3 Home Cook-Ready Koji Products to Power Up Your Pantry

Chefs have long been using this Japanese ingredient to level up their cooking; now you can, too.


Kelsey Hansen / Food Styling by Lauren McAnelly / Prop Styling by Joseph Wanek

At first glance, koji spores are pretty unassuming, but the sandy, wheat-colored powder unleashes worlds of flavor. Koji is an edible fungus that is inoculated in steamed rice, and fuzzy, fresh rice koji is the foundation for making miso, sake, amazake, and shio koji, a delightfully versatile Japanese condiment. The enzymes in koji turn starch into sugar and protein into deep umami flavors. It can be used to tenderize meat, thicken sauces, and add sweet and salty depth to just about anything.

At Juniper and Ivy in San Diego, koji is never listed on the menu, but chef Anthony Wells uses it as a secret ingredient in a dozen different dishes, creating pumpkin gochujang for kampachi tostadas and whipping cashew miso with sweet potato to pipe into agnolotti. “It’s a great way to add salt without adding salt,” he says. Although koji’s history in Japan dates back centuries and restaurant chefs in the U.S. like Wells have harnessed koji’s magic for some time, it’s still relatively underutilized in home kitchens here.

Like any fermentation process, making your own koji at home can be daunting. Luckily, artisanal products are a user-friendly way to introduce koji in your kitchen. Read on for three koji products that deserve a spot in your pantry, plus how best to use them.

West Coast Koji

After propagating koji in his apartment, Michael Vera turned his pandemic passion project into a full-fledged business, selling directly to consumers online and supplying fresh rice koji to San Diego’s most creative chefs. West Coast Koji’s Koji Lemon Pepper Salt is great for dry-brining meats or sprinkling on meats and vegetables fresh off the grill.

Aedan Fermented Foods

Following her grandfather’s miso business in Japan, Mariko Grady, owner of Aedan Fermented Foods in San Francisco, teaches miso-making classes and sells miso- and shio koji–making kits, ready-to-use shio koji, amazake, miso, and more. At Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad, California, chef Eric Bost whips Aedan amazake with mascarpone to pair with pickled berries.

Van Koji Foods

Tonami van den Driesen has been selling koji at farmers markets for a decade, and chefs at Vancouver’s top restaurants are fans. She’s created innovative riffs, but her shio koji is the most popular. “It’s the most versatile and can be used in most forms of cooking,” she says. Try adding a teaspoon of shio koji to guacamole for an unexpected punch of umami.

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