Quick Take:

The mother-and-son team behind Hakouya has gone beyond their local favorite miso dressing to sell a wider array of traditional and not-so-traditional miso products — including their own take on amazake, a fermented rice drink.

Farmers Market Fridays

If you catch Julian Diaz on the right day, he’ll tell you about his mission to proselytize for kōji, a Japanese food fungus grown from rice.

“When you get a whiff of the stuff, it’s like nothing else,” Diaz told me Saturday at the Aptos farmers market, working the Hakouya miso booth he runs with his mother, Masumi Diaz.

“You open the big vat of the stuff, and it fills your lungs. I just remember doing that one time and feeling like I needed to be spreading the word about it.”

For the past four years, Hakouya (pronounced ha-KOY-ya) has been cementing its reputation as Santa Cruz County’s foremost miso purveyor. Julian Diaz said the company started when his mother and her previous business partner, Eriko Yokoyama, began teaching classes in making miso and other fermented products in Santa Cruz in 2016. Then they started making their trademarked original miso dressing — the product Hakouya is now best known for — before starting the farmers market circuit about a year later.

“Hakouya” is a compound of two words in Japanese. “Hakou” means “to ferment.” “Ya” means “house.” “Hakouya” then means “fermentation house,” referring to the process by which miso is made by culturing ground soybeans with kōji.

As Julian Diaz describes it, this is a difficult process: First he boils large quantities of soybeans until soft and drains some of the resulting juice. Then he grinds the boiled soybeans into a paste and adds measured quantities of salt and kōji. Finally, he forms snowball-sized balls of the unfinished paste and throws each one with a loud “thump” into a barrel, which when filled is tamped at the top with a wooden lid that is continuously weighted down.

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The reason for the throwing and the weighting, Julian Diaz said, is to minimize the number of air bubbles in the fermentation barrels — which can cause the product to go bad. A batch of miso takes upward of three months to ferment and, due to being tamped, produces special “tamari” soy sauce (darker and richer in taste than traditional Chinese soy sauce) as a byproduct.

This miso — which the Diazes sell as-is in white (fermented for less than eight months) and red (fermented for more than two years) forms for $20 and $22, respectively — stays true to the centuries-old miso-making traditions of their Japanese heritage. Similarly, Julian Diaz said Hakouya’s other products are all offshoots of traditional Japanese fare. Its signature miso dressing — balanced, rich and $14 per 11-ounce jar — is made with just miso, olive oil, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Their Amazake drinks — $8 each — are the Diazes’ take on traditional amazake, a porridge-like fermented rice drink.

Hakouya offers a range of fermented, probiotic products.
Hakouya offers a range of fermented, probiotic products. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Julian Diaz said Yokoyama’s daughter came up with the Amazake drinks as a way to make amazake — which Diaz says he didn’t like growing up — more enticing. They come in five flavors — plain, miso vanilla, ginger (Diaz’s favorite), matcha and horchata — the latter of which Diaz said he created as a nod to his half-Hispanic heritage.

“I made a horchata [flavor] because I’m half-Hispanic and half-Japanese,” Diaz said. “I was like, ‘Oh, perfect — a cross between Japanese and Mexican cuisine.’”

You can find Hakouya at the Live Oak and the Aptos farmers markets. It also sells its products at a variety of retailers, including New Leaf Community Markets, Staff of Life Natural Foods and the Food Bin. For a complete list, visit Hakouya’s website.

Thomas Sawano joins the Lookout team after two-and-a-half years at City on a Hill Press, the student-run newspaper at UCSC. While there, he reported on the university, arts and culture events, and the...