Koji fungus conidia are used both in brewing industry production (Koji Starter) and in the manufacture of mold to produce enzymes and antibiotics. Mold can be called a bacillus giving a bad impression. However, Japanese focus on the time-honored koji fungus's excellent properties which are put to use in the production of traditional fermented foodstuffs such as sake, shochu (white distilled liquor), mirin (sweet sake used for seasoning), miso, soy sauce, vinegar , amazake(a sweet drink fermented from rice) and Shio Koji. These fermented foodstuffs have been at the heart of the Japanese diet for centuries, making a fundamental contribution to the longevity of the Japanese people. Due to world-wide recognition of the value of koji fungus, proposals have been made to designate it the "National Fungus". Koji fungus is drawing attention as a host in the large-scale manufacture of beneficial products
Koji Starter History
While the history of fermented foodstuffs is long, the history of independent production and selling of koji starter, as we do, is surprisingly short, dating from the end of the 19th century. Until this time koji production and sales were monopolized by a guild of koji craftsmen. They sold koji but did not sell koji starter, jealously guarding the secret of koji. First koji was made from ambient fungus adhering to a cultivation medium (usually rice or barley); the good koji was selected and was used as koji starter. Nowadays there is an established technique for the unadulterated cultivation of superior koji fungus strains.
Koji starter is sown on hydrated and steamed cereals (rice, barley, soy beans) and is cultivated under temperature conditions suitable for the growth of koji fungus. The resulting koji contains such a wide variety and large amount of enzymes that it is called "an enzyme treasure trove". The enzymes act to break down the cereals. Moreover, koji itself is a nutrient rich food full of sugars, amino acids, vitamins and minerals produced by the koji fungus. The raw materials, the koji starter and environmental factors (heat and moisture) determine the kind of koji produced resulting in a wide variety of tastes in the products (sake, miso, soy sauce etc) which delights the palate.
Koji fungus is a species of the molds classified under the Aspergillus genus. Unlike flora it is not photosynthetic and is designated a filamentous fungus as it has a multicellular formation branched into filaments of 10-30µm width.
Regarding the botanical classification, the Aspergillus koji fungus corresponds to the fungi flora division belonging to the fungi imperfecti class which reproduces by making asexual conidia through asexual rather than sexual reproduction (there is no male-female difference).
The conidia’s diameter are 5-10µm (1µm=1/1000 of 1mm). They cannot be seen without a microscope and are extremely light with 10 billion dried conidias weighing 1g.
Incidentally, yeast, which grows as a globular or elliptical unicellular microorganism combines with koji fungus to make delicious sake and shochu, Japan's unique alcoholic drinks.
The word "Aspergillus" is said to derive from the exogenous shape of the koji fungus conidia which resembles an "Aspergillum", a spherical vessel with small holes used for sprinkling holy water in the Catholic church.
In the brewing industry koji starter is called "moyashi". One explanation is that koji fungus sprouts whitish hypha which closely resemble edible bean sprouts -"moyashi" in Japanese. Another is that the koji fungus resembles trees in bud for which the word "moeru" (to bud, to sprout) is used and from this comes "moyashi". (People who know this are real experts).Our company name is "Higuchi Matsunosuke Shoten", but we are also called "Higuchi Moyashi".