The Magic of Miso

Those new to miso may not immediately recognize the value in a fermented soybean paste. But if you give it a try, the flavor, versatility and health benefits of miso are bound to win you over.

How is miso made?

Soybeans are usually the main ingredient, but barley, wheat or rice can also be added.

Regardless of the variety of grain or soybean used the most important ingredient is the “koji”. Koji consists of yeast inoculated with a specific type of beneficial bacteria called Aspergillus Oryzae.

After the koji is added to the soybeans and grain, the mixture is allowed to ferment for anywhere from a week to a number of years, depending on the flavor and quality being made. While this may sound a bit strange to newcomers, fermenting food to increase its nutritional value and flavor is nothing new. This ancient process has been used for thousands of years and koji is also incorporated in the making of soy sauce and sake.

As the ingredients ferment, the healthy micro-organisms in the koji produce enzymes that help break down the proteins, carbohydrates and oils in the grain and soybeans. This process makes the nutrients they contain easier for our bodies to digest and absorb (the benefit of all fermented foods.) After the fermenting process is complete the mixture is ground into a smooth tangy paste that is filled with vitamins, protein and beneficial bacteria (the good guys found in our guts.)

Different Types of Miso

The intensity of flavor and color go hand in hand. White or blonde miso is less salty and has a mellower flavor, while red is rather salty and has a notably intense flavor and so on. There aren’t just two types to choose from though; the flavor, texture, color and degree of saltiness also depend on where it’s produced, how long it ferments for, whether it’s pasteurized, and the ingredients used.

The four main categories you’ll find in stores are:

Shiromiso (White) Akamiso (Red) Genmai Miso (Brown) Awasemiso (Mixed)

There are also a number of other varieties (all fermented with soybeans):

Hatcho (Just soybeans) Mugi (Barley) Tsubu (Whole/Wheat Barley) Soba (Buckwheat) Natto (Ginger) Moromi (Unblended) Nanban (Mixed with chili pepper) Taima (Hemp Seed) Hadakamugi (Rye) Nari (Cycad pulp) [found in Buddhist temples] And more…. No matter the variety you choose (as long as it’s unpasteurized and additive free) you’re bound to enjoy the health benefits.* * Certain studies suggest to receive the optimum benefit miso should be fermented for anywhere between six months to two years.

Health Benefits and other Cool Facts

  • With as little as 11 calories per gram of protein, it’s a great source of healthy protein.
  • A low fat, high flavor addition to dishes; the strong flavor means a little goes a long way, allowing you to cut down on calories and salt.
  • It keeps your systems in balance by alkalizing the body (the body needs to be in an alkaline state, as opposed to an acidic state, to maintain wellness. Acidity is created in the body as a reaction to substances such as animal protein, coffee and sugar.)
  • An excellent source of B vitamins, which may include B12 (There are conflicting reports on whether miso is a viable source of B12. This disagreement may be due to the variation of fermentation time and where and how the products being tested were produced.)
  • Aids digestion and nutrient intake (This is possibly due to the digestive enzymes, lactobacilli, salt-resistant yeasts and beneficial micro-organisms present) These benefits can be lost if cooked away, so avoid boiling or overcooking.
  • A good source of manganese, tryptophan, zinc, phosphorus, copper, omega 3 fatty acids, lecithin, and linoleic acid.
A number of studies also claim that miso
  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Protects against radiation
  • Reduces the risks of cancer including, but not limited to, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer
  • Helps keep the skin soft and youthful (due to its linoleic acid content.)
  • Slows aging due to its high antioxidant content.
  • Helps reduce the signs of menopause. (This is linked to the isoflavones in miso which has been shown to reduce hot flashes.)
  • Supports overall body functions and capacity to rebuild and maintain blood vessels and bones.

Choosing and storing

It’s good to try different flavors, colors, and brands, as each has its own unique flavor. We most often use Cold Mountain’s “Mellow White” which is created using a mixture of brown rice, organic soybeans and sea salt. It’s delicious, smooth, mild-tasting and an excellent addition to any salad dressing, vegetable sauté, sauce, or soup.

To pick the perfect miso:

1. No GMO soy.
Read the label carefully to make sure you’re getting organic,
GMO-free soybeans.

2. The miso should be unpasteurized.
If you want the digestive and overall health benefits of fermentation,
the miso needs to be unpasteurized.

3. No added preservatives or MSG.
Miso is flavorful and salty enough on its own.
Miso is often sold in tightly sealed plastic or glass containers, although some stores sell it in bulk containers as well. After you get it home, it’s best stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. If stored correctly, miso can last for up to a year. Finding the perfect type for you really depends on what you plan to use it for. We find the subtler and smoother flavors of white miso most appropriate for dressings and light sauces. The darker colored varieties can also be used in small amounts in these sauces and add some depth and intensity of flavor. We tend to use the darker kinds for hearty vegetables and soups though, where their flavor will not overpower the dish. Whatever variety you choose, there are a myriad of uses! Now that you’ve learned a bit about how it’s made, the different varieties, its health benefits, and how to choose the right kind for you, the question remains: What do you do with it once you get it home?

How to use

Here are five simple ways to incorporate miso into your meals.*

* We recommend keeping your intake to around 2 tsp. or less a day to keep your salt intake in check.

1. Salad Dressings

– Example: Mix white miso with vinegar or lemon, mustard, and olive oil or nut butter to make a delicious dressing. Add water to create desired consistency.

2. Soups

– Example: Create a broth for soups (dissolve miso in hot water before adding it to your pot of soup. This is best done at the end of the cooking process as you don’t want to boil it.)

3. As a marinade

– Example: Mix dark miso with ginger, black pepper, a splash of vinegar and molasses to create a wonderful veggie marinade.

4. As a tea or coffee replacement (broth)

– Example: Pour yourself a cup of hot water and mix a teaspoon or less of miso into the water and enjoy. (If you find it difficult to dissolve in a full cup of water try pouring a small amount of water in, dissolve the miso, and then fill the cup to the top.) Many people use this as a nutritious and satisfying morning coffee or tea replacement.

5. In a dipping sauce

– Example: Blend garlic, onion, miso, tahini, lemon juice and dill to make a yummy dipping sauce.

Miso can be added to almost any recipe as a salt replacement or to add flavor, including vegan tofu white sauces, stir fries, spreads and more. So experiment and enjoy!

Check out our miso recipes!

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