A Can of Kouji, Japan’s National Fungus

Manhattan - Kouji Drink (JFC Expo)

You’re a tricky son-of-a-gun, “酒.”  For all intents and purposes, you refer to alcohol.  But when you’re (the reader, not the Chinese character) in a 酒店 in China these days, it’s a hotel.  And when you (me, the writer, not you, the reader, or you, the Chinese character) are in Japan, and the sun has gone down, you’re one of five people not drinking 酒.

Am I (as in 酒, not me, the confusing writer) done yet?  No, for there’s at least one more place I’m mostly unwelcome.  甘酒 or amazake, which can be translated as sweet liquor, or sweet sake.  Yet, written right below that word in the picture is the phrase ノンアルコール, meaning non-alcoholic.  As if to say, no, we don’t trust ourselves, there’s another part of the can mentioning “0.00% alcohol.”

Well then, what’s your deal?  A bit of backstory: the full name of the drink is 米麹甘酒 komekouji amazake, or malted rice sweet sake.  The key element of the name is the character 麹, aka 糀, which is kouji, a fungus primarily used to ferment soybeans, in addition to aiding in the creation of rice vinegars and alcoholic beverages.  Fermentation probably explains why the product isn’t mislabeled.  Furthermore, kouji assists in breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars.  But what have we learned?  Whether you go for the anti-kidney high sodium soy sauce, somewhat anti-kidney low sodium soy sauce or an obnoxious slurp of miso soup, extend your thanks to an asexual.  Uhh, I mean kouji.  What would Japanese food be without mold?  Never ask yourself or customs that question.

I recently attended a Japanese trade show in New York, which is why you may notice English in the background of the photo.  I don’t drink liquor, so before I read the rest of the label, some company representatives reaffirmed that it was free from 酒.  There was an indisputable malted taste, but it was sweet and inviting even at a warm temperature.  Is it rice pudding in a can?  No. however if that is a way to get you to try it, trick yourself.  Throw in some cinnamon and report back.

Want to try a Californian version?  This might work.  Able to peel yourself off of the couch AND know Japanese?  Make a cup.


Have you cooked with kouji before?


About buildingmybento

Bread, olive oil Waking up in Nakagin Sure does sound like me
This entry was posted in Drink, East & Southeast Asia, Japan and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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