By Victoria Russell
The sushi lovers amongst us will be familiar with miso soup which is often served alongside our sushi lunches. Traditionally, the Japanese start the day with a breakfast which includes miso soup commonly served with tofu, chopped spring onion and wakame seaweed as well as other ingredients. It is believed to stimulate digestion and energise you to start the day.
Broadly speaking miso is a paste which is salty in flavour and made by fermenting soybeans or other grains, such as barley, wheat or rice. The most widely used fungus used to ferment miso is koji mould (Aspergillus oryzae), and the fermenting process can take from a few months to years. Because it is a fermented food, it’s high in nutrients, but you must make sure you purchase unpasteurised miso to reap the benefits. As with most fermented foods, miso increases the helpful probiotic bacteria in the gut, aiding in digestion and improving the immune system. It is worth noting that not all miso contains probiotic bacteria though, so make sure you ask! Soy miso is high in protein, vitamin and mineral rich, low in fat, vegan and by most accounts very good for you, although it is high in sodium.
There are hundreds of varieties of miso, all of which differ in flavour and appearance depending on how long they have been fermented and the variety of bacterial or fungal culture used for fermentation. Miso flavours vary hugely, but generally speaking the flavour is salty, earthy and slightly sweet. The addition of miso to dishes adds an extra depth often claimed to be ‘umami’, also known as the ‘fifth taste’.
There are many ways of categorising miso and it is worth checking out the ingredients to see what grains have been used. These three categories cover most, but not all misos:
- White miso (shiromiso) is the least salty of the misos and mostly has a shorter fermentation time. The overall flavour is the mildest of the misos and it is suited to adding to soups, dressings and sauces.
- Red miso (akamiso) is fermented longer than white miso and offers a bolder flavour and it is suitable for adding to heartier dishes.
- Blended miso (awamiso) as the name suggests is white and red miso blended together.
In order to maximise the health benefits of soy miso it is best added towards the end of cooking as heat can denature miso. Adding miso to salad dressing or even spreading it on rice crackers is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your miso.
Miso is widely available at Asian and good supermarkets, organic and specialty food stores.
Quick ways with miso
- Makes a great salad dressing
- Perfect as a marinade for fish, chicken or pork
- Add to casseroles for a depth of flavour
- Spread on eggplants/courgettes and grill
- Mix with hummus
Cick on the images below for some great recipes using miso