The Sushi Tails: The X Factor

WrWings

On this quest to make sushi rice at home I thought it would be a good idea to enlist the help of some professionals. When I told my friend (who we’ll simply call Chef Jonathan to protect the innocent) about this little sushi-making project I’m on, he was super excited to get me in the kitchen so we could cook sushi rice together. Now, Chef Jonathan is a professional Executive Chef who has done an apprenticeship in New York City for 3 months at the famed Nobu restaurant. For those who know a thing or two about sushi, Nobu is about as authentic and high-end of a sushi experience that you will find outside of Japan. So while Jonathan was not technically allowed to make the sushi at Nobu (it takes years of training before they will even let you touch the rice, never mind the sushi!) he certainly picked up a thing or two watching some of the master sushi chefs in action.

We started off talking about a lot of the details of making sushi that I’ve already documented in this series — the use of fine ingredients; the ratio of water to rice; the importance of fanning, chopping, and folding. As Chef Jonathan poured the sushi rice into his pot, and was about to add the water he suddenly stops, spins to me and says excitedly “I nearly forgot the secret ingredient! Follow me!”

He then beckons me to follow him through the busy kitchen of chefs and boiling pots, past the supply galley and linen cabinet, along a dimly lit back hallway between the laundry piles and rusting furnace to an open pantry closet with its door hanging askew. At this point I felt a little bit like Mr. Peltzer following Mr. Wing’s grandson through his shop to buy a Mogwai… Chef Jonathan reaches to the back of one of the shelves and pulls out a large black gold can with Japanese writing up and down the sides. “Miora!” he says beaming with delight. “The secret ingredient of sushi restaurants.”

While there are plenty of Japanese instructions and explanations printed all over the can the English label slapped on top for export purposes looks like it was printed on a dot matrix printer from 1990 and simply says:

Powdered Ferment, Miora Gold
Ingredients: Natural Amylase, Irotease, Starch, Glucose
For Professional Restaurant Use Only
Keep Refrigerated

Chef Jonathan explains that the powder helps the rice from becoming too gloopy and makes sure it is just the right right consistency. I take a look at the fine powder in the tin he’s just popped open and I have my suspicions. “Two teaspoons of Miora per one cup of rice.” says Chef Jonathan. ‘Two heaping teaspoons of skeptical’ I think to myself… Before leaving I made sure Chef Jonathan gave me some of his secret powder to take home with me to experiment with. When I got home I popped the Miora in the fridge and headed straight to my computer to do some research.

It turns out Miora became an additive to sushi rice sometime shortly after World War II.* From a chemical point of view Amylase helps break starch into glucose, while Protease breaks protein down into amino acids. Effectively the Miora’s Amylase helps generate sugar in its simplest state (read: brain candy) and the amino acids help create that elusive taste of umami. Many Miora powders also contain MSG. So essentially sushi restaurants are converting your rice into the sushi equivalent of crack-cocaine. Sweet, salty, sour, and umami  in the rice combined with more salt and umami from the soy sauce and fish, in addition to the bitterness of the wasabi… and effectively this combines to get your palate and brain craving the stuff again and again. What restaurants have stumbled upon is a way to get you hooked on their food. Your brain succumbs to thousands of years of evolution simply content in the fact that all indications point to the fact that this sh!t is GOOD!

Long story short, Miora is likely used in many (read: most? all?) of the sushi restaurants you visit. It’s a way they can make sure their sushi ‘pops’ in flavour and is highly addictive, keeping you coming back for more. It’s made in a lab and certainly has some suspicious ingredients you wouldn’t assume are going into sushi — one of the simplest of natural foods. Some varieties of Miora contain MSG — a whole other post we can get into some other time…Whether it also helps with the consistency of the rice, as Chef Jonathan claims, I can not say for sure. However, if I’m making sushi at home for my family I want it to be as healthy as possible. Whatever the benefits of Miora might be for large sushi establishments it is certainly the X Factor I don’t mind skipping out of any sushi I’m going to make at home!

* from The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson

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