The Name of the Rose

Today is my birthday and I have a few things to say. Mostly everything I want to convey on this year’s birthday – September 15th – has all been said before in Nina Simone’s song “Feelin Good” At least the attitude part.

The recipe for this is actually already posted at culturesgroup.net

The semiotics or foodways start of a new year follows. As will the recipes that depend on understanding a few basic concepts. Although we haven’t yet introduced all of the misos, sauces, amino pastes, pickles, sakes, amasakes, kefirs, brews, yeast and bacteria centric items and baked goods and sweets that we’ve been making over the years, our corn rose miso has been very popular.

We only call it miso because the predecessor of all things made with koji is a word that has never been widely accepted in the English speaking world. Even the word koji is an inadequate translation of the predecessor to the what the original word for koji actually meant.

When the Japanese were gifted the knowledge of how to make and use koji – along with their first system of language – it was done by Chinese buddhists. The reason why so many people have seriously inaccurate ideas of where some things originated, or even that they have existed for thousands of years, is that the Chinese had no need to claim invention of anything.

The Japanese, however, kept repackaging and inventing while creating a hagiography of these things that were really just different versions of Chinese jiang, the predecessor even to the little fermented soybeans named shih or docuhi that many people insist are the actual precursor. Before koji there was jiang. Adding koji to jiang made it even better.

Ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce were derived from jiang, as were dozens of ither things such as miso and soy sauce and fish sauces and even preserved meats and game.

Nope

Sometimes the romanticized version of the past has worked well for the Japanese, and other countries to be sure, but other times it has failed miserably. Whoever though of the idea that foreigners would understand thus buy more Japanese sake by calling it rice wine should have been corrected.

The claim that they discovered or invented koji, or that it is endemic to only their country, is just not accurate. Still, the entire world should be extremely grateful to the Japanese for their efforts and inventions, especially Americans, because Japanese scientists including Dr.Takamine’s contributions to several industries in this country have been very significant.

麹 or 米糀 – Aspergillus and friends or pet Aspergillus

Millet koji.

But let’s start with the koji, or 麹, since it is what set everything off. 麹 really has little to do with the purified spores (tane-koji) that the Japanese have so brilliantly domesticated. When the Japanese think koji they mean 米糀 (rice koji or come-kouji) or sometimes another subspecies of Aspergillus (mold) grown on barley, millet, sweet potatoes or soybeans.

We’ll get to the Zygomycetes (Rhizopus, Mucor, Rhizomucor), yeasts and bacteria later, but even then it’s really rare that at some point in miso making or shoyu making and ocassionally even sake making they aren’t part of the process. Even if that just means avoiding them at all costs.

You should at least know these things exist. But we’ll try not to get too microbiologist on you unless it really matters.

Corn: Vinegar, Koji and Hamma Natto
Three corn kojis, three tastes (vinegar, koji, shih)

Su Jiang Rou or Shoyu what?

Many research papers, patent applications, books, journals, PhD theses and extant scrolls – as well as some pretty old oral communications – accurately document the development of mochi koji 麹. The stuff that seems to have taken hold in the minds of Westerners, at least, is bara koji, not mochi koji though.

We are actually partial to the bara koji, because as with sake and a whole lot of other food stuffs and beverages, the original sake was awful. Bara koji helps us to avoid that type of sake entirely. That said, Shanghai yeast balls or Chinese yeasts balls – way closer to the original mochi koji – can make some pretty amazing things.

Furthermore, modern day additives to sake that come from Aspergillus such as A.luchuensis or A. oryzaes and sometimes yeasts, bacteria or microbial enzymes should be welcomed as great things, especially if they help to avoid the industrialized unpalatable swill (増醸酒 ぞうじょうしゅ or Zojoshu) that is produced and consumed in Japan on a widespread basis.

Nukazuke (corn pickles made with corn nuka or bran). Thank you, Lactobacillus plantarum and friendly halophiles, for everything you do

Unblinded by Science

As I recently discussed at a recent meeting of culturesgroup, the invention of s16 rRna technology along with rapid advancements in other ways to quantify very precisely what bacteria and other microbes (yeasts, fungi, etc.) that populate the microbiome of any product have exploded the research into what microbes are in what we eat.

This is not all that new a thing, though, as the romanticizers of traditional methods keep trying to sell their goods. But industry and artesans can now either industrialize or individualize or do some of both when making something like soy sauce or amino sauces or sake with widely accessible ingredients.

Look to the Yeast

When I say there is actually only one thing that is ever created through any type of transformative process like using something to make koji from or add koji to or inoculate with a specific mold or fungus what I mean is that everything is on a continuum, a horizontal progression from ingredient to outcome.

The sokujo style method of making sake – basically just adding lactic acid derived from bacteria to avoid having to create it in what is called a shubo or moto in a time consuming and more expensive way – is almost exactly the same thing as making shoyu and even miso.

If you want to direct tastes or mormi develop look to the yeast. Sometimes, the water minerals or the bacteria, often cadged from a previous batch, do the trick as well.

Shiitake mushroom shoyu or soy sauce.

With the help of amazing new equipment with which we can measure a microbiome (as in the mkicrobiome of a vat of soy sauce) and it’s inhabitants down to the genetic level it makes clear how much respect the artesans that have been making these things for thousands of years deserve.

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world – Nina Simone, Feeling Good

Knowledge begets new customs and traditions. Don’t repeat history and not learn from the past. Using new tools and techniques, it’s time for new generations to experiment and create new foodways.

Not that we know everything we want to know yet. Just that it should be a fusion of the traditional and the modern, a sustainable and enlightened way of creating new foods and tastes.

Microbes Eat Corn

Corn Tempeh made by Ferment.Works

Aspergillus oryzae (koji) chomping down on corn to make koji that will serve almost a hundred purposes, about as many as the types of corn (races) known to exist.

Corn Shoyu – Recipe

  • 10 cups/2200 grams steamed yellow grits corn koji (A. sojae)
  • 2 cups/300 grams kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups/425 grams ground corn masa koji
  • 2 cups /500 grams water
  • 3 cups/550 grams corn masa, toasted
  • 2 cups/275 grams dark brown roasted corn
  • 1 cup 120F water

    Keep at 92F to 100F for two weeks, stirring every day. Cover but not tightly. Then add:
  • 2 cups 120F water
  • 65 grams coarse sea salt
  • 3/4 cup 170 grams non-nixtamalized whole corn koji, ground

    After 6 weeks at 92F to 95F (3 to 6 months if at 72F) strain. Use the lees or dregs, if any, for a pickling bed, a moromi type miso, or the base of another shoyu or amino sauce or paste. This should yield a solid gallon.

You could replace all the corn koji with barley koji. or brown rice koji, but still keep the toasted masa and the browned corn.

Soy sauce, but really corn sauce because of microbial enzymes and corn without beans. Next post we’ll include another corn shoyu made with beans and another corn koji, while we slowly hit you with just a little science behind the bacteria, yeasts, fungus and koji types behind shoyu.
September 9th Events at Resobox
  • Monday, September 9 , 2019
  • 2:10 PM –  3:50 PM, $20 register here
  • Resobox, Long Island City, New York, New York (MAP)

Asian ferments like miso, tempeh, shoyu, pickles, amasake and shio koji, and even sake and vinegar, can be made with corn. Chef Ken Fornataro of culturesgroup and Kirsten Shockey of ferment.works will demonstrate how wild and cultured microbes like koji (miso, sake, shio koji), lactobacteria (pickles) and Rhizopus (tempeh, oncom) make tasty, unique and nutritious foods. Class participants will be learning about and tasting:

  • Caviar Lentil soup with Corn Tempeh croutons
  • Hokkaido Ramen corn chowder (in red curry broth)
  • Corn and radish and roasted shrimp kimchi
  • Hominy and onion salad and pepper salad, corn shoyu dressing
  • Sweet corn, lavender lemon cornbread
  • Tomato salad with parsley, corn vinegar, and extra virgin corn oil dressing
  • Corn shio-koji roasted glazed corn nuts
  • Corn Amasake Chai (Iced Tea) 
  • Doboroku (country style sake made with corn and rice)

Everyone will receive a bag of corn miso. Depending on seasonal availability we may have to have substitutions for the above dishes, and we may also have some things you can buy to take out:

  • Eggplant and ginger namemiso, spicy eggplant corn hagosuchizuke (corn koji)
  • Corn, Raisin, Cinnamon, Molasses and spice corn cookies
  • Assorted one, two and three year old misos will be for sale during the event, as will as take out bento boxes for those unable to attend class

If you would like to purchase one of the Shockey’s books at the event let us know at culturesgroup@earthlink.net or order online at https://ferment.works

Corn, Squash, Black Bean and Rice Tempeh

Fermentation Workshop

  • Monday, SEPTEMBER 9 , 2019
  • 4:00 PM –  6:00 PM
  • Resobox (Map)
  • $20 Event Fee

Presenters

Ken Fornataro

Ken has been cooking, fermenting and preserving vegetables, seeds, grains, fish and legumes with A. oryzae, yeasts and bacteria since childhood. He was taught traditional Japanese, Chinese and Russian foods, fermentation and preservation techniques to make koji, miso, shoyu, vinegar, sake, jiangs and pickles by Aveline and Michio Kushi, William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, and Jewish and Christian Eastern European immigrants. He is working on a book related to food, fermentation, microbiology and semiotics as Executive Chef for culturesgroup.net

Kirsten and Shockey

Kirsten and Christopher are the co-authors of bestselling Fermented VegetablesFiery Fermentsand the new Miso, Tempeh, Natto and other Tasty Ferments books that came from their desires to both help people eat in new ways, both for the health of themselves and the planet. They got their start in fermenting foods twenty years ago on a 40-acre hillside smallholding which grew into their local organic food company. They travel worldwide helping people to learn to make, enjoy and better connect with their food. Their current work is building their relationship with R. oligosporus and R. oryzae and how these fungal ferments interact with grains and legumes to transform our foods for both nourishment and flavor. You can find them at Ferment.Works

Contact culturesgroup:

Like the Aztecs considered ashes in their corn pots as a blessing, so did the Chinese recognize and make use of the microbial gifts that natured blessed them with. Microbial enzymes make corn’s nutrients available while disarming anti-nutritional factors.

All cultures depend on the ability to metabolize potential food sources. None of this would be possible without the enzymes created by the yeast, fungus and bacteria present in and on corn. 

Just as we have learned how to use Potassium or Calcium Hydroxide with corn, Chef Ken Fornataro will describe how corn treated with microbial enzymes from Aspergillus, Rhizopus, and Lactobacteria can make tasty pickles, vinegar, beer, miso, beans, sauces, meat and fish. September 8th at The New School.

  • Sunday, September 8, 2019
  • 9:00 AM to  3:00 PM
  • New School, Tishman Auditorium, New York City (Map)

Recent Posts

Nixtamalized, Sprouted, Popped, and Maillarded Corn Jiang

First we sprouted some of our favorite popcorn. Not that popcorn makes great edible sprouts, but it starts the process of making the corn more digestible, tasty, and nutritious. The smell and flavor of corn pops! It makes the miso taste like an ear of buttered, grilled corn. With benefits.

Miso Ingredients are listed below. We have taken our miso making steps and walked you through the process. With pictures and videos. Crusty grits, nixtamilizing sprouted popped corn, and mixing it all up are explained in the videos. Making corn stock, and how to weight the miso down, cover it, and let it ferment are explained in previous posts.

  • 450 grams/3 to 4 cups crusty baked grits (any kind)
  • 1770 grams/2 cups dried organic popcorn that has been sprouted, popped, and nixtamalized
  • 2400 grams/14 to 16 cups koji rice made with Aspergillus oryzae
  • 250 grams/1 cup coarse sea salt
  • 250 ml/1 cup warm brown corn stock
  • seed miso (optional, up to a cup)

Sprouted corn and popped sprouted corn after being cooked in corn stock with calcium hydroxide (nixtamalized)

Sprouting popcorn is pretty easy to do. But you can actually buy sprouted popcorn from online vendors such as Shiloh Farms, Thrive Market, or at a health food store. Our local supermarket actually carries it as well.

Sprouted corn and popped sprouted corn after being cooked in corn stock with calcium hydroxide (nixtamalized)

Baking nixtamalized grits until until crusty.

Mix the baked grits, salt, popped and cooked corn together. Mix well.

Mix the Miso

If you plan to do it for the longer 3 to 6 month period add up to 1/10th of the weight of the other ingredients (about a cup) of unpasteurized seed miso. We prefer using mellow white miso. Use a soy free miso if you are trying to avoid soy.

Pack it in.

When packing the miso in keep massaging it, mashing up and corn kernels to prevent having to grind it up later. Weight your miso down after packing the well massaged and supple mix into your container.

This is a pretty quick miso. You can ferment it at 85F for 30 days, then at 72 F for 15 days. Check it after the first week just to be sure everything is okay. Otherwise you could ferment it at 72F for 3 to 6 months.

When you feel it is done, remove some and grind it up. You can even chop it up on a cutting board old school style, or grind it in a mortar or a Japanese suribachi. Remember that you don’t have to grind up all your miso at once. Re-cover it and let it continue to ferment after taking out what you need.

Taking Stock of and Making Stock from Sweet Corn

First the corn stock. You can actually make this with half eaten, older, or cosmetically challenged corn and it will still deliver the smell and taste we lust after in corn. If you are using fresh corn save the husks for making tempeh or tamales or little packets of natto if you like.

Roasting corn picked a little more than a few days ago to create a very tasty stock and water replacement to give dishes a greater organoleptic corn thrill. The smell of corn roasting until brown from the Maillard reaction and the caramelization of corn’s inherently large percentage of sugars can provoke a Proustian Madeleine response in those of us that grew up near corn fields.

Corn Stock Recipe

Hack up four ears of raw, sweet corn into two to three inch pieces after shucking and removing the corn silk if it’s still on, then place in an un oiled pan. Bake the corn for 3 or 4 hours.

You could also just brown the pieces very well in a big heavy pot until they were caramelized and dark but not burnt. Or throw them on a hot grill.

Cover with water (6 to 8 cups) and cook for an hour or two on top of the stove, or cook in a pressure cooker – we’re not naming names here – in the same amount of water for 20 minutes. Let cool off and strain. You can also add any well roasted corn kernels to the broth – up to 1/4 cup per 6 cups of water, and strain everything for a richer taste.

Besides using this for our corn misos, breads, rice or bean based breads like idlis and dosas, you can just chill the stock and sweeten it (or not) for iced tea. Or add spices and tea for chai. Use it instead of water or even stock in just about any case you would use water or stock.

Of course you can also use it as a chilled or hot soup base adding whatever you like to it. In any case, this stock is so versatile and tasty and simple consider it as part of your mise-en-place. It lasts for up to a week in the refrigerator. We make it once a day when it’s corn season.

The amount of starch in corn and that starches ability to be gelatinized makes it a stand out candidate for microbial intervention: pickle it, ferment it, use it instead of rice starch for a kimchi or fermentation base, or turn it into a soy sauce type seasoning agent and dipping sauce. Or a marinade. Or alcohol. Or mirin.

Lots of recipes coming, many presented at one or more of September events we are presenting at, or collaborating with other people and groups to provide.

Just a few of the things you can make with corn:

  • wine
  • pickles
  • puddings
  • cakes
  • breads
  • chutneys
  • soy sauce (with or without beans)
  • grits
  • hominy
  • polenta
  • moonshine
  • beer
  • corn nuts
  • syrup
  • flour
  • sprouts
  • tamales
  • tortillas
  • tacos
  • stews
  • mirin
  • ice cream
  • and many, many different types of desserts.
Corn germ and corn tips from nixtamalized corn. In the 1980’s we used to make macrobiotic unrefined corn germ oil and barley malt pecan pies with a cornmeal crust. Not exactly low fat but unbelievably tasty. The removal of the 
germ reduces the chances that the corn will go bad in your larder or when transported to other places.

If you’ve ever picked the corn tips off newly nixtamalized corn (whole dried dent or field corn treated with potash or more commonly calcium hydroxide or cal) to make pericarp free, homogenized color, hominy it’s easy to see how canned hominy of a very consistent quality, or dried hominy (known as posole by most people) became popular.

A lot of the quality of fresh corn that is available to most consumers depends on how close a local corn field was, and how carefully and coldly fresh picked corn could be transferred to an alert buying public.

Except for a few hard core corn enthusiasts that argued about the perfect timing schemes to seize ears of corn from the fields and throw them into boiling water to get the sweetest, freshest corn, suburban and city folk were pretty much stuck with buying corn from grocery stores. Removing the kernels off the cob and getting just the juicy parts to be sauteed as a vegetable side dish is always a treat. Some places sell fresh, raw corn kernels as well.

For a while, popcorn was the best selling gourmet food item in any state in the country. As you’ll see, it makes a mean sprout that can then be popped, nixtamilized and made into a variety of things such as miso.

You can do a wide variety of things with dried (or freeze dried) sweet corn and field corn. There’s nothing like breaking out a big jar of pickled corn still on the cob or corn relish or chutney in the middle of winter. Our corn miso will make you think you are eating a piece of freshly grilled and buttered corn. Even if you are eating it on an ear of fresh corn in the summer.

Sweet corn miso aging in the refrigerator after a 6 month fermentation period. Deep.

We suggest adding some some at the last minute as is recommended with all misos – boiling it destroys the good things about this ferment and dulls the flavor – to a new England Corn Chowder, or spread on a corn based pizza crust topped with roasted garlic, cheese and pickled, charred jalapeños. Yes, recipe on the way.

Corn on the cob is just unavoidable in certain areas. No clam bake or crawdad boil or lobster dinner or barbeque was without corn. Often steamed along with the other ingredients, or cooked straight in salted butter and served as a side with unsweetened corn bread that had been cooked in cast iron in ashes, or dumped right on top of a shrimp gumbo.

Also, the argument about how to best (read properly and socially acceptable) eat corn in public, and whether it was even fair to serve something sure to get stuck in the teeth of well heeled diners made corn on the cob something avoided at formal dining occasions.

Corn from Masienda we nixtamalized and spiced and added to roasted pumpkin seeds and other ingredients for tempeh using a culture called Rhizopus oryzae. For hominy for our tempeh – or posole – we never use more than 1% lime (by weight). Same way we make our rapid grits for fermentation after soaking out the corn bran as we call it.

A Few Corn Facts

In most areas there are typically two classes of corn sometimes with a few varieties available, sweet corn or field corn. There are other types of corn grown for specific reasons, but most people never see them growing.

Sweet corn is not supposed to dry in the fields if it is meant to be eaten as sweet corn. Racoons and other corn eaters like coatimundi would never let that happen, anyway. Pumpkins with prickly vines, pole beans and tall sweet corn can be an effective deterrent. As can dogs.

Field corn was always yellower, grew taller, left on the cob to somewhat dry out for easier processing like a lot of grains, and a lot of fun to play in. When field corn is really dry it has indents or recessions on the top that are created as the corn loses moisture.

That’s also why it was sometimes called dent corn. If you get it before it is that dry it’s edible and tasty, just not as sweet and juicy as sweet corn.

But all corn is good. Big thanks to the Mississippians and other Native America tribes that created entire societies in what is now called the United States around corn. Pretty sure Vermont would be just green mountains had corn not been amenable to the cold climate there.