Miso: The Magical Japanese Seasoning
Miso is a thick paste that can add savory and umami to dishes. In Japan, miso is a versatile seasoning that can be used to make soups, cook meats, and prepare hot pots. The miso soup, made only from miso and water, is a traditional first course in Japanese restaurants around the world.
What is Miso
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae), sometimes with the addition of rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients. Making miso is a time-consuming task, taking months or even years to develop the desired flavor and texture. The texture, color, and taste of miso vary depending on the salinity and ingredients. In general, miso by itself has a texture similar to peanut butter and tastes salty.
Miso is the basis of Japanese cuisine. It is used in a wide variety of dishes, including soups, stews, glazes, salad dressings, stir-fry dishes, dipping sauces, marinades, and so forth. In addition to providing a rich flavor, miso is also a superfood rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals and can boost human health. It is a good source of mineral antioxidants (eg. manganese and copper) and zinc. It also contains protein, phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin K, vitamin b2, and choline.
History of Miso
There are two theories about the origin of miso. One theory is that the Japanese developed their fermented miso independently long before the arrival of miso-based foods from China and Korea. The prototype of Japanese miso is said to date back to the Yayoi period (400 BC - 300 BC). It is also said that miso originated in China and was first introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks 1,300 years ago. The original Chinese soybean paste was transformed into miso and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) in Japanese cuisine.
Whatever its true origin, the word miso first appeared in the literature during the Heian period (794-1185). In those days, miso was a rare ingredient available only to the nobility because it contained rice, a luxury at the time. In addition to consumption, miso was also used as gifts. It was not until the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573) when soybean production increased that miso became an affordable seasoning. The miso cuisine seen today was created during this period. The Edo period (1603 and 1867) saw the prosperity of miso culture. When the population of Edo reached 500,000, the production of miso could not keep up with the demand. A lot of miso from the countryside was sent to Edo and miso stores were booming. Many restaurants were selling food containing miso and developed new dishes made with miso.
Types of Miso
Depending on the ingredients and fermentation period, there are more than 1,000 kinds of miso, with different textures, flavors, and colors.
Miso Types by Ingredient:
Kome Miso (rice miso): Miso made from rice, soybeans, and salt. 80% of miso made in Japan is rice miso.
Mugi Miso (barley miso): Miso made from barley, soybeans, and salt. It is characterized by a unique aroma and fresh taste. It is very dark and salty.
Mame Miso (soybean miso): Miso made from soybeans and salt. It features a distinctive pungent flavor. It is a very sticky paste that is dark brown.
Chogo Miso (mixed miso): Miso made by blending two or three types of miso. Miso other than rice miso, barley miso, and soybean miso is also categorized as blended miso.
Miso Types by Taste:
The strength of a taste is influenced by the salinity and the koji rate (the ratio of rice or barley to soybeans). If the salinity is fixed, the higher the koji rate, the sweeter the miso will be.
Ama Miso (sweet miso): With a salinity of 5% to 7% and a koji ratio of 15% to 28%.
Amakuchi Miso (mild miso): With a salinity of 7% to 12% and a koji ratio of 12% to 17%.
Karakuchi Miso (salty miso): With a salinity of 11% to 13% and a koji ratio of 50% to 100%.
Miso Types by Color:
Many conditions determine the color of the miso, such as the ingredients used, the amount of koji added, and whether the soybeans are boiled or steamed.
Aka Miso (red miso): It contains the highest level of protein of any type of miso. The color can range from deep amber to maroon.
Shiro Miso (white miso): The fermentation period is much shorter than that of red miso, so it is slightly less salty than red miso.
Tanshoku Miso (light-colored miso): It is made by the same process as white miso, but contains more salt.