When is mould an edible ingredient?
We’ve all had them: bits of leftovers pushed to the back of the refrigerator and discovered days or weeks later in a cleansing of storage space.
When the lids of some of those containers are lifted, it is sometimes a chore to recognize the identity of what those leftovers might have been originally — especially if they are covered with green goopy mould, sometimes referred to as home-grown penicillin.
In desperation, most of those foodstuffs are scraped into the garbage, or in some cases, dumped into a composting bin to become useful once again.
A story about chefs that create food items that most of us would never equate with standard fare indicates they have discovered and are using a traditional Japanese method that includes mould to make certain pastes and comple- mentary ingredients.
This mould, called koji, is a fungus used to ferment soybeans in the development of soy sauce, bean paste and to prepare alcoholic beverages such as sake. Koji mould is also used to make miso, a seasoning that budding chefs use in a variety of dishes for a variety of reasons.
The more of the story I read, the more complicated it became, just trying to figure out how to properly ferment koji to make miso and to understand the process of turning mould into something more than a cure for an infection.
By the time I concluded my research I was of the opinion that what I didn’t know about fine dining would fill a large textbook, but then what I don’t know is probably safer than wondering if fermented ingredients were being used to prepare my hot veal cutlet sandwich. Consumers today are very conscious of the best-before dates on the products purchased at the grocery store — even knowing that those dates are only a reference for the quality of the item and not necessarily a date by which to discard the bag of frozen peas or the box of cheddar cheese perogies.
If the contents pass the sniff test and look edible, I’ve been known to prepare them for the not-so-intimate dinners we share on the cluttered table while watching the birds and squirrels fight for the seeds in the feeder on a tree outside the window. So far we haven’t had any ill effects from my date-ignoring meal preparations.
But not once has a mould been involved. Anything looking greenish in the fridge is out the door as soon as the containers are placed on the counter and I cautiously remove the lids to peer inside. If it isn’t supposed to be green, then there is no reprieve.
If we ever go to a larger centre for fine dining in an establishment where we don’t recognize one item on the menu, I might just be forced to ask how much mould has been used to create a particular item. Yes indeed, the country bumpkin is in the house.
Joyce Walter can be reached at email@example.com