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Koji: The Secret Ingredient

In-Person Program with Tasting

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, May 30, 2024 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0572
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
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Takashi Sato (Image courtesy of San-J International)

One of the biggest food trends today is a traditional Japanese ingredient called koji, the mold-inoculated grains responsible for miso, soy sauce, sake, mirin, and a host of other ingredients. Although it has been a culinary mainstay in Asia for centuries, it's only recently that Western chefs have started catching on to its transformative powers as a seasoning and a curing agent.

Over the past several millennia Chinese, Japanese, and Korean artisans have mastered the craft of cultivating Aspergillus oryzae (called koji-kin in Japan). It's not eaten on its own, but grown on partially or fully cooked grains, such as rice and barley. As the spores begin to flourish, enzymes convert the grain into sugar, and the enzyme-rich grain is added to a second product, such as soybeans. This secondary fermentation process causes a complete transformation in flavor and texture. It's how soybeans become miso, rice becomes sake, and how soybeans and wheat become soy sauce.

Takashi Sato, president of San-J International in Virginia, is an eighth-generation member of the founding family of a tamari and miso brewery. He shares how koji creates the flavors behind your favorite Japanese foods and how his company continues the exacting standards for brewing high-quality tamari. He also discusses his work to support and revive artisanal fermented foods businesses in Japan to continue the tradition of the country’s fermentation culture.

After the presentation, savor the secret ingredient as you sample foods and beverages that have been flavored with koji, including small bites provided by Chef Matt Baker of the Michelin-starred restaurant Gravitas and sake provided by the Embassy of Japan.

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