Nowadays, koji is a culinary buzzword. It is the beneficial mould that is used in the production of the majority of fermented foods in Japan, including miso, soy sauce, and sake.
Chefs the world over are now experimenting with koji in a variety of different ways. koji advanced to a new level on October 23, 2021, when he competed in the World Barista Championship in Milan, Italy.
Kaapo Paavolainen, the 2020 and 2021 Finnish Barista Champion, presented the judges with his unique koji-fermented coffee.
While he did not place in the top six at the competition, he was overjoyed to have introduced the novel method to the world – he had bigger goals than a great cup of coffee in mind. The new method may provide additional opportunities for struggling coffee farms.
According to Enveritas, 44% of smallholder coffee farmers worldwide live in poverty, while 22% live in extreme poverty. Paavolainen’s new invention has the potential to help bean farmers earn more sustainable profits, as he discovered that koji’s unique property can transform ordinary beans into noticeably higher-quality products.
Paavolainen was pondering how to make better coffee than what was available about a year and a half ago. “The current methods of processing coffee do not fully exploit the potential of the beans,” he says. “While sugar in beans contributes to coffee’s inherent sweetness, its absence results in an unpleasant bitterness. However, current methods extract only about 70% of available sugar.”
After reading two books, he discovered that koji has the unique ability to extract the remaining 30% of sugar in beans: Koji Alchemy by Jeremy Umansky and Rich Shih and The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber. “Koji can be grown on virtually any starch, which is remarkable given that it can grow on previously unused starches found in coffee beans, such as skin, mucilage, and pulp,” Paavolainen explains.