Written and illustrated by Misa Ono
The most famous Japanese seasoning is probably soy sauce. It seems like a lot of foreigners think that all Japanese foods are soy sauce based. Though we use soy sauce with all kinds of ingredients—meats, fish, vegetables, tofu, egg, etc— there are surely non-soy sauce based Japanese dishes.
The next famous Japanese seasoning is probably miso. We feel something missing if there is no miso soup in the meal. It is probably somewhat hard for foreigners to understand why the Japanese have the same flavor of soup every day. However, rice and miso soup are still good to eat separately and if we eat them together, it is even better for the Japanese. Rice has an inextricable bond with miso soup.
The ingredients of soy sauce are soy beans, barley, salt and koji and the ingredients of miso are soy beans, rice, salt and koji. Since those ingredients are quite similar, soy sauce and miso perhaps taste similar to the foreigners.
The ingredients of other Japanese seasonings are also similar. Japanese vinegar is mainly made of rice and koji. As Japanese sake is also made of rice and koji, Japanese sake and vinegar are like brothers. We also have “Mirin,” which is a type of Japanese sake with higher sugar content. Mirin is used as a sweetener or to add a bright touch to “Nimono”which is a simmered dish. The ingredients of mirin are rice, sweet rice, shochu which is Japanese distilled alcohol made of rice, koji, etc., and koji. Recently, Shio-koji became very popular in Japan, which is a seasoning made of salt and koji.
Japanese seasonings are also good to use for modern western foods. Too much soy sauce can be too salty and you cannot taste the original flavor of ingredients. However, adding a bit of koji instead of salt to pasta or pilaf provides a richer taste. You can use koji as dressing for salad as well. Mixing miso and heavy cream can serve as a good sauce for grilled meat or fish. Japanese seasonings are actually quite versatile for any kinds of ingredients.
So, have you been aware that all the seasonings that I have mentioned are made of Koji? A lot of foreigners say that all the Japanese foods taste like soy sauce maybe because most Japanese seasonings are fermented with koji. I would like to talk more about this mysterious koji in the following chapters.