Although not well know in the West, miso has been a staple part of the diet in the Far East for centuries. Because it is a fermented, living food; its flavor improves in time, much like a fine wine.
- a fermented paste of soybeans and either barley or rice with salt.
- a cultured and fermented soy food that helps digestion by adding Lactobacillus acidophilus (the good kind of bacteria also found in yogurt).
- full of lecithin, linoleic acid, and is high in protein.
- is fermented with a B12-synthesizing bacteria making it great for vegans.
- effective in treating some forms of cancer, heart disease and reducing the possibility of developing stomach ulcers, according to research.
- can slow the aging process which may be one reason the Japanese are known for their longevity.
- one of the foods useful in preventing radiation poisoning. See below under medicine.
Soybeans can be difficult to digest so miso’s fermentation process enables the soybean to be assimilated more easily by the body.
Miso Used As A Medicine:
“After studying the use of miso as a preventive medicine Dr. Sinchiro Akizuki of Nagasaki demonstrated that miso plays a part in protecting against the deadly effects of radiation. In 1972, this was confirmed upon discovery that miso contains dipicolonic acid which chelates (attaches to) heavy metals like radioactive strontium and discharges them from the body. Additional research has also shown miso to be effective in treating some forms of cancer, and heart disease. Hatcho miso was imported by the truckloads to areas surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.” -Sundance Natural Foods Online
Miso is a Valuable Food
Soybeans are full of high-quality protein and other nutrients, but these nutrients are unavailable to the body when the whole beans are served in their baked, boiled, or roasted forms. When the soybean goes through the process of natural fermentation, they go through a transformation in which almost all of their complex protein, carbohydrate, and lipid (oil or fat) molecules are broken down into readily digestible amino acids, simple sugars and fatty acids.
One Cup a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
While in Japan, I experienced that a cup of miso soup in the morning starts the day, not a cup of coffee. It was not that long ago that the Japanese made their own miso at home and had pride in their homemade miso. Rice and miso are the staples of the Japanese diet. The production volume of miso in Japan is about 600,000 tons and about 3,000 tons are shipped overseas.
The Japanese believe health is dependent on eating habits and we are finally realizing the truth of that. They are known for their longevity in the world and much of this can be attributed to the health benefits from miso. An ancient saying refers to miso as a “doctor killer.”
How is Miso Made?
Koji, a yeast mold, is added to soybeans and other ingredients (rice and barley), which are then allowed to ferment. The time of fermentation can range from weeks to years; depending on the type of miso. Once the fermentation process is complete, it is then ground into a paste.
Two General Types of Miso Based on Color & Taste:
1. Sweet, light colored miso has been aged for less time, is higher in koji culture and carbohydrates, milder in taste, and lower in salt. It is good for salad dressings and other summer cooking. Sweet misos are also ideal for those with delicate digestive systems. A very diluted sweet miso broth can be tolerated by children as young as six months. Genmai, kome, shiro, and sometimes rice are all light misos.
2. Darker miso is aged longer (2-3 years), has stronger flavor, higher salt content and lower koji content. It is higher in protein and stronger in flavor.
Seven Main Varieties of Miso (either light or dark):
1. Shiro Miso
“Mellow White” miso is the most popular miso. Light in color and mellow in flavor, shiro miso is a pleasant way to introduce miso to the first time user. Ideal for soups, dressings and dips. (This is my favorite.)
2. Aka Miso
“Red miso” is darker in color than shiro miso but remains mellow in flavor. Cultured differently than the shiro miso, aka miso is richer than shiro.
3. Genmai Miso
“Brown Rice” miso is very popular in the natural food industry and has a nutty but mellow flavor. Made from whole soybeans, brown rice, water, sea salt and koji (Aspergillus orizae), genmai miso is a more recent creation, developed particularly for the foreign natural food market.
4. Mugi Miso
“Barley” miso is dark in color but mellow in flavor. Made from whole soybeans, pearled barley, water, sea salt and koji (Aspergillus orizae), mugi miso was once the most common variety of miso in Japan. This miso is fermented in wood at natural temperatures for at least 18 months. Because it is made with a slightly higher proportion of barley to soybeans, it develops a light sweetness, and is one of the more mellow varieties of substantially aged barley miso.
5. Hatcho Miso
Dark miso is made from soybeans, water, sea salt and a special koji (Aspergillus Hatcho). Hatcho miso is considered the top quality.
6. Kome Miso
“Rice” miso is made from whole soybeans, white rice, water, sea salt and koji (Aspergillus orizae). Kome miso is one of the most popular misos in Tokyo.
7. Mame Miso
Soybean miso. Like the hatcho miso, mame miso is made from soybeans, water, sea salt and koji (Aspergillus orizae). However, the mold inoculate is different, and the miso ferments without the extreme pressure used for the production of hatcho miso.
Note: If you are allergic to soybeans use with caution.
Also, always make sure the miso you buy is organic and not GMO which is the way many soybeans are grown.