Miso is a typical Japanese seasoning that is made by fermenting either rice, barley or soybeans along with an edible fungus known as kōjikin. It is considered to be the most important ingredient of misoshiru, a Japanese soup which is a staple of the country. It is also used as a spread and sauce apart from an important constituent of pickled vegetables.
It is extremely nutritious and has gained acceptance worldwide nowadays. The taste of the thick paste is usually salty which can vary considerably according to its constituents and the fermentation process. There is a wide range of varieties available with the Chinese counterpart being known as dòujiàng. Some of the variations can also have an earthy flavor along with a slightly sweetish taste due to extensive fermentation. Fruity and savory tasting misos are available for different purposes as well.
The seasoning paste is produced commercially and the homemade variety has become almost nonexistent. Recent forms of the fermented miso are fortified with calcium and are available in low sodium varieties for reasons of health.
Origin of the Fermented Miso
The salty tasting, fermented grain prepared in Japan was known as the Hishio originally. However, there have been evidences of fish and grain based seasonings being used for cooking in Japan since the Neolithic era. They are traditionally known as Jōmon miso.
The Chinese form of the seasoning started being used in the 3rd century BC. It was introduced to Japan along with the spread of Buddhism in the region and the fermented food was known as Shi during those times.
The initial seasonings did not contain soya which became popular only after the Buddhist monks used it to flavor food during the Muromachi period. Homemade seasonings became commonplace during the Middle Ages as the process of preparing it was simple.
It became significant economically during Sengoku era when it was used as a part of military provisions. Variations of the seasoning prepared according to the regional cultures and climate started appearing all over Japan during the Edo era which coincided with the early part of the 17th century.
Fermented Miso: Constituents and Preparation Overview
A variety of grains including rice, soybeans, buckwheat, millet, rye and hemp are blended together to produce the seasonings. Countries other than Japan have started preparing it with chickpeas, amaranth and corn as well. The time required for fermenting the paste also varies widely from five days to multiple years.
The varieties of the grain based seasoning is usually classified according to its color, grains used and taste.
Storage and Usage of Fermented Miso
- This Japanese seasoning is usually available in sealed containers. It needs to be kept under refrigeration once the seal is broken.
- The miso contains many beneficial microorganisms which can be destroyed by heat. Adding it to food items are usually done after the dish is removed from heat or just before it is consumed.
- It is a basic flavoring of soups cooked in the Japanese style. A combination of plain rice and miso soup is considered to be a traditional breakfast dish.
Miso: Culinary Uses
- Numerous soup dishes as well as noodles and steamed dishes use the seasoning which lend it an earthy aroma.
- Japanese confectionary items are glazed with a thin and dripping form of the seasoning which is sweet in taste.
- Pickles made with cucumber, hakusai, eggplant and daikon also contain the seasoning which are known as misozukes.
- Yakimochis are a form of charcoal grilled rice cakes coated with the seasoning.
- Okazu-miso is a side dish prepared with vegetables and spices that is eaten with plain steamed rice in Japan.
- It is also spread over onigiri, a dish of rice ball tied with Nori seaweed.
Miso: Nutritive Value
Several claims have been made about the health benefits of the kōjikin culture enriched seasoning although there have been contradictory evidences according to some studies.
- It is believed to be high in Vitamin B12.
- It has been proved to be effective in treating radiation sickness.
- Lecithin is a phosphilipid produced during the process of fermentation which helps in controlling high blood pressure levels.
- A single serving consists of 25 calories and is rich in proteins.
- The antioxidants present in the ingredient have cancer fighting qualities.
The seasoning is not recommended to be consumed on a daily basis despite its benefits as it is quite high in sodium content.
The Japanese mythology refers to the miso as a gift from the Gods.
“The Book of Miso: Savory, High-Protein Seasoning” authored by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi