Koji Salt

by | Aug 1, 2018 | Food + Drink

When a family member lost their taste buds while undergoing chemotherapy, Denver Mace made it his mission to help them enjoy food again.

Soy sauce seemed to be the only food that they could taste, so Mace started to investigate what gave soy sauce that umami flavour.

“I tried to find a way to make food have a higher level of umami, but not have as much sodium,” said Mace. “So, by the magic of the internet I heard about this stuff in Japan called shio koji and I went all over town and couldn’t find it.”

Mace works as a mechanic four days a week and spent the other four learning how to make Koji in his kitchen, watching youtube videos and tending to the mold – with the support of his wife and children. Mace came up with his own version and hooked friends and family onto it.

“I have this insecurity that I might be bastardizing this really traditional food,” said Mace. “I do it differently because I taught myself how to do it, but I get feedback from Japanese customers who come back to ask what I do differently, because it’s sweeter and they like it.”

Koji is essentially a fermentation culture (a fancy way of saying mold) that naturally grows on rice and is used in our favourite Japanese imports, like soy sauce, mirin and miso. Koji salt, also known as shio koji, is essentially koji culture mixed with salt brine that is fermented for 10-12 days and becomes a sort of paste that is used to improve flavour with less sodium.

Eventually he decided to take it to market and that’s when his long journey began with Farmers Markets, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Small Batch tries...

We wanted to see for ourselves if this salt really enhances the flavour of the most mundane food. We roasted potatoes and yams with koji salt and we have to say the flavours were improved by the salt, but not taken over. Small Batch Recommends. Buy Koji Salt here.
From finding a commercial kitchen, to setting up a specially monitored incubator to grow the koji, to getting final inspection from Vancouver Coastal Health took five months. The inspection would usually be the last step in approval for most food producers, but because Koji was a new and novel for VCH they sent Mace to the BC Centre of Disease Control, who wrote an entire report on the cultivation of koji.
“The inspector said that in his 40 year career as a food inspector he hadn’t come across a new food and told me to consider myself a pioneer in a new industry,” said Mace. “The last time that happened was Kombucha and we all know what has happened with that.”

Finally Mace got the approval he needed to approach Farmers Markets, only to be rejected by all except Burnaby, Langley and Ladner.

“I got rejected because they just didn’t get it or they thought that they already had vendors selling salt,” said Mace. “I have a lot of work ahead of me to educate people on koji salt.”

Despite the ups and downs of building a new food company, Mace is undeterred and wants to expand Koji Fine Foods to include soy sauce and amazake.

“It all came down to a family member,” said Mace. “But I’ve just fallen in love with the whole process of it.”

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Excellent work. Well done you. Bravo.

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