Mankind has sought long life since antiquity, attempting to obtain it through magical potions, crystals and stones – or wonder diets and cryogenics. According to the folks at the Institute of Fermentation for the Future (yes, that's their real name), we need look no further, for the elixir of life awaits us in our local konbini – in the rather unlikely guise of miso soup. The pioneering researchers from Nagano have embarked on a noble mission to enlighten the world about the miracles of hakko (fermented) products like miso. We recently checked out their Hakko Ambassador Course to pay heed to the joyful message.
Once inside Ginza's Noco building, a fitting location considering that it also houses Nagano Prefecture's 'antenna shop', the afternoon event unfolded like a fun science class – and we no longer think that’s an oxymoron. Things kicked off with informative and short presentations in Japanese and English, teaching us that residents of Nagano drink copious amounts of miso, averaging two or three cups a day. Interestingly, the prefecture also boasts the highest life expectancy rate – not just in Japan, but the world, and for both men and women. Coincidence? The good people at the Institute would have it otherwise.
The secret behind the life-giving power of fermented products, it appears, lies in invisible enzymes that surf around gleefully in miso soup but tragically perish once it's boiled. To persuade the skeptics amongst us, the Institute’s scientists – clad in white lab coats for extra pomp and circumstance – conducted an experiment to prove their point, inviting members of the audience to join in on the action. And behold: while the dried fruit inside a boiled cup of miso lifelessly sank to the bottom, the ingredients of un-boiled miso bustled about in a frenzy of activity and appeared to be full of life, much like the way you’ll feel if you drink the stuff.
The crash course was followed by a full-course dinner consisting of a variety of fermented delicacies. Chef Nobuko Kodama served up miso-flavoured focaccia and chicken breast marinated in lemon shio-koji (koji mold fermented in salt), topped with delicious amazake-infused panna cotta. A selection of beers from the Iwami Bakushu Brewery, including their takes on Belgian white, American pale ale and Saison, helped wash it all down. The send-off was equally pampering: in addition to being handed goodie bags containing a variety of miso products, we were pleasantly surprised by a small ceremony and presented with a very official-looking ‘Hakko Ambassador Course Certificate of Completion’ with our names printed on it. Now that’s definitely going in the CV.
Watch this space for future fermentation-related events.