My love with Japanese magic ingredient – Koji

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Hi. I’m Mie. Thank you so much for dropping by:)  I’m Japanese (so, please bear with my English) and have been living in the UK over 20 years. This is my first blog and I’m so excited! I’ll write about my passion with cooking which is based on Japanese with Western twists ( and vise versa) especially with Japanese traditional ingredients called Koji and how I use it in everyday cooking. I love tasty and healthy food, but also it’s very important for me that the meals have to be prepared easily and quickly. I have two boys, 10 and 13. They are constantly hungry and eat like a horse. They grab anything around to eat. So I have to be ready to counter attack!

I cook mostly fusion kind of stuff. Most Japanese mums in Japan cook western meals with Japanese twists every day. Japanese people are really serious about eating a good meal three times a day, and they, especially younger generations, are very much open-minded to try different things.

Japanese cooking is said to be very healthy. I thought probably because we eat lots of fish and vegetables and don’t eat as much as red meat as Europeans do. However, I’ve recently discovered that it’s not just as that, and there is one key ingredients hidden behind everyday Japanese meals. That is Koji.
Koji is steamed grain or beans fermented with the fungus, Aspergillus oryzae. Koji has been used for centuries in Japan and is an essential ingredient in soy sauce, Sake (Japanese rice wine), miso (soy bean paste), mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking), etc. which together form the foundation of Japanese cuisine. It has a special aroma which is often described as reminiscent of the scent of a chestnut flower and in its basic form has a sweet taste. Koji creates complex flavours by adding plenty of Umami (the fifth taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, which wasn’t officially recognized till quite recently) and has many health benefits by adding lots of amino acids and vitamins. So Koji possibly is one reason behind Japanese people’ longevity, as in Japan we use soy source all the time and eat miso soup with meals usually in the morning and evening.

Hummm. If it’s so good for your health, we should eat it every day, but my kids, don’t even mention about my English husband, are not used to eat miso soup at every meal time (especially in the morning!). Soy source is useful for many kind of cooking, but it has a slight certain aroma which doesn’t always go well with Western cooking. When I was struggling to include miso soup in every meal, I heard that there is a “new” miracle seasoning which became very popular in Japan!

Hand made Koji
Hand made Koji

This is called Salty Koji (Shio Koji in Japanese), which has been used for centuries in certain parts of Japan, but it’s become ubiquitous in Japan quite recently following its health benefits became known widely. Unlike soy source Salty Koji doesn’t have strong flavour. It has a slight scent, but most of it disappears when you cook it. If you still notice it, it can be easily masked with garlic, lemon, chili, etc. It has all the health benefits of Koji including providing lots of vitamins, enzymes and umami, and on top of them, it is so versatile and easy to use!

I’ve started experimenting with it in various everyday cookings, such as pasta, salad, pies, meatloaf, etc.. Of course I cook Japnaese-ish /oriental meals, too! I’m really impressed with the versatility of salty Koji, as whatever I cook, it adds complex and deep flavour to the meal, and even kids love it!

So I’ve decided to write a blog about my new adventure with this Koji and umami stuff – then the title UmaMia. I’ll also write about how easy Japanese cooking is. Lots of my friends here love Japanese food and eager to cook it, but they somehow think that Japanese cooking is very difficult and need lots of very exotic ingredients. As I mentioned, it’s not easy to define exactly what Japanese cooking is, as everyday cooking in Japan is a complete fusion of Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and name everything! Oh my god, how tasty they are, though! As these fusion dish is cooked in any home kitchen without any special ingredients (ok, I admit that it’s better if you have soy sauce,  but any supermarket sell them now), the preparation is easy and not time-consuming. Having said so, ‘easy and not time-consuming’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you can cook everything within 10 minutes! Japanese mums definitely spend some time for cooking everyday in spite of busy lifestyle, as eating tasty meals every day is an important part of Japanese life, and they also care their family’s health very much like you and I do. I hope I can introduce some of those cooking to you. I’ll try to write once to twice every two weeks. Hope to see you soon!

Mie xx

6 thoughts on “My love with Japanese magic ingredient – Koji

  1. Lovely writing Mie, good luck! I can’t wait to read some more and to venture out to find Shio Koji here in Singapore. We have Isetan with a large Japanese supermarket so I should probably find it there?

    Love to you all,


    1. Hi Malin,

      Thank you so much for the comment! I’d been thinking about to start a blog for a while, and I’m glad that I’ve finally started it! Shio koji is so versatile and easy to use. I’m sure you can get it from Isetan. I’ll write recipes from the next blog. Please try some, and let me know what you think!


  2. Tried it . It adds a different dimension to the dishes, and is versatile enough that I now add abut to almost everything I cook. Looking forward to any recipes that you may have. Thanks.

    1. Hi Juvan,

      Lovely to hear from a great cook like you! I know your cooking repertoire is completely different from mine, and I’m so interested in hearing your recipes, too!


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