It is often said that miso is to soybeans what cheese is to milk – Amanda Hesser
Miso is delicious. And, as mentioned in my previous blog post about probiotic foods, miso can be a great source of beneficial probiotic bacteria. After buying my first container of miso (pronounced mee-soh) about six months ago, it quickly became one of our go-to kitchen items along with salt, garlic, and olive oil. I’d only really had miso before in the soup that you get at sushi restaurants, but I found that it enhances pretty much dish and it’s particularly good for adding some savory flavor to vegetarian dishes.
Probably the best known use of miso: miso soup.
What is miso?
Miso is a tasty seasoning often used in Japanese cooking that is made from soybeans, salt, and the same variety of mold spore (Aspergillus oryzae) that is also used to make saki. When miso is made in the traditional Japanese fashion, grains (rice, barley, or soybeans) are cultured with the mold spore to create a substance called koji. The koji is then mixed with cooked soybeans and packed into wooden barrels with sea salt, and the fermentation process begins! The miso is aged anywhere from a few months to several years.
Like cheese, there is a huge range of flavors, colors, and textures that miso comes in. Miso that is aged for shorter time periods tends to be lighter (white miso) and sweeter, while miso that has been aged up to three years will be darker and heartier (black or red miso).
Aspergillus oryzae is so popular that its genome was sequenced in 2005 and the spore has been turned into a collectible character
How do I pick a miso?
In DC there is a really amazing Japanese market where there is a selection of dozens of different varieties of miso, which can be a little overwhelming. If you have absolutely no idea what to pick, I recommend choosing a white miso to start just because the flavor is very delicate and versatile. If you’re eating it for the probiotics, in addition to tasty flavor, you will need to pick out a miso that is unpasteurized because pasteurization kills off any beneficial bacteria.
White Miso: White or beige color, made from soybeans fermented with white or brown rice. Delicate flavor, often a little sweet. Also called shiro miso.
Yellow Miso: Yellow or dark beige color, made from barley and soybeans. A little more savory than white miso, but still delicate. Also called shiro koji miso and shinshu miso.
Red Miso: Red or dark brown color, contains all soybeans and the longest fermentation. The saltiest, richest kind of miso. This is good for hearty flavoring like stews and and marinades. Also called aka miso.
Care and keeping of miso
Miso can last for several months in the refrigerator, but because it contains living bacteria you should be careful to spoon it out with a clean utensil to prevent any contamination. Lighter varieties will keep for about 9 months and darker ones up to a year. When making a soup or other hot dish, you should avoid boiling the miso. Instead, stir the miso in at the end of cooking to avoid overheating it.
What are some good miso recipes?
Image via Gaia Cafe
- I LOVE this super easy super healthy veggie miso soup from Honest Fare. Takes about 15 minutes to make and you can substitute in any veggies you have laying around.
- One of my favorite recipe blogs Love and Lemons has another great miso soup recipe that uses chickpeas, kale, and elbow macaroni.
- Mark Bittman has a bunch of great suggestions for using miso as a sauce, glaze, dressing and even as a flavoring for butter.
- This recipe from The Kitchn is a great example for using miso to beef up a really simple three-main-ingredient noodle dish.
- There are many, many variations on miso dressings. This one is awesome. I like to keep a jar of the dressing around to top off roasted veggies, noodles, or rice.
For more information on miso:
Mark Bittman, New York Times- The Miso Primer
Erin Riddell, Consumer Reprots- Is miso good for you?
The Miso Promotion Board of Japan has a handy pamphlet