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MISO - THE ANCIENT JAPANESE SUPERFOOD

Miso is a tasty soybean paste with a deep, savoury taste.

This ancient superfood from Japan is famed for its unique flavours and rich nutrition. Great as a nourishing soup snack, a broth for noodles, or as a flavoursome marinade and dressing.  With so many different types and textures of miso, it holds endless possibilities for making tasty dishes. 

Once you have tried it, it’s the store cupboard staple in Japan, you won't be able to live without! 

 


What is Miso made from? 

Miso is made from fermenting soy beans, rice koji, salt, and usually a grain such as rice or barley, together. The fermentation process can be anything from a few weeks or as long as three years depending on the flavour desired.  

While the ingredients are simple, the making of miso is far from simple. It can take a lifetime for a maker of miso to learn the delicate craft of miso making. 

Traditionally, miso is made in a 2-tonne handmade cedar barrel; the cooked ingredients are left to ferment and cure under 1 tonne of expertly placed rocks, that have been structurally designed to survive even earthquakes.

 

 

A Brief History of miso 

Originating from China, miso was introduced to Japan 1,300 years ago by Buddhist priests. It was originally a prized delicacy, only enjoyed by nobility because it contained rice - a luxury in its day. But as word of its energy-giving properties spread, Samurai adapted and adopted miso as a staple part of their diet. 

By the mid 14th century miso’s popularity had spread and was being enjoyed by everyone, from monks to farm hands. During the 17th & 18th centuries miso went full circle, becoming a thrifty way to eek out household budgets during periods of great financial hardship.

Since then, miso has been and still is a quintessentially Japanese flavour in cooking. 

 

 THE MANY COLOURS OF MISO

There are thousands of miso makers in Japan making miso with textures that range from smooth to chunky; with colours from light yellow to caramel to dark chocolate brown; and flavours that span from sweet, to mildly salty, to deep, almost bitter tones.

 

As a general rule, the colour can be a fairly good indicator of the strength of flavour, age and saltiness of the miso. Usually, the lighter in colour the miso, the sweeter it is. Light coloured miso is also younger - fermented for a shorter period - than dark coloured miso. The longer a miso is aged, the deeper in flavour it gets.

 

 Shiro White Miso

Shiromiso is milder than other kinds of miso, with a slight sweetness, having only been fermented for 6 months. It is made with rice and soy beans.

It’s very versatile for cooking purposes – it is great for miso soups and marinades.

In modern cooking, shiromiso is versatile and easy to use because of its soft, pliable nature. Its lighter flavour means it is often used in salad dressings, in marinades for fish and vegetables, and even in desserts like ice cream.

Aka Red Miso

Akamiso is a dark reddish-brown miso and is usually more salty and assertive in taste than shiromiso. Akamiso is fermented for at least 12 months and is also made from white rice, soybeans, salt and water.

In cooking, red miso is most commonly found in soups, in dark sauces and in marinades for meats like lamb and pork. Thought of as a tenderiser, meats are often marinated overnight with akamiso to optimise the tasty marinade.

Brown Rice Miso

Brown rice miso is a relatively modern development in miso, as traditionally, miso is made with white rice. Brown rice miso is perceived to have more health benefits than other miso, being more nutritious, with a higher fibre and lower sugar content. It is slowly becoming more popular and more widely available.

Mugi Barley Miso

Barley miso is often called peasant miso because rice used to be so expensive that rice miso was reserved for the landlords and upper-class. Ordinary country people made miso out of the cheaper and more widely available barley instead.

Also known as mugi miso it has a nutty, rougher texture than rice miso as the barley does not fully break down in fermentation. It's becoming popular because of its malty flavours and lower sugar content. In cooking, mugi miso is popular in hearty soups and stews or even as a dip.

Hatcho Soybean Miso

An all-soybean miso contains no grains at all and has a deep, pungent flavour. It is almost black in colour and is so thick, you can cut it with a knife. Hatcho miso is also very dry so in cooking, it must be softened with sake and/or mirin. It is musky and rich like dark chocolate and has been fermented for 2-3 years, so is usually much more expensive than your regular red and white rice miso.

In cooking, pure soybean miso is used sparingly because of its strong flavours. Most famously, it makes the Nasu Dengaku dish which is a topping for grilled aubergines. Hatcho miso is the most famous producer of pure soybean miso.

Saikyo Sweet White Miso 

Saikyo miso is a golden yellow miso, traditionally made in Kyoto. It's the youngest miso, which has been fermented for 3 months and is smooth and supple, like softened butter.

Saikyo miso is famous for its delicate, sweet flavor, which comes from the sugar, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process.  Unlike all other miso it is not used as a preservative. Instead it's treated as a sweet delicacy enjoyed at New Year; either as a sweet white miso soup or in desserts.  

As Saikyo miso is only made once a year in time for New Year celebrations, and has such a short life, it's very rare and very expensive!

 


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