Miso is a rich, salty condiment that characterizes the essence of Japanese cooking.
Traditionally, the Japanese begin their day with a bowl of homemade miso soup
. They also use miso to flavour a variety of foods in other meals throughout the day. To make miso, soy beans and sometimes a grain such as rice or wheat are combined with salt and a mould culture, and then aged in cedar vats for one to three years. The process of making miso is complex and requires a lot of experience, so not something to do at home. The addition of different ingredients and variations in length of fermentation produce different types of miso that vary greatly in flavour, texture, colour and aroma. Miso is very healthy; it contains isoflavones (about 20mg/100g), saponins, soy protein (partly digested) and live enzymes (in non-pasteurized miso). A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (June 18, 2003)
showed that women who consumed three or more bowls of miso soup daily reduced their risk of getting breast cancer by about 40 percent compared with those who had only
one bowl. The only negative health aspect of miso is it high salt content.
Types of miso
There are many variations of miso, which are basically all made from koji mixed with either rice, barley or soy beans. The ingredients are fermented and aged in wooden kegs. Some of the lighter sweet miso is aged for only a few months, while the darker miso may be aged for up to 2 years.
Availabity and use
Miso is not readily available in supermarkets but is sold in most health shops or oriental shops. Miso comes in many colors, ranging from creamy white, red and dark brown. The light colored miso is ideal to flavor light colored sauces and soups. Miso is mainly packed in sealed plastic bags or in glass jars. Some producers do not pasteurize their miso and provide a small ventilation opening in the package. Miso is rather viscous and before use it needs to be mixed with a bit of water to make slurry. To preserve its delicate flavor of miso should never be cooked with the food but added at the end of the cooking process. After opening a package of miso it will keep for several months in the fridge.