Coconut Fennel Beer

Roasted Sourdough Coconut Fennel Bread in a rich malt broth.

Eventbrite (Register at this link, or at MeetUp for cash donations)

January 27th, 7 to 9:30 come ask questions about any of the recipes or methods used in this post. Two extremely skilled fermenters, and cutting edge brewers, Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett will be in house helping us answer questions.

They create their brews at Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Long Island City, where the event is taking place. Take a look at their menu! And try some things that we made using enzymes, and yeasts starters. We’ll answer any question that you have about anything fermented.

We used lots of different types of grains inoculated with koji. We made syrups out of them by making amasake from both rice and barley inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae (koji), then slowly boiled them down to a very thick sweet paste.

You could use store bought barley malt or rice syrup.

We also added some DME, or direct malt extract, to the broth or what is called the mash if you are making beer. You could use all powdered DME if the syrups are too time consuming or expensive.

Sweet Malted Wort meets Toasted Coconut Fennel Sourdough Bread

Our yeasts were from what are sometimes called Shanghai yeast balls. These typically contain koji as well as other fungal enzymes like the ones you can make tempeh with called Rhizopus oryzae.

These enzymes work to break down big starches into small digestible sugars for humans, and for yeast food. When starches are broken down like this they are then called fermentable sugars. The yeast can eat them and create alcohol and gas.

Yeasts balls crushed up, and a fancy instrument to measure the SG of your beverage. This is important when you want to know how much alcohol something contains. Not much at all at the start – or at the end.

Chinese yeast balls called 麹 in traditional Chinese also contain specific bacteria that are widely used in the food sector to turn starches into sugars, including for fermenting. The Japanese recognize the word 麹 as meaning koji as well.

But the Japanese got their alphabet (or kanji) from the Chinese. It’s a system of pictograms. The Japanese dramatically altered both the language and the koji so that now most people refer to koji as the purified, Aspergillus only Japanese version.

Chinese starter cultures are dramaticaly different, but do often contain some Aspergilllus oryzae as well. It can be confusing when 麹 is used. All the great spore producers are in Japan.

The original koji mash we boiled.

We wanted to introduce people to the concept of mashing, above, as well as adding house made or store made malt extracts in powder or liquid form.

If you have enough you won’t even need the powdered malt extract. On the other hand, you could double the dried malt extract and skip the koji syrups. (original recipe)

The yeast forming a nice top of the beer. This beer doesn’t have hops, though. So this is really, really old school.

After straining the liquid we had intended to use for something else we realized we had lots of liquid koji extracts in the refrigerator. We also had lots of sourdough bread that had some flavoring components in them. Those became this spiced beer.

  • 6000 grams liquid cooled down to 95 to 105F
  • 950 grams heavily toasted sourdough bread (coconut and fennel sourdough bread was used in this recipe)
  • 22 grams crushed yeast balls (2 to 3 balls)

When the malted liquid made from either koji syrups or liquid or powdered malt – your goal is a starting SD of 1.040, but don’t worry about it if you can’t measure it – is below 105F, pour over the sourdough and let it absorb the liquid. Keep warm.

After about an hour the bread should have absorbed the liquid and be around 95F. As long as it’s between 72F to 95F it’s okay. Add the crushed up yeast balls and stir for about 5 minutes.

Cover with a towel and leave in a warm place for about an hour. Stir well again and put in a sanitized container. It should not fill the container more than half full. Put in warm area, maintaining a temperature as close to 82F as you can, covered with an air lock or just a sanitized cloth. Stir once or twice a day for 3 days, tasting as you go along.

At day 3 strain the mixture well with a sanitized strainer. Put in smaller sanitized container and let it settle for a few hours. Then pour off the top liquid into sanitized bottles and let sit again, this time in a cool area.

Either pour off the liquid again after about 12 hours – rack it some more while pouring the liquid through a very fine nut bag or brewing bag – or don’t and refrigerate until very cold.

Leave about an inch space in each bottle, then seal the bottles tightly. Be aware of carbon dioxide buildup. Burp the bottles if they appear to be building up gas.

Careful when taking the bottles from a very cold refrigerator to a warmer area. As with water kefir and milk kefir, open bottles with a towel over a bucket if necessary.

Ask questions at our upcoming event! There are two ways to register depending on whether you have cash or credit. Most people are registering using Eventbrite, but register at our MeetUp page if you have cash or can’t afford anything. Just register.

Part 2 of the Chocolate Brew

Eventbrite (Register at this link, or at MeetUp for cash donations)

January 27th, 7 to 9:30 come ask questions about any of the recipes or methods used in this post.

Two extremely skilled fermenters, and cutting edge brewers, Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett will present and answer questions. They create their brews at Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Long Island City, where the event is taking place. Take a look at their menu!

Try some things that we made using enzymes, and yeasts starters. We’ll answer any question that you have about anything fermented.

The following recipes demonstrate methods that are useful across the board for anything you brew. Yeast is involved, as are bacteria.

We measure the starting SG (specific gravity) and PH of everything. We count on bacteria to create lactic acid to lower the PH in some brews, but not this one.

We could easily just add some lactic acid up front to lower the PH quickly to protect the yeast from infection in any brew, but that does not avoid the need to always be sanitary. Even when you have an open brewing system like with sake.

Once the yeast takes hold it will be able to control the environment of the brew, but in many cases unless the lactic acid producing bacteria are prevented from infecting the moromi or mash, the yeast may not stand a chance.

Utensils hanging out in Star-san. You can even save it for bottle washing weeks later.

We’ll talk about sanitation in future posts. For now wash everything, use gloves, and boil everything that could come in contact with your brew.

Everything always follows strict rules of sanitation. Get some Star-san and use it. You could also use bleach, but that’s a lot more tricky.

Rice sugar extract, similar to a liquid malt extract.

We wanted to introduce people to the concept of mashing, as well as adding house made or store made malt extracts in powder or liquid form.

Obviously introducing people to some basic principles of yeast starter building and maintenance for everything from sake to shoyu to beer if they haven’t been introduced is always a good thing.

We’ll discuss all these things at the event, and in future posts after the event.

Chocolate Koji Kvass (濁酒)- continued
  • 3785 grams (1 gallon) water
  • 1400 grams rice koji syrup (warm)
  • 445 grams barley koji syrup (warm)
  • 240 grams dried powdered barley malt extract

After straining the liquid we realized we had lots of liquid koji extracts in the refrigerator. We also had lots of sourdough bread that had some flavoring components in them. So we set the liquid we made in the previous post – our sweet little wort – and decided to make a more refined base for our Chocolate Koji Doboroku.

We boiled these together in a sanitized pot being careful not to scorch or burn the bottom.

  • 85 grams bittersweet chocolate

We added the chocolate right near the end of the boil of 60 minutes and mixed it well with a sanitized whisk. At the 50 minute mark is fine.

The cooling down wort waiting for it’s yeast.

When the boil got down to 90 F we added the yeast and stirred. You can use an ice bath and cold water to get the temperature down.

Proofed S.bayanus yeast ready to go.

After that, we put a sanitized lock top lid on top. We waited a week or so until we sampled it. Keep it at 72F or below if you can.

We may add some additional chocolate at this point similar to an infused sake. If you plan on doing that hold back some chocolate and let it steep in a small amount of alcohol or water in the fridge. Come try some.

Maple Syrup and Smoked Pomegranate Kvass

Organic beets. Do not discard the greens, including the stems.Do not discard anything you trim off, unless it is not organically grown. You only need the actual beet bottoms for these recipes, though.

Come and ask questions of two extremely skilled fermenters and cutting edge brewers, Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett. They create their brews at Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Long Island City, where the event is taking place. Take a look at the menu!

The Event is January 27th, 7 to 9:30 Come ask questions about any of the recipes or methods used in this post about beets. Try some things that we made using enzymes, and yeasts starters. We’ll answer any question that you have about anything fermented. Plus, this is a #vegan event.

Pomegranate powder about to be incorporated into a smoky maple syrup and fennel seed beet base for a great probiotic drink. And for cockatils as well. Got shochu?

Smoked Maple and Pomegranate Beet Kvass

  • 425 grams washed and diced raw organic beets
  • 1250 grams of water (enough to cover the beets in a half gallon jar)
  • 1 to 2 tsp toasted fennel seeds
  • 30 grams coarse sea salt. Do not use fine sea salt for this. Kosher salt is okay.
  • 4 TB maple syrup
  • 4 TB pomegranate powder (or just add more maple syrup or molasses)
  • 1/8 tsp liquid smoke or ash. Do not use more. Add more when finished if you like.
  • 2 TB unpasteurized vinegar (apple cider vinegar with the mother, etc.)
  • 4 TB Pomegranate Molasses (or more maple syrup)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (organic, any type. If replacing maple syrup and pomegranate with dark molasses, use 1/2 cup more)

Mix everything together in a large bowl with gloved hands or a spoon. Otherwise, your hands will get stained. If you can’t get pomegranate powder or molasses use more maple syrup as indicated. You can also use organic dark brown sugar or organic molasses. The fennel seeds are essential, but can be replaced with anise seeds.

Other natural smoke flavorings or even smoked soy sauce or smoked salt can be used, sparingly. Smoked salt does not replace the coarse sea salt. Add some smoked salt to your kvass before serving if you like.

Ferment in an area where it is between 72 and 85F. It should take a week to ten days. If the temperature is lower, it will take at least 14 days before it is ready.

Put baby in the corner.

Shiso Leaf and Beet Kvass with pickled beets
  • 216 grams ( about 3 medium sized beets) raw organic beets. If not organic peel them. Otherwise after cutting into thick matchsticks wash them in cold water by rubbing them gently.
  • 1500 grams warm water. This will cover the beets that are placed in a well washed and sanitized half gallon glass jar.
  • 190 grams Shiso Vinegar*. Our Shiso vinegar has enough salt in it to act both as a starter culture, and as a deterrent to unwanted bacteria and yeasts. The base is an apple cider vinegar with lots of the mother in it. There are both yeasts and bacteria in vinegar.

Cover the jar tightly and shake. You could also dump the content of the jar into a bowl and mix them well. Then, put them back into the jar and cover with an airlock, or a tight lid. To be safe put the jar in a bowl or dish. If it looks like air is building up in your jar, loosen it to let it escape then retighten it.

This should be done in 5 to 7 days, but can go for two or three weeks if you like. Save the beets for a fantastic beet, pickle and apple salad. Or dress them with a miso dressing as a side dish. You can also start a new batch using the liquid if you like as a starter culture.

*Perilla vinegar substitute – You can use unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and mix in some umeboshi vinegar (about 1/4 cup), or use some shiso furikake (check the ingredients if you are a vegan) with vinegar and salt. You could also use vinegar, 3 TB of coarse sea salt and fresh dill or toasted dill seeds, or roasted black peppercorns.

The perilla vinegar could also be replaced with 40 grams of coarse sea salt. If you know beforehand then cut the beets thinner or into smaller pieces. Either way it should taste just a little salty at first, but not extremely salty.

Only salt will take about 2 weeks, but check it as you go along. Don’t stick unclean spoons, forks or fingers in your ferments.

Chocolate Koji Kvass (濁酒)

Heavily toasted rice koji (A.oryzae) sourdough bread.

  • 150 grams rice koji
  • 200 grams wheat berry or brown rice koji (or more rice koji)
  • 300 grams heavily toasted cubed or ripped apart sourdough bread.

Mix above ingredients and toast slowly in oven for two hours at 200F. Stir occasionally. Not burnt, but really brown for the bread. The koji won’t change color much but will smell amazing.

The rice koji bread above is obviously not as dark as a pumpernickel bread would be. Bread made with rice or another koji is preferred, but use whatever leftover bread you have.

Use whatever koji you have. Can’t get your hands on koji? Use malt extracts. We’ll discuss those tomorrow.

Two hours after slow roasting our kojis and bread.

  • 24 cups boiled water, cooled down to 140F

Pour the water onto the mixture hanging over your fermenter in a brew bag. Stir the contents in the bag well.

Let sit, covered with a sanitized cloth or plastic wrap for 24 hours as close to 120F as you can.

It’s okay if you can only keep the temperature at 72F.

In the sanitized brew bag. In a fermenter (a plastic, food safe bucket that fits right into our cooler) that can easily be chilled.

We’ll decide what to do for yeast once you lift the brewers bag out carefully letting every last drop drip out. Don’t squeeze the bag, though. Save the dregs to make vinegar or compost it.

You can also dry it out and use as breading for fried foods or as a thickening agent.

You should have either brewers yeast, yeast balls, champagne yeast, sake yeast or even another type of yeast for tomorrow.

Ask questions at our upcoming event! There are two ways to register depending on whether you have cash or credit. Register here if you want to bring cash or make donations. If you want to register with a credit card use the Eventbrite link.

Let’s Get Startered

Yeast starters and starter cultures that contain yeast – like the original koji for which the Chinese Kanji (麹) was created – sometimes also contain other types of bacteria, fungus and even other yeasts.

Take, for example, sourdough starter. It’s easy to turn that into vinegar because there are already some bacteria and yeasts in there just like there are in kombucha.

Eventually, often with the help of wild yeasts and bacteria, both of these will eventually become alcohol. Vinegar is made from alcohol, either fermented fruits like apples or peaches, or from grains.

But controlling how much yeast, and especially what kinds of yeast get into a specific starter is how most alcoholic and non-alcoholic fermentations are successfully made.

It’s essential that any utensils and containers you use are very clean. Always kill off as many wild strains that may be lurking before starting or proceeding – unless these are part of your fermenting culture.

Sometimes rinsing everything with boiling water is enough. Other times it is woefully inadequate. Equally important is making sure ever ingredient is properly prepared.

Soaking tree nuts or beans, for example, helps to remove undesirable substances that can ruin fermentations, or mess up your digestive system.

Some yeasts work remarkably well at protecting crops from diseases. These are benign and helpful yeasts. But even then sometimes these microbes in large amounts actually cause allergies, and what are sometimes mistaken as intolerance to a specific grain or nuts.

So soak your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Some recipes call for salt, vinegar, alcohol or lactic acid to help the process along, but it’s usually about how much salt is involved and how the water or moisture content of ingredients is affected.

Some yeasts can take can take up to a 7% sodium content, so controlling the entire microbiome of the things that you are making is crucial. Some harmful microbes can be eliminated by pre-drying or curing.

Soaking ingredients, along with treatment with enzymes produced by sprouted grains or microbes such as Aspergillus strains or lactobacteria, can also greatly assist in making breads, misos, kefir, and soy or amino sauces more nutritious, digestible, and free from potential residues.

January 27, 2020 – Event at Fifth Hammer

Come and ask questions of two extremely skilled fermenters and cutting edge brewers, Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett. They create their brews at Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Long Island City.

You’ll also get to try some things that we made using enzymes, and yeasts starters. Plus, we’ll answer any question that you have about anything fermented. Of course it would be great if you had any hard core science related questions posted here, or sent to beforehand so we could have a concise answer for you.

We revised the agenda based on specific requests from people about yeast starters that are useful when making a wide array of things such as beer, miso, soy sauce, meat or fish sauce, sourdough bread, vinegar, sake or kvass.

For example, someone really wanted to know about using a yeast starter for making beer. Although someone knew what sourdough bread kvass was, they asked if a yeast starter could improve it. Kvass made with fresh or old sourdough bread, heavily toasted for flavor and color, can be improved by a yeast starter, and can be flavored not only with wild herbs and roots and dried fruits but also with hops like beer.

Making Kvass

  • 1/2 gallon room temp water, left out overnight, covered, if you are concerned about chlorine or other substances.
  • 4 cups of leftover sourdough starter at room temperature (most people collect it in the fridge or freezer)
  • 1/2 cup Zante currants or other dried fruits such as raisins or cherries
  • 2 cups heavily toasted cubed or ripped apart sourdough bread. Not burnt, but really brown.
Heavily toasted sourdough bread and dried carrots were combined with a yeast starter to make a deep carrot and caramel toast flavored Kvass. Kvass typically is made with dark breads that contain rye, wheat, barley and often dried fruits, but you can use any heavily toasted bread.

Mix all the ingredients above in a well cleaned vessel that is able to take a doubling in volume. Unlikely, but until you’ve had to clean an overactive or over yeasted beverage that didn’t actually explode we recommend not letting it get above 80F.

Do not increase the amount of yeast. Give it space. The mixture will most likely be very thick after about an hour, at which point you will add:

  • 12 cups room temperature water
  • 1 – 2 cups sugar (jaggery, piloncillo, dark brown, organic cane, palm sugar, etc.)
  • 1 tsp brewers yeast, or bread yeast or even unpasteurized kasu (the pressings or dregs) from a recently made sake.

Do not add more yeast unless, at four or five hours at 75F, it appears that nothing is happening. The bread wil most likely have floated up to the top, so once you mix it the yeast will grow. Because yeasts love oxygen. And the bread top may be blocking air flow. Stir.

Always cover loosely with a cloth or several layers of mesh. Do not cover tightly. Strain at 24 to 48 hours if you like the taste. It will becomes a little more sour each day.

Once you strain it – don’t discard anything – put it in bottles and chill. Do not fill the bottles to the top. Do not screw lids on tightly. After a day at 50F or less degrees, you can rack off your strained kvass.

Racking is siphoning off, or pouring off the liquid on the top and leaving the sediment. This is a standard brewing technique and it comes in very handy for a whole range of different things.

Strained kvass being racked and chilled. We added dried carrots to the brew. Very low alcohol content, lower than most kombucha.

Hope you did not throw away anything. We’ll make vinegar and a beer from the dregs! Register for the January 27th event for more details and recipes.

Malted Grains, Koji and Rhizopus. Amazing tasty foods and brews. #Zymes2020:

Monday, Jan 27, 2020, 7:00 PM

Fifth Hammer Brewing Company
10-28 46th Ave Queens, NY

13 Members Went

Yeast starters and starter cultures that contain yeast – like the original koji for which the Chinese Kanji (麹) was created – sometimes also contain lactic acid or other types of bacteria, fungus and even other yeasts. Take, for example, sourdough starter. It’s easy to turn that into vinegar because there are already some bacteria and yeasts in the…

Check out this Meetup →

Chili with Koji and Beans

At tonight’s first #Zymes2020 event at Fifth Hammer Brewing we presented a chili made the typical way. A very small amount of ground beef was browned with onions, garlic, peppers, oregano, lime and other seasonings.

It doesn’t matter what your actual chili base is for this if you decide to make it, although some people do not like spicy foods. When preparing food for a crowd it is always a very considerate and professional thing to consider the preferences of a wide spectrum of people.

The place was packed. Actually the busiest we’ve ever seen it. The people attending the event truly appreciated the samples of food, as well as the unique condiments they could use to alter the taste of the chili to their liking.

A lot of people actually ate the condiments as if they were unrelated to the chili. That’s why you should always aim to prepare whatever it is you are making as if it is the main dish.

We brought ten things tonight that represented the ending of #Kojifest2019, and the beginning of #Zymes2020. We will be publishing recipes for everything we brought tonight.

On the one hand, it’s never a good idea to throw too many ingredients into a dish – and then describe all of them because their eyes will roll back in their heads after ingredient number five and your dialog will quickly become meaningless if not irritating – because one or more will likely not appeal to someone.

On the other hand if everything has so many ingredients and layers of flavor taste buds can get overwhelmed and senseless by the variety. Balance of tastes is important on the level of each dish, and to the extent that each dis contributes to the eating and tasting experience of a diner.

Like, seven different kinds of cake at every meal is not really tasty after a few meals. Would seven different types of wines for every meal be tasty after the first one or two meals? Be simple and let people choice things like condiments and drinks according to their preferences.

The home made doubanjiang (豆瓣酱) we brought was the hottest thing there. And untouched. That’s why condiments are so useful. In a previous post on mother sauces we explained that you can’t remove certain ingredients once you add them.

The chili would not have been so well received if we had added the doubanjiang to it during cooking or right before serving. Once again, that’s why it is so important to know your ingredients, know your techniques, know what has been done in the past, and remember that an artesan of any kind must take into account what others might like when preparing food or drink.

Tasty Functions

The purpose of everything we brought tonight was first and foremost to provide tasty things. The fact that some of our foods serve as functional foods by providing beneficial microbes, or by not providing discomforting or harmful ones, is always secondary.

Functional foods are important, but there are so many ways to get beneficial microbes into your body when eating fresh or unprocessed foods as all or just a part of your daily intake that you shouldn’t stress about it. In fact, condiments are another way to add live tasty foods to very simply prepared foods.

Functional Enzymes

The chili involves adding dried or freshly made barley koji, garbanzo bean koji, and wheat barley koji – the three made with different types of Aspergillus or a combinations of different types of spores – with salt and water to a meat or plant protein based already prepared chili.

Water or some liquid is important in facilitating the work of enzymes, as they involve hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is not possibly with water.

The unique thing about this chili, and much of which we spoke about, is how we prepared the dish to maximize the contribution of enzymes to the texture, taste and digestibility of the dish.

The Amasake Technique

If you have ever made amasake, typically a sweet rice based beverage or sugar substitute made with rice that has had Aspergillus oryzae grown in it, you know that it is made at a temperature of 140F for at least 12 hours.

If you are uncomfortable about controlling the temperature precisely aim for 135F. If we don’t actually grind our rice koji up first we usually make ours over a 24 hour period and add more water than typical recipes. Because of the sugars created during the process another cooking procedure with amasake tends to be risky if you are in a hurry.

A higher water content makes it less so. We find more water dissolves the added cooked rice as well as the koji rice more completely. Besides, if we have to remove some water we can always boil it down and make rice syrup.

During the process of making amasake the koji uses the enzymes to transform the food, prominently by splitting up starch molecules into simple sugars. That’s called saccharification.

Breaking big molecules or chains of sugar down into littler pieces can greatly aid in overall digestion, but also specifically make certain things digestible at all.

The enzymes that do this with starches that include cereal grains or anything that has carbohydrates in it such as legumes and some vegetables are amylase and gluycoamylase.

But those are not, by far, the only useful enzymes that are produced. Which enzymes and how much of each are produced was part of tonight’s event and will be continued in all 2020 events and posts at Cultures.Group.

In the case of the chili all the ingredients in it, just like the rice that had the fungus grown on it, become substrates.

Other enzymes like proteases – the wheat berries were grown with Aspergillus sojae and Aspergillus luchuensis that provide some of these – acted on the dish much like the amylase enzymes act on the rice. Proteins, fats and even cellulose got broken down into very simple, digestible units.

Esters and other olfactory benefits were produced as well.

We cooked the chili – which could easily have been made with a plant protein – at 140F for 36 hours, stirred it, added some more koji then cooked it for another 12 hours with some additional salt.

If we added even more salt and water we could have made a soy sauce type liquid out of it. Remember that.

It’s part of the koji continuum you’ll hear us talk about often. Remember reheating this on a direct flame can create amost instant singing and often burnt pots.

The more you can complete the dish during the fermentation process, just as with rice amasake, the less chance of that happening.

Recipes and Techniques

The dishes we brought were all, in one way or another, transformed by a filamentous fungus such as Aspergillus or Rhizopus as a substrate, or with the fungus grown onto a substrate. Yeasts and bacteria were also involved, and discussed at the event with respect to how they interact on a very specific level with particular strains and combinations of the fungus.

  • Three Koji, Three Filamentous Fungus Chili
  • Koji-cured Chicken Liver Mousse
  • Wheat and Fava Bean Koji Doubanjiang
  • Cashew Tempeh
  • Shiso and Koji vinegar
  • Aged Koji Kefir Cheese
  • Moromi miso
  • Three year old, thrice cooked Misodama
  • Corn shoyu kasu miso
  • Russian Sourdough bread
  • Ginger, Kombu, Garlic Betterazuke
  • Aged Plum and Barley Koji (A.awamori) Mirin
  • Fig, walnut, caramel, sweet plum, and wheat koji conserves

The first event of 2020 is on January 27th. The second is February 17th. Same time, same place, same presenters with new practical tips, guidance and practical ways to use enzymes from microbes or malt.

Thanks to everyone that helped to make tonight a really great nose, eye and palate pleasing event. Register at Eventbrite.


Making Koji, Malting

Making shio-koji
Shio-koji. Also called salt koji. See below for instructions below on making it.


Spent rye grains inoculated with Aspergillus luchuensis and Rhizopus oryzae and other microbes for a sour rye liquid for baking and for brewing. That’s advanced level. Keep reading.

A fermentable sugar is something that a yeast or bacteria uses as an energy source. Grains (cereals) such as barley or millet or rice have a lot of starch. To be useful they have to be broken down into smaller pieces called simple sugars.

Filamentous fungus are a specific type of microbe capable of doing this. Either alone or in different combinations koji (Aspergillus and another specific fungus called Rhizopus) does this by creating enzymes that power or catalyse this process. They can break down lots of things.

Specific types of cultures or microbes that either include koji or are entirely made up of koji are used. They break things down into smaller pieces by creating many different types of enzymes.

Koji can break down starches, fats, proteins and other things from organic sources. Usually this is done through a process called hydrolysis, which just means water is involved in the process.

Koji (A. oryzae) is better at – and does not produce harmful toxins like a close relative Aspergillus flavus – at breaking things down. The breakdown enzymes that brewers are mostly concerned with are amylases, glucoamylases, pectinases, proteases, and lipases.

Koji is genetically and specifically capable of making hydrolytic enzymes and enzymes that move sugars and other substances around during fermentation. Remember that without enzymes everything would need more energy that would ever be available.

You can also use koji in it’s extracted form as well as a whole substrate such as koji grown on rice to make pickles, sake, shoyu koji, amasake and more.

Aspergillus oryzae has been specifically selected out over many years so that the strain we use typically knows what to do. When a great batch of sake was made, brewers used the same strain that had made that batch to create a new one with the same desirable koji properties.

Malting is done by sprouting or germinating a grain. Many different kinds can be used including rice, barley, and corn. All grains contain a lot of starch. The serve as a seeds energy source.

If you expose dried grains to water and the right temperature they will sprout, creating enzymes to break down starches for the grain to grow. This is called malting. Very useful for a plant until there are leaves that can get energy through photosynthesis. But brewers get the. enzymes before they are spent on growth. They are used to break down their starches.

As long as some fermentable sugars are available we create a moromi or wort to make alcohol. Whether you are making beer, sake, vinegar or soy sauce, wild yeasts or specifically selected yeasts turn the sugars into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.

The heat comes from the microbes doing their job has to be carefully controlled during koji making, as well as during the process of making beer or sake or another product. There are different ways this can be done, as there are different types of koji better for specific outcomes such as sake or shoyu。

But whether it’s sake or beer – which actually usually uses malted grains that produce the same type of enzymes as koji – the same saying applies to all microbrewing: “Ichi koji, ni moto, san zukuri”. First koji, second the Moto, third the fermentation.

We are having our last #KojiFest2019 event and the first #Zymes2020 event at Fifth Hammer Brewing in Long Island City on December 16th, 2019. You must pre-register for the event.

In the meantime, we will be publishing this 16 part series about how to make koji and extract it’s enzymes, and how to use what the koji is made on – a substrate – directly in brewing or baking or miso or sauce making.

About Enzymes

Enzymes serve two roles. They break down things such as tiny bits of food that you eat into smaller things. Or they combine smaller things like the amino acids from proteins into bigger things. Enzymes make possible every vital function of living things. Sometimes enzymes already exist in living things like your gut.

But most times they are used process things into food or drinks. Without the enzymes in malted barley, for example, it’s unlikely that either bread nor bread would exist as they do today.

Enzymes from koji have been used in European and American food manufacturing for at least 100 years now. We will get into what they have sometimes been combined with (other microbes, yeasts, techniques).

They are very safe to use, but you must be careful when handling them. Anything that can tear through grains or the muscles of animals should not be handled carelessly (see below).

Joichi Takamine

“Curiously enough this tiny and important hustler has scarcely attracted attention in the Occident, and this fact made me determine to work for it’s introduction to industrial use in the United States”

This quote is from a paper printed in 1914 in The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Vol.6, No.10). The author is Jokichi Takamine. He’s talking about koji (A.oryzae).

One of the things he was trying to do was to address the concerns of brewers and maltster – the people that make sprouted grain malt for beer – about the cost of the ingredients to create diastatic enzymes. The price of barley could vary. considerably from season to season. He had earlier filed a patent in the US to do so, “in a process not hitherto practiced”. He succeeded.


On February 23, 1894, a patent was filed in the US : “The object of this invention is to prepare and manufacture diastatic enzyme, or soluble ferment in a concentrated form which possesses the power of transforming starch into’ sugar for use in various industries, by a process not hitherto practiced, and in a very economical and practical manner. 

My invention is based upon the utilization of the property possessed by certain fungi during their growth on proper media of producing diastatic enzyme.

Typically, barley was malted. Malting creates diastatic enzymes. But Takamine thought of using something that was pretty much being thrown away, yet which could produce way more diastatic power and be less perishable. 

Despite some violent outbursts suspected to have come from the maltsters at the time afraid of losing both money and their businesses, the brewing and food manufacturing industries in in the US ultimately adopted the use of enzymes, sometimes malt from barley or other grains for beer, but overwhelmingly from fungal enzymes from Aspergillus in baking, food processing and medicine.

Today both brewing supply houses and enzyme companies sell specific enzymes from many fungus, molds, even bacteria but different types of Aspergillus (koji) are used extensively throughout the world.

Takamine’s substance became an amazingly useful drug used to help people digest food. Enzymes are a very big deal. You can make your own as described below, but be aware that a small microbrewing operation can very quickly become larger than the brewing or refrigeration or heating capacity of your space.

How to Make Takadiastase
  • 5 gallon container
  • 2 1/4 pounds (1024 grams) wheat bran
  • 3 gallons lukewarm water (9000 grams)
  • 1/2 cup (138 grams) coarse 100% NaCl salt
  • Aspergillus oryzae spores (1 gram pure spores)

Taka-Diastase is made with Aspergillus oryzae, the hardest working fungus in the world. It is made on wheat bran. We milled off the bran from winter wheat berries – they have tasty bran, but other types of wheat brans work well – but you can buy it in sizes from one to 50 pounds.

We suggest you start off with 2 and 1/4 pounds (1024 grams) of wheat bran. Remember that wheat bran is unlike wheat berries or even flour. It is typically very light when dry and flies everywhere.

This is especially important when you are about to harvest (or dekoji) your finished Taka-Diastase. Unlike, say, rice koji, you have to consider how to reduce the temperature without fans after a certain point.

As the temperature decreases and it dries out, fans will blow it everywhere. I recommend either using wood that can absorb a lot of water – when you reduce the heat of something the water will either evaporate in the air or soak into whatever it is on.

We often use lots of cloths when making bean or rice koji. Whatever you chose, be prepared to have lots of cloth changes or at least one other wooden to container to transfer the koji into as it dries.

Unless you are going to use it almost as soon as it is finished – we sometimes have a salt brine ready to throw prepared koji into while still warm – you have to dry it out. Otherwise, it will continue to grow.

And a moist pile of amino acids are a feast for all the wild microbes that hang out in the air.

Did any of this seem complicated or overwhelming? Most people don’t ever make their own koji. You can easily buy it. In 35 pound boxes rice koji can be quite reasonably priced.

But if you only want to make a pound or two of koji, it’s cheaper making it yourself. You can also buy the powdered enzymes. But here are basic guidelines to make any type of koji. (Part 2, next post.)

The Awesome Power of Koji

There is actually a large body of evidence on why bread and pastry bakers, farmers, and koji growers must be very careful about both inhaling aspergillus spores, as well as getting it on their skin. We will talk about that as well during the year long series, just remember to always wears gloves and masks when dealing with enzymes. 

It makes sense that something with the power to break down meat, fish, or very hard grains would be something to treat with caution. Sometimes things that are obvious to someone working in a professional, including the pharmaceutical industry and food manufacturing industries where Aspergillus and enzymes are used extensively, are not well known or made public.

Please be careful when handling enzymes created by anything, either from a sprouted grain or a fungus. Here are is a very small sample of some of the things that can happen when inhaling spores or enzymes from Aspergillus oryzae. As in the koji we are describing how to make.

  • Valdivieso, R & Subiza, Jose & Hinojosa, Mariel & Carlos, E & Subiza, E. (1994). Baker’s asthma caused by alpha amylase. Annals of allergy. 73. 337-42.  Abstract: Two bakers with bronchial asthma and two with rhinoconjunctivitis are described. Prick and RAST tests were positive with wheat flour in all of them, but the challenge test (nasal or bronchial) with wheat flour extract was positive only in one asthmatic baker. The prick test, RAST, and nasal or bronchial challenge done with alpha amylase extract (a glycolytic enzyme obtained from Aspergillus oryzae and used as a flour additive) were positive in all four patients. Our results support previous data indicating that alpha amylase used in bakeries is an important antigen that could cause respiratory allergy in bakers. It can function as sole causative allergen or in addition with other allergens used in the baking industry.
  • Sharma BB, Singh S, Singh V. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: the dug-well lung. Allergy Asthma Proc 2013;34:e59–64.
  • Gerfaud-Valentin M, Reboux G, Traclet J, et al. Occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis in a baker: a new cause. Chest 2014;145:856–8.