Archive for the ‘Japanese drink’ Category

Koji – A Magic Ingredient


The term “Koji” can refer to the “Koji-kin” fungus which is sprinkled onto rice and propagated or the resulting “Koji-mai” the “Koji rice” which is the resulting saccharified rice from this propagation as the fungus breaks down the starches in the rice into the smaller sugars.  Its technical name is “Aspergillus Oryzae”.

Nowadays, in the West, the term “Koji” tends to refer to the Koji rice and it is fast becoming the latest new and exciting ingredient in top restaurants.

So, what is Koji rice and why is it such an interesting ingredient?

Traditionally, Koji rice is the first stage in the fermentation process to make four of the main, traditional Japanese condiments used in cooking; miso, soya sauce, sake and vinegar.  It is added to other ingredients for a second stage of fermentation; soya beans and salt to make miso; roasted wheat, soya beans, salt and water to make soya sauce; steamed rice, water and yeast to make sake.

Koji is a micro-organism that creates enzymes which transform the flavour and texture of food creating fermentation.  It creates the enzymes responsible for umami, the fifth taste which has been described as savouriness and deliciousness.

In Japan, Koji rice is used to make home-made miso, Amazake (a sweet rice drink), Shio-koji pickles and more recently to make roasted Koji tea which has lovely caramel aromatics.  In non-Japanese cuisine, Koji rice has been used to cure meat increasing the umami content, in ice cream, bread, a parmesan style ricotta and to make butternut squash miso.  Furthermore, meat and fish are marinated with Shio-koji (a salted Koji rice paste) and Amazake.

In Japan, Koji is revered due to its ability to create umami and the traditional condiments without which Japanese cuisine would not take the form it currently has.  12 October has been named as National Koji Day and there is even a very popular Koji manga character called “Moyashimon”.

During my research into koji I came across this podcast on Koji from the US which may be of interest.



Harpers Wine & Spirits article on sake

Anne Krebiehl wrote an article about the potential for future sake sales in the UK this week in Harpers Wine & Spirits.  She explained how there are a number of people working hard in the industry to guide customers in the selection of sake.  Alongside Ayako Watanabe of Saki Bar and Food Emporium, I was interviewed as a case study for the article.

Harpers 16 July 2010 – Sake

Harpers 16 July 2010 – Sake 2

Harpers 16 July 2010 – Sake 3

Anthony Rose writes about Sake and Indian Food

Anthony Rose wrote about Sake and Indian Food in the Independent Magazine today and how well cold sake works with Indian food.

The write-up is in reference to the Sake Tasting Dinner which I hosted at Moti Mahal on 27 May 2010.

He picked up on three of the sake presented, Aki no Ta, Fukurokuju Junmai and Yoikigen Daiginjo (which is unfortunately misspelt).

The Sake Tasting menu at Moti Mahal is only available until 31 July.

International Wine Challenge 2010 – Sake Results

It is always very interesting to see the results of the IWC’s annual sake tastings as I believe it demonstrates a guide to which sake suit the British palate the best.  The category which had by far the most medals awarded was the Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo section; the western palate having a preference for more aromatic sake while still appreciating a depth of flavour which you get in the Junmai sake.

The results can be found on their website –  Select “sake” under the “style” category, the medal and then search.  If you want a full list of medal winners contact me at and I can forward the one I have received from the IWC.

One of the biggest achievements of the IWC is the continuous growth of entries in the sake section demonstrating the commitment of brewers to export sake overseas.

Sake in The Independent

It’s always nice to find an article on sake in the British Press as this delicious beverage does not get the coverage it deserves.  There is an article in The Independent from last Wednesday reporting on a large Sake Fair of 450 sake in Japan taking place tomorrow – wish I was there but will be presenting two honjozo at the Japanese Embassy in the UK tomorrow instead at a small sake tasting courtesy of the Sake Samurai.

Read the whole “Sake is hot, even when served cold” article here.

Sake and Indian Cuisine

Yesterday evening, Moti Mahal held their first Sake Tasting Dinner to launch their new Sake Tasting Menu.  From what I understand, Indian food is one of the trickiest cuisines to pair with wine.  However, the reception by the wine writers to the pairing was extremely positive, with several of them expressing surprise at how well sake worked with the dishes.

When I sat down to work out the pairing for this dinner and the subsequent Tasting Menu with the Head Chef, Anirudh Arora and Moti Mahal’s wine buyer, Maria Rodriguez, a month ago, it was a very interesting experience to discover which sake worked with the dishes and which did not.  I had expected that the big boned, creamy yamahai would work best until I tasted the food.  This style of Indian cuisine comes from North India following a path along The Great Trunk Road, and blends together aromatic herbs with a warm spiciness from the chillies rather than the piquant spices I had always associated with Indian cuisine.  There was therefore space for herbal aromatics, floral aromatics and minerality in the sake which we selected and we finished with a selection of different grades of sake.

Following on from a refreshing gin-based sake cocktail which used Tamaki, a Yamahai Junmai Ginjō we started the meal with the smooth, herbal Aki no Ta Junmai Ginjō.  This was matched with Bhalla Papdi Chaat, crisp fried pastry and chick peas with creamy yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutney.  The combination brought out a light creaminess to the sake at the same as developing a wider palate of its herbal aromatics which also served to highlight the sourness of the tamarind and mint chutney.

Our next sake was the dry, fresh Fukurokuju Junmai with its interesting minerality on the palate which  highlighted the sweetness of the seared scallop Sagar Rattan.  This was followed by the very rare Isake 19 Junmai Daiginjō which is at the pinnacle of sake brewing technology, making use of sake brewers’ rice that has been polished down to a minuscule 19% of the grain of the rice remaining.  The result is a tight palate which takes you on a journey from a soft, creamy start to a spicy, dry finish.

Then we had the wonderful Yoikigen Daiginjō which, despite using rice which has been polished down to 35%, has a rich rice flavour.  This is due to the generous use of the kōji fungus, aspergillus oryzae, in the brewing process.  This is a food friendly sake and was an excellent accompaniment to the trio of chicken tikka which has all been prepared using different herbs (mint and basil, poppy seed and kashmiri chillies, cracked pepper and dill).  My favourite combination was the poppy seed and kashmiri chillies at the sake lit up the flavours.

The next sake combination was the most surprising for me; a floral sake paired with venison stewed with chillies, cloves and garlic.  The choice was influenced by the side dish which the Head Chef had selected – fried lotus flower.  I had recently come across this sake called “Dance of the Lotus Flower” (Renge no Mai) which is a Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu.  It is brewed from rice grown in a field near to where lotus flowers grown and they are used to fertilise the paddy field.  The presence of the lotus flowers is evidence in the floral aromatics which enhanced the flavour of the lotus flowers.  I also think that there are a few elements which make this work with the spicy venison after discussing it with Anthony Rose.  He explained to me how the temperature of the drink is quite significant to counteract the heat of the spices, recommending drinks which are served chilled (in this case, sake) as well as the alcohol content.  Being a Genshu, this is an undiluted sake with a slightly higher alcoholic content than many sake (and certainly higher than wine) between 17 and 18%.  The freshness it also has being an unpasteurised, Nama, sake was an additional benefit making this an excellent choice to contrast the earthy, spicy venison.

Our final sake was a Genmai Koshu from Akashi-tai.  This sake is made from brown rice and has been aged for 8 years.  Aging sake has an intriguing effect on them and they change quite considerably from the usual clear liquid to a golden brown in colour as well as developing additional aromas and flavours on the palate.  This does not disappoint with plum, toffee and chocolate fudge on the nose and plum line and woody sherry notes on the palate.  An array of intriguing flavours that intertwined with the dessert platter that had sweet flatbread with coconut and saffron, cardamom yoghurt and caramelised bananas – each flavour highlighting a different flavour in the sake.  A wonderful finish to a delightful tasting menu.

Philip Harper, Master Sake Brewer

For those of you who have never heard of him, Philip Harper is the only non-Japanese Master Sake Brewer.  This is a considerable feat which has meant he has not only had to master sake brewing but has had to master the Japanese language and the culture too in order to gain acceptance.  He has recently been filmed by NHK (one of Japan’s major broadcasting channels) and this has been posted online – the wonders of modern technology!

He is also one of the Directors of the British Sake Association and has written two very informative books about sake – The Insider’s Guide to Sake and The Book of Sake: A Connoisseur’s Guide.

In looking for the links to his books I have also come across a recent newspaper article about him in the Los Angeles Times which you may be interested in.