Diabetes Diet: Why You Might Want Koji In Your Kitchen

Whether we’re comfortable with the idea or not, our health depends on maintaining a diverse array of symbiotic microorganisms in our body.

Many of these microorganisms inhabit the digestive tract, and are commonly called "gut bacteria."

Research continues to verify the importance of keeping our gut microbes in balance. For instance, a recent study suggests imbalanced gut bacteria, combined with a vitamin D deficiency, underlies the onset of metabolic syndrome—a set of conditions that often precedes type 2 diabetes.

Gut Health and Fermented Foods

An excellent way of enhancing our beneficial microorganisms is eating fermented foods, those subjected to chemical breakdown by certain bacteria, yeasts, or fungi. Without the fermentation process cucumbers would never morph into pickles, and cabbage would never find it’s way onto a Reuben as sauerkraut.

The health benefits of boosting gut bacteria with fermented foods are many. People with diabetes will especially appreciate having a stronger immune system to ward off infection, and improved mental health to help prevent or reduce symptoms of depression. Plus, individuals at risk for diabetes can reduce the likelihood of onset by keeping digestive microorganisms in balance.

Koji In The Kitchen

Many chefs and nutritionists are currently embracing the use of koji to ferment food. Koji, a fungus of the genus Aspergillus, is a fermenting agent used in many Japanese and Chinese products. It’s made by adding Aspergillus culture to foods such as steamed rice, or soybeans, and letting the mixture sit in a warm humid place for about two days (50 hours).

The enzymes, fatty acids, and amino acids released by koji’s action add deep flavor and nutritional value to foods. Traditional Asian items made using koji include soy sauce, sake, miso soup, and rice vinegar. Currently, adventurous Western chefs are creating new fermented-by-koji products.

Koji can be purchased online, and at local Asian markets. It’s sometimes labeled kome-koji (rice koji), or shio-koji (salt koji). Besides being a fermentation agent, koji can be used:

  • To tenderize meat.
  • As a seasoning in a variety of dishes, or as an ingredient in vinaigrettes, or berry preserves. Koji gives a savory “umami” taste to foods, and brings out the flavor of other ingredients.
  • As a fish, chicken, or vegetable marinade (a 30 to 60 minute soak may be long enough, and the food may cook quicker than normal).

There are also plenty of recipes using koji available online. Be aware that koji is very salty, so avoid adding extra salt to these dishes.

Steam-Grilled Asparagus With Shio-Koji

For those eager to try cooking with koji, here is an easy to prepare veggie recipe with a cooking time of about three minutes. The recipe calls for cooking oil, asparagus spears, shio-koji, and crushed black pepper.

To Prepare:

  1. Pour a little oil into a pan.
  2. When the oil is heated, add asparagus and leave it for a minute.
  3. Add a little water to the pan and put the lid on to steam-grill the veggie.
  4. When the asparagus is just tender, take the lid off and mix it with a bit of Shio Koji.

Serve the asparagus with crushed black pepper.

Sources: Mercola; Cooking With Koji; Clearspring

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