An Edible Mold From Japan Is Coming to Your Kitchen

Promo_Link/iStock via Getty Images
Promo_Link/iStock via Getty Images

Cupcakes and avocado toast are so last decade. In 2020, foodies will go crazy for a funky (and edible) mold from Japan, according to the latest food trend predictions from America's Test Kitchen.

America's Test Kitchen has provided guidance to home cooks through its recipe books and PBS cooking show for years. On Monday, January 6, the cooking authority released its first-ever annual forecast on upcoming food trends. And the first item on the list is koji, or aspergillus oryzae, which is a mold that's used as a fermentation agent in Japanese cuisine.

Dubbed "Japan's National Mold," it's what turns soybeans into miso, soybeans and wheat into soy sauce, and rice into saké. But koji is good for more than fermentation projects that last for weeks or months. When koji-covered rice is fermented with salt and water, it transforms into a sauce called shio-koji that can be used as a quick seasoning for everything from vegetables to seafood.

America's Test Kitchen writes in a news release: "The umami flavor of Koji has been a long-time pillar in Asian cuisine, but has recently started to gain momentum as prominent chefs and restaurants are experimenting with the strong flavor. In 2020, expect Koji to creep into everyday fare, as eaters become more familiar with the distinct uses and applications of the surprising ingredient."

Other food trend predictions on the list include curing, bread-making, the Mediterranean Diet, and cooking for one.

Fermented foods like koji not only taste good—they may also be good for your mental health. In 2015, a study connected regular consumption of fermented foods to lower social anxiety in young people.

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What Really Happens When Food Goes Down the 'Wrong Pipe'?

The dreaded 'wrong pipe' calamity can strike at any time.
The dreaded 'wrong pipe' calamity can strike at any time.
Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

Your average person isn’t expected to be well-versed in the linguistics of human anatomy, which is how we wind up with guns for biceps and noggins for heads. So when swallowing something is followed by throat irritation or coughing, the fleeting bit of discomfort is often described as food “going down the wrong pipe.” But what’s actually happening?

When food is consumed, HuffPost reports, more than 30 muscles activate to facilitate chewing and swallowing. When the food is ready to leave your tongue and head down to your stomach, it’s poised near the ends of two "pipes," the esophagus and the trachea. You want the food to take the esophageal route, which leads to the stomach. Your body knows this, which is why the voice box and epiglottis shift to close off the trachea, the “wrong pipe” of ingestion.

Since we don’t typically hold our breath when we eat, food can occasionally take a wrong turn into the trachea, an unpleasant scenario known as aspiration, which triggers an adrenaline response and provokes coughing and discomfort. Dislodging the food usually eases the sensation, but if it’s enough to become stuck, you have an obstructed airway and can now be officially said to be choking.

The “wrong pipe” can also be a result of eating while tired or otherwise distracted or the result of a mechanical problem owing to illness or injury.

You might also notice that this happens more often with liquids. A sip of water may provoke a coughing attack. That’s because liquids move much more quickly, giving the body less time to react.

In extreme cases, food or liquids headed in the “wrong” direction can wind up in the lungs and cause pneumonia. Fortunately, that’s uncommon, and coughing tends to get the food moving back into the esophagus.

The best way to minimize the chances of getting food stuck is to avoid talking with your mouth full—yes, your parents were right—and thoroughly chew sensible portions.

If you experience repeated bouts of aspiration, it’s possible an underlying swallowing disorder or neurological problem is to blame. An X-ray or other tests can help diagnose the issue.

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