Why Are Japanese Foods Often Fermented?

November 18, 2023

Japanese foods are often fermented for several reasons, and this culinary tradition has deep historical and cultural roots. Fermentation is a traditional preservation method that has been used by various cultures around the world, including Japan!

Why Japan has so many fermented foods?
  1. Preservation: Historically, Japan had limited access to refrigeration and modern food preservation methods. Fermentation allowed them to preserve foods for extended periods, especially in regions with harsh climates or limited access to fresh ingredients.

  2. Seasonal availability: Japan experiences distinct seasons, and certain ingredients are only available during specific times of the year. Fermentation allowed people to enjoy these ingredients year-round by preserving them in their fermented form.

  3. Umami flavour: Fermentation enhances the umami flavour in foods. Umami is considered the fifth basic taste, characterised by a savoury, rich, and satisfying sensation on the palate. Fermentation creates amino acids and peptides that contribute to this umami taste, adding depth and complexity to the dishes.

  4. Cultural heritage: Many fermented foods in Japan have been part of the country's culinary tradition for centuries. These foods are deeply ingrained in the culture and are often associated with special occasions and festivals!

Examples of popular Japanese fermented foods include:

a. Soy sauce: Made from fermented soybeans, wheat, salt, and water, soy sauce is a staple condiment in Japanese cuisine.

b. Miso: A paste made from fermented soybeans, rice or barley, and salt. Miso is commonly used in soups, dressings, and marinades.

c. Sake: A traditional Japanese rice wine made through the fermentation of rice, water, yeast, and koji mould.

d. Tsukemono: Various types of pickled vegetables that undergo a lactic acid fermentation process.


Koji is a key element in Japanese fermentation and is widely used in traditional Japanese cuisine. It is a type of mould, specifically Aspergillus oryzae, that plays a crucial role in the fermentation process. Koji is responsible for breaking down starches and proteins in various ingredients, converting them into simpler compounds, and producing a wide range of fermented foods and beverages.

The use of koji in Japanese fermentation has a long history dating back hundreds of years. It is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and traditions and continues to be a vital aspect of the country's culinary heritage.

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