Miso (pronounced mee-so) has a subtle yet complex flavor. Miso is a nutritional powerhouse that comes in many delicious varieties.
What exactly is Miso?
Miso is a fermented paste that’s made with rice or other grains that have been inoculated with a specific mold named Aspergillus oryzae. A preparation of salted, cooked soybeans is added and then the whole thing is allowed to ferment before being ground into a paste. The entire process can take weeks, months or years. The color, taste, texture and level of saltiness depends wholly on different combinations of the above.
There are many varieties of Miso, but here is an assortment of some of the more commonly used Misos:
- Natto miso: made from ginger and soybeans
- Genmai miso: made from the husked grains of roasted brown rice and soybeans
- Soba miso: made from buckwheat and soybeans
- Mugi miso: made from barley and soybeans
- Kome miso: made from white rice or sweet brown rice and soybeans
- Hatcho miso: made from soybeans
A good rule of thumb for judging the flavor is the color of the miso. Miso ranges from a light beige color to a dark brown or even deep red color. The lighter colors indicate a lighter flavor while the darker colors indicate a more intense flavor.
What should you look for in the store when it comes to purchasing miso?
Some kinds of miso are pasteurized, while others are not. Look for miso in the cold case at the health food store, sold in small plastic tubs. The miso packets you can buy in the dry goods section may be flavorful, but they have been pasteurized and have lost their health-supportive enzymes. Unpasteurized miso has live cultures and abundant lactic-acid forming bacteria, protein and enzymes that aid digestion. These powerful enzymes are destroyed with industrial pasteurization AND cooking at high heat, so it’s best to get the soup, for example, nice and hot on the stove. Then take it off the heat, stir in the miso and dissolve it before serving. Another good option would be to make the sauce below and serve it spooned on already cooked foods.
Miso is like fine wine; it will get better with age if kept in the fridge. If a white mold appears on the surface, simply scrape it off as it is harmless. You could even scrape it off and stir it back into the rest of the miso! Yep, it’s true.
Miso is a good source of minerals, including zinc, manganese, phosphorous, iron and copper. It also has vitamins B2 and B6, and is a good source of protein and fiber. The antioxidants in miso are more easily absorbed than those in unfermented soybeans and soy products.
Miso has been found to be as cancer-protective as other soy foods, particularly for breast cancer. While miso is produced from an organism that makes B12, it might provide this key vitamin to vegetarians, but it is unclear if this form of B12 is exactly what meets the requirement necessary for a vegetarian to get enough of this important vitamin.
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Dietary Wellness. New York: Avery, 2003. Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005.
This sauce is absolutely delicious on brown rice with roasted or steamed vegetables. It’s good as a slaw dressing too. If you use this sauce as marinade, be sure to serve some on the side so you get the benefit of the un-heated miso.
Plan on using this sauce within 24 hours, and keep it in the fridge. Enjoy!