You’re probably familiar with miso from the side soups you’ve been served at Japanese and other asian restaurants, but there’s a whole lot more to this magical fermented super-food than meets the eye! Available in various different types and crammed full of nutrients, miso is a versatile super-food which is equally as tasty in sweet dishes as it is in savoury.
What Is Miso?
A store cupboard essential and a foundation of Japanese cookery, miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans, rice and salt. It has a tantalising ‘umami’ flavour which combines elements of salty, sweet and nutty. Umami is a Japanese word which translates as ‘delicious taste’ but actually refers to the presence of glutamate, an amino acid which gives a distinctive richness and flavour to foods but is less definitive than other tastes such as sweet or sour.
Traditionally, miso is made by mixing soy beans with koji (a culture and fermenting agent), rice or other grains and placing in huge vats, before compressing with large, heavy stones for anything from a couple of months to several years.
As with most types of food, different varieties and qualities are available, and although it’s a simple product at its core, becoming a miso master takes many years. Top notch miso is produced slowly and carefully using quality beans which haven’t been genetically modified in any way. The longer the fermentation period, the richer and the more potent the miso is in flavour.
Types of Miso
White (Shiro) Miso
White miso has a high percentage of rice, creating a paste which is smooth and slightly sweet in taste. It’s popular in the western regions of Japan like Kyoto and Osaka and goes nicely in lighter dishes such as salad dressings or mayonnaises.
Barley (Yellow/Mugi) Miso
Stronger in flavour than white miso, the yellow variety is fermented with barley and has a golden to light brown colour with either a grainy or smooth texture. The longer fermentation period gives this miso an earthier, nuttier taste which goes well in hearty soups. Barley is a popular miso in the countryside areas of Kyushu and southern Japan.
Popular in Tokyo and the eastern regions of Japan, red miso is made using a higher concentration of soy beans which have often been fermented for over a year, resulting in a darker colour and rich, salty flavour. It pairs well with other strong tasting ingredients and makes an excellent glaze for meat or as a base for soups and stews.
As a general rule the lighter in colour the miso, the lighter its taste will be. Darker miso has a very deep, rich taste and is much more potent.
Miso Uses and Recipes
Whilst it’s most commonly used in soups, the only real limit when cooking with miso is your imagination! Its salty / sweet taste lends itself well to both savoury dishes and desserts. Marinade your meat, tofu or vegetables in miso to add that extra element of umami to dishes, or mix with soy and dashi to create a tasty soup style base for noodle dishes.
Japan Centre has a large range of miso based dishes for you to experiment with, from soups to stir frys, and miso can even be incorporated into more western style dishes such as these mini miso pizzas.
For those with a sweet tooth miso is particularly delicious when added to dishes such as chocolate brownies or caramel ice cream, adding a subtle hint of saltiness which pairs perfectly with sweet treats!
What Are The Health Benefits of Miso?
Fermentation adds lots of health value to miso and allows our body to absorb all of its goodness efficiently. Soy beans are broken down into amino acids that allow our body to function at its best and digestive enzymes help to maintain a balance of flora within the intestines whilst aiding good digestion.
In macrobiotic cooking miso is classed as alkaline, meaning it has a detoxifying effect on the body. Alongside essential fatty acids which are great for skin, hair and nail health, miso also contains iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium; minerals that are important for maintaining the health of your immune system, bones and muscles.
Miso is low in fat but has bags of flavour, giving it a similar richness to beef and chicken stock but with far less salt content. It’s versatile, good for your health and a little goes a long way, making it the perfect item to keep in your cupboard and add to your daily cooking for a Japanese twist.
Japan Centre stocks a wide range of miso products including top quality pastes and sauces, instant soups and noodles. If you head down to our Panton Street store, you can weigh your own fresh miso and purchase hard to find artisanal miso products in our dedicated miso room.
Why not have a go at making your own soup with our quick and easy miso soup recipe? Or if you’re strapped for time and want something quick and easy you can eat at work or for a light snack, then you can try one of the instant types – just add water and stir!