji?
Technically Koji is a mold. Specifically, it’s s Asperiguillus Oryzae. It’s not unlike the idea of mold on cheese rinds, or even huitlacoche, the Mexican delicacy of corn smut. Grown on rice grains, koji is the ‘mother’ for a huge variety of fermented Japanese foods like sake, soy sauce and miso. Shio koji is the prepared ready-to-use seasoning with salt and water added, and is most easy to use in your home kitchen.
Koji boosts both taste and tenderness.
In addition to being an umami booster, koji also acts as a tenderizer. It is rich in enzymes which break down both starches and proteins, which makes it suitable as both a veggie and meat marinade.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what koji delivers in terms of taste. It’s a subtle boost that leaves a very mild salty-sweet aftertaste, with just a hint of fermented funkiness. This is definitely not a bold seasoning.
How to use Shio Koji.
Once in salted Shio form, koji takes the place of salt when seasoning, and you should use at least twice as much koji as you would salt. It does it’s best work as a marinade rather than recipe ingredient, which gives time for the enzymes to do their work.
As it develops, Koji converts the rice starches into sugars. It’s important to keep this in mind when using as a marinade, and wipe the surface of your meat from any excess before grilling or searing over high heats to avoid burning.
Shio Koji recipes.
Now that you know all about it, give it a try. You can find koji at some specialty Asian grocery stores or online. Once you have it, why not try this: