Koji is an edible fungus. Mushrooms are the fruits of fungi. Koji is a great tool for chefs and has been eaten for thousands of years in Japan. Fermentation is the traditional practice that enables the safe preservation of food. Koji makes Miso and Soy Sauce.
But what is fermentation? Fermentation is the transformation of raw ingredients into more human useful ingredients by microorganisms. Fermentation is not rotting as it is selective. We need to create the ideal conditions for our favourite microorganisms. All surfaces across the planet are coated in microorganisms, an unseen world all around us.
We need to take over the microorganism world so that safe microbes can rule supreme in our dishes. Adjusting parameters such as temperature, salinity, acidity makes the microbe world uninhabitable for unwanted residents. David Zilber, the head of the fermentation lab at Noma, the world number 1 restaurant, likens it to the selective nature of an exclusive club bouncer, we only want a select few guests.
From Koji’s perspective it is on the hunt for starch to convert into sugars. However, once all the starch of a substrate has been exploited the Koji will start using up the sugars it has created in order to go into spore production mode. This may or may not be wanted, chef’s choice. They best grow on grains but can have a number of different substrates. Rice and Barley are the most traditional.
We’ll be using UK organic pearl barley. Going to follow the recipes in Noma’s fermentation book, I highly recommend this book, Zilber is a genius!
Growth of the Koji is halted by refrigerating it or drying it. However, the magic of Koji is not over, it can further marinade ingredients it is mixed with via protein enzymes.
Koji is the national fungus of Japan, a nation of superb life expectancy. Is Koji fermented food responsible for this? Dr Weston Price was a dentist who in the 1930s wanted to understand why isolated primitive tribes had better teeth and health than people living in industrialised countries. He travelled the world researching the diet of the healthiest, longest living populations and found certain common denominators in their diet. They ate lots of pastured grass fed animals, unpasteurised dairy products, unprocessed whole grains and foods preserved by fermentation.
We will be making some Koji flour which is great for use in stocks, soups, salads and marinades!
Modern diets are heavily consolidated. A handful of staple crops dominate global food trade.
We can help the planet by ensuring we have biodiversity in food production.
Much of our Earth is dedicated to agriculture, farming practice change has real consequences for the land.
At a time of impending environmental collapse the preservation of biodiversity is essential. We must assert botanical variety over the native status quo. Climate change demands the adoption of different species.
These motivating reasons drove the creation of Forest Larder, we are committed to being an advocate for exotic variety and deep ecosystems in food production.
Our agricultural philosophy is centred around foresting perennial plant species, we believe these installations to be optimal when prioritising biodiversity and resilience over profit.
Forest Larder’s first site is in the Mendip Hills AONB, south of Bristol. We will release our first products in Spring 2020. The seasonal nature of edible forests means small batch product releases. The ability to constantly evolve our offerings is an exciting prospect.
Our ambition is to release various smooth preserves, ferments, syrups and beehive products.
We invite readers to join our email list where they will to hear about product tastings and giveaways
There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world. Despite this great variety, our diets are dominated by a handful of staple crops.
The most popular 20 species account for 90% of our total botanical energy. There are many lesser known exotic plants from all around the world which are both delicious and nutritious.
Electing to eat the exotic not only satisfies gastronomic curiosity, it serves a higher ecological purpose. It is easier to protect edible plants that have a market value. Rare and exotic edible plants don’t immediately have a market value, it is up to us to create it to save them from extinction.
There is limited opportunity to sell rare produce in wholesale markets, however, there is a valuable opportunity to sell it directly to consumers, fresh, preserved, fermented or dried.
Tesco sell approximately 180 different fruit, vegetable and nut products. It is possible for a forest farm to sustain a similar number of different plant species (some generating 3 or more different products) and many species of fungi. The reality of seasonality means only a fraction of products are available at any one time.
A significant challenge in selling extraordinary produce is educating consumers as to why they should eat or at least try something new. Farmers’ markets, and the internet, provide an educational platform which is hugely valuable. Visibility is key to inspire future buyers of this extraordinary produce.
The choice to grow rare produce is not feasible for a commercial monoculture farmer; they cannot reasonably expect to sell tons of the unfamiliar.
For all but the most experienced chefs, cooking with something for the first time can prove challenging, and may put them off the ingredient for life. Drawing upon similarities to conventional produce can make the unknown less daunting. Empowering consumers with knowledge of how to cook the produce they are buying is an important hurdle to overcome.
The nation of England was once a dense forest. Thousands of years of human activity have seen the amount of woodland decrease significantly. A flight above our island shows that although the rains make the land green, open fields now replace the woodlands that once dominated from shore to shore.
Turning back the clock
Forest farming is an agricultural strategy which involves the planting of many different plant species on the same site. Mature forest farms are environments of extreme beauty.
A forest farm is modelled on a young woodland – a canopy exists but enough light can penetrate to the herbaceous ground covering plants. A three dimensional system of herbs, shrubs and canopy trees – forest farms create edible produce at different heights throughout the year.
Through intelligent design different species interact to collectively maintain the soil fertility. As the vast majority of crops in a forest farm are perennial (living for many years) the soil is undisturbed by harvest – this benefits soil fungi and in turn the crops themselves.
Nature’s grand larder
Forest farming produces a wide range of edible products: fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, salad crops, herbs, spices and mushrooms. There is also significant scope for the production of herbal medicines, soaps and dyes.
Forest farming creates a riot of colour, scents and wildlife – this a significant step away from the uniformity of arable monoculture. Mechanised monoculture farming is optimal for seeding and harvest efficiency.
It takes multiple years to establish reasonable yields from a site, the target is to improve yield year on year. This is a characteristic of a perennial crop based site, there is no starting from scratch as with annuals.
Advantages of forest farms over arable monocultures
- Forest based systems are more resilient to climate crises – this will become of greater significance due to global climate change.
- The plant covered soil of a forest farm stays wetter in drought and is more stable in flood than open fields.
- Large perennial plants can more easily exploit minerals available throughout the soil due to their larger root systems.
- Forest farms sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into the soil and woody biomass of shrubs and canopies.
- Polycultures provide a greater variety of habitats for insect life, critical members of our Earth’s ecosystems.
- Plant diversity in agriculture is beneficial to wildlife, soil, the environment and people.