A great story on making soy sauce the ancient way

By Elliot Stein and Mari Shibata for the BBC in Is Japan Losing It’s Umami?

When it’s aged and fermented in a wooden barrel, soy sauce can be as sophisticated as a fine wine, but today, most of the world dips its sushi in the equivalent of a cheap cask rosé. That’s because in order to keep up with demand and increase production in the late 1940s, the Japanese government encouraged brewers to ditch the traditional wooden barrels used to ferment food, known as kioke, adapt stainless steel vats and cut the multi-year fermenting process to just three months.

A shame. When I start making “soy” sauce (out of some other bean) I’ll be using a plastic container since I don’t know where is get wooden barrels small enough for my trials. Maybe I’ll get to a time when I can make some (makeshift) barrels…

Garlic haul 2018

I think we waited a bit too long to pull these out this year. The outer skin has peeled off or disintegrated and when I pulled many of them out, the stalk just came out of the ground with the rest of the bulb still under.

We also had a lot of the garlic cloves pushed up out of the soil after the snow melt, so many of them didn’t even grow. We would have had at least double or triple this harvest if all of the ones we planted grew.

Oh well. Lessons learned for next time. Plant more. Plant deeper. Harvest sooner.


Amazake is a sweet rice drink made using Koji rice and freshly cooked rice, incubated at about 60 degC for just a few hours. The Koji rice and cooked rice turn to a very sweet mushy pudding in the pot, which is then mixed/diluted with water for drinking. The pudding can be put into the blender or food processor to make the mixture more homogeneous if desired.

Making amazake out of Koji rice was super interesting (at least, to me) mostly because it’s turning rice into sugar – and I’ve never seen firsthand how rice could turn sweet without any sweet additives like sugar or syrups. I’ve seen rice syrups on the shelves in stores and I’ve wondered about how much sugar there could be in rice. Then again I’m aware that rice is a complex carbohydrate, which essentially breaks down into simple sugars when digested. Perhaps it’s just seeing that break-down process in the pot and tasting the results along the way that just highlights the simplicity of the reaction.

I was just looking for a post to link where I show the results of growing the Koji rice, but I guess I hadn’t gotten to that yet. I do have photos, which I’ll post soon(er or later).

In the meantime, here’s the amazake.

Basic steps to making amazake:

  • Mix 1 cup fresh Koji rice and 2 cups fresh cooked brown rice in a pot.
  • Incubate the pot, covered, at 60degC for about 6 hours. The mixture will turn to a pudding texture.
  • Start tasting the rice mixture at 4-5 hours. The mixture, as it cooks longer, should sweeten to a certain amount and not get any more sweet, but it will get more sour. Stop the incubation when the amazake tastes good to you.
  • Put the pot on the stove and bring the mixture to a simmer. It will bubble and pop, so be careful. Bring the mixture up to temp slowly, continually mixing, and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Try not to burn the amazake.
  • Let the mixture cool and it’s ready to use. You can put it in the blender to break up the rice if you like.

Nuts and grenades

Set aside at least a half hour an hour for this great read at The California Sunday Magazine, A Kingdom From Dust by Mark Arax.

This reminds me of someone…

No other farmer, not even Gallo, had cornered a market the way Resnick had cornered the growing, buying, processing, and selling of pistachios. He had his hands on 65 percent of the nation’s crop. One of the first things he did with his monopoly was kill the California Pistachio Commission, the industry’s marketing group, by yanking his funding. He and Lynda wanted to run their own ads for their own brand. The independent growers and processors, no surprise, regarded him as a bully eager to employ teams of lawyers and tens of millions of dollars to force his agenda. A member of the commission, on the eve of its demise, told me, “Stewart wants to be a benevolent dictator. But if he thinks you’re defying him, he’ll start with, ‘Nobody realizes the good I’ve done for agriculture.’ Then he moves on to, ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know what I am? I’m a billionaire.’ He’s got an awful temper he’s trying to control through Kabbalah. That little red string is supposed to remind him to count to ten. But his ego — there’s no controlling that.”

This makes me worry about the sustainability of the farms they run.

“What’s it been like here during the drought?”

“Drought, no drought, makes no difference. The aqueduct was built with tax money, yes? The aqueduct brings the water, yes? So everybody should have it, right? But this is water for Mr. Resnick. Not the people. When it doesn’t come, he finds a way to make it come.” He spits tobacco juice into the empty can of Rockstar. “The checks the workers bring in here from Mr. Resnick are the same checks they bring in for years. I cash them the same. Nothing changes. Big fish eat the small fish here. Anything else I can help you with?”

Nutrition fight in Chile

Andrew Jacobs, for the Mew York Times – In Sweeping War on Obesity, Chile Slays Tony the Tiger

Nutrition experts say the measures are the world’s most ambitious attempt to remake a country’s food culture, and could be a model for how to turn the tide on a global obesity epidemic that researchers say contributes to four million premature deaths a year.

The required changes to the food labelling and logos are quite profound.

Reflections on the past year (2017)

As usual, it was an interesting food year for us in our allergy friendly world. There were a few new changes and challenges that we’ve had to overcome. And more production of new (to us) foods at home in order to reduce our reliance on manufactured foods.

Back in February we got tested again (skin) and ended up adding a few more allergens to the list. It wasn’t an issue since we hadn’t yet tested those foods ourselves and they weren’t regularly in our diet. I did end up cooking and eating the frozen shrimp that was in our freezer all by myself, since that was one of the new allergens – shellfish.

We tried to make it out to the local farms this summer to pick berries and other fruit but the most we managed to do was go apple picking, which ended up in a bunch of apple sauce and apple chips. We also made strawberry and peach jam with fruit purchased at the farmer’s market.

In trying to figure out how to preserve our yearly garlic harvest I decided to make garlic powder. I minced them in the blender and then dehydrated the paste on a layer of parchment paper. After that, I put the dried sheets of garlic back into the blender. It’s the most potent garlic powder, both in flavour and smell, I’ve ever had and would recommend that anyone with a dehydrator try it out. The downside in making it was that the house was filled with garlic fumes for one night (so much so that it caused our eyes to water), and the house smelled like garlic for a week. Maybe better done outside next time.

After the garlic powder, I made onion powder. Also great and better tasting than store bought onion powder. Peel and slice the onions, lay on the tray, and dehydrate. Pulse in the blender after. One caveat is that the blender jar smells like garlic and onion still to this day. (it’s a Vitamix Tritan blender jar). But it doesn’t seem to have an impact on making other foods we blend smell or taste like garlic/onion.

Hot pot. We used to love doing hot pot dinners but lately have not sure to the sharing did aspect, potential contamination of the cooking water, and lack of sauces available. Not to mention that some of the foods we typically get are manufactured. We did try it finally and ended up going simple, with veggies, mushrooms, and sliced meats. I did make fish balls (which were pretty easy in a food processor) out of tilapia, tapioca starch and a few seasonings.

With our CSA meat share, we have trouble eating some of the larger roasts, but I’ve found that I can hand slice the meat and trim the fat off to make pretty good beef jerky in the dehydrator. The marinade I’ve come up with is a mix of sugar, homemade faux soy sauce, black pepper, garlic and onion powder. Pretty simple. I want to try pork jerky but I think that’s a bit more tricky. I’ll have to research that a bit more.

I didn’t get to use the grill outside much this year to do smoking or whatnot. We haven’t been eating much of our bacon that I made really early in the year. Oh well. I have my eyes on a piece of pork in the freezer that would be good to turn into a smoked and cured ham but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to work on that.

I have a few thoughts on what to make this year but that’ll be another post…

The sugar industry and paying scientists

Anahad O’Connor at the New York Times – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat:

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.

That last sentence is what gets me. This is going on right now, and has been going on for ages. It’s nothing new, and also it’s what happens in many other industries. Scientists are a little better regarding disclosures of funding now than 50 years ago, but industry is where a lot of research money comes from. An industry finds scientists who are either on their side of the issue or are sympathetic to their issue and funds their research.

What we need to do is to understand the biases and keep them in mind when making decisions on health policy.

Sugar is a drug?

German Lopez for Vox – The case for treating sugar like a dangerous drug, with an interview with Robert Lustig:

GL: Is that really grounds for considering it a controlled substance, though?

RL: There are four things that have to be met in order to consider a substance worthy of regulation. Number one: ubiquity — you can’t get rid of it, it’s everywhere. Number two: toxicity — it has to hurt you. Number three: abuse. Number four: externalities, which means it has a negative impact on society.

Sugar meets all four criteria, hands down. One, it’s ubiquitous — it’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. Two, as I mentioned, we have a dose threshold, and we are above it. Three, if it’s addictive, it’s abused. Four, how does your sugar consumption hurt me? Well, my employer has to pay $2,750 per employee for obesity management and medicine, whether I’m obese or not.


Additional thoughts on simple healthy eating

As mentioned in my previous post, in our household we’ve made many small changes over time to come to where we are in our healthy eating habits (as much as we are able to). But I’ve been increasingly conscious of the fact that our ability to get to this point rests on a number of factors which are not available to everyone, such as:

  • We have the resources, both money and time, to purchase and cook unprocessed foods
  • We can purchase a wide variety of unprocessed foods and due to allergy concerns, must stay away from lightly and heavily processed foods
  • We have the willingness and the ability to cook at home

It’s just something to keep in my mind, when I talk to people about our path to what we believe is a healthier eating lifestyle, and the possible perceptions or misconceptions about our privileges in the matter.