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Kamo-su –  fermentation

Not a day passes for the Japanese without eating fermented food: Soybean paste (Miso), soy sauce (Shôyu), Nattô, Sake etc. In the extremely humid climate, people have always tried to get along with bacteria. Japanese culture has progressed by fighting and harnessing them.

Here, I’d like to introduce a Japanese verb, “kamo-su”. It is used like this:

– Chôwa wo kamo-su
– Butsugi wo kamo-su

The first phrase means “creating harmony”, which is one of the most important phrases in Japanese society. To the contrary, the second means “causing disputes” or “causing a scandal”. In this way, the word “kamo-su” is used to describe the action of creating or causing something complicate or unexpected. 


Chinese character for “kamo-su” is a bit complicated, but you can find 酉 on the left side which also can be found in 酒(Sake). The original meaning of “kamo-su” is to “ferment”.

From the earliest times, Japanese people felt something mythical in the process of fermentation. Some argue that the linguistic origin of “kamo-su” is “kami-su”. “Kami” means God (gods) and “kami-su” means the gods does it. I want to support this opinion.


Before the invention of the refrigerator, foods should be preserved only in six ways below:

  1. Dry: without water, bacteria cannot live
  2. Salting: with the salt whose osmotic pressure is high, bacteria(apart from good bacteria) cannot live.
  3. Smoking: phenol in smoke serves as an antiseptic.
  4. Sprinkle with ash: the strong alkalinity ofash prevents bacteria from thriving.
  5. Wrap with leaves: polyphenolcontained in the leaf has antibacterial effect.
  6. Ferment: good bacteria produce peptideand special amino acidcalled antibiotic which keeps away other bacteria.

Fermentation also increases nutritional value. For example, Nattô produced by fermentation contains about 10 times more vitamin B2 and 180-300 times more amino acid than simply cooked soybeans. Nattô also contains many digestive enzymes as well as enzyme that melts thrombus. In addition, fermentation produces the aroma that excites appetite and flavor called “umami” caused by increased amino acid.