is a traditional Japanese food
produced by fermenting rice
, with salt and the fungus (the most typical miso is made with soy
). The typical result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats, and mixing with dashi
soup stock to serve as miso soup
called , a Japanese culinary staple. High in protein
and rich in vitamins
, miso played an important nutritional
role in feudal Japan
. Miso is still very widely used in Japan, both in traditional and modern cooking, and has been gaining world-wide interest. Miso is typically salty, but its flavor and aroma depend on various factors in the ingredients and fermentation process. Different varieties of miso have been described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savory, and there is an extremely wide variety of miso available.
During the Edo period
miso was also called hishio
Until the Muromachi era
, miso was made without grinding the soybeans, somewhat like natto
. In the Kamakura era
, a common meal was made up of a bowl of rice, some dried fish, a serving of miso, and a fresh vegetable
. In the Muromachi era, Buddhist monks
discovered that soybeans could be ground into a paste, spawning new cooking methods where miso was used to flavor other foods.
The taste, aroma, texture, and appearance of any specific miso vary by miso type as well as the region and season for which the miso was made. The ingredients used, temperature and duration of fermentation, salt content, variety of kōji, and fermenting vessel all contribute. The most common flavor categories of soy miso are:
- Shiromiso, "white miso"
- Akamiso, "red miso"
- Kuromiso, "black miso"
White and red (shiromiso and akamiso) are the basic types of miso available in all of Japan as well as overseas. Different varieties are preferred in particular regions. For example, in the eastern Kantō region that includes Tokyo, the lighter shiromiso is popular, while in the western Kansai region encompassing Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, darker brownish hatchomiso is preferred, and akamiso is favoured in the Tokai area.
The raw materials used to produce miso may include any mix of soybeans
seed, and cycad
, among others. Lately, producers in other countries have also begun selling miso made from chick peas
, adzuki beans
, and quinoa
. Fermentation time ranges from as little as five days to several years. The wide variety of Japanese
miso is difficult to classify, but is commonly done by grain type, color, taste, and background.
- mugi (麦): barley
- tsubu (粒): whole wheat/barley
- aka (赤): red, medium flavor
- hatchō (八丁): aged (or smoked), strongest flavor, along with 'shiro' is most commonly used
- shiro (白): rice, sweet white, fresh, along with 'hatcho' is most commonly used
- shinshu: rice, brown color
- genmai (玄米): brown rice
- awase (合わせ): layered, typically in supermarket
- moromi (醪): chunky, healthy (kōji is unblended)
- nanban (南蛮): chunky, sweet, for dipping sauce
- inaka (田舎): farmstyle
- taima (大麻): hemp seed
- sobamugi (蕎麦): buckwheat
- hadakamugi (裸麦): rye
- meri (蘇鉄): made from cycad pulp, Buddhist temple diet
- gokoku (五穀): "5 grain": soy, wheat, barley, proso millet, and foxtail millet
Many regions have their own specific variation on the miso standard. For example, the soybeans used in Sendai miso are much more coarsely mashed than in normal soy miso.
Miso made with rice (including shinshu and shiro miso) is called kome miso.
Storage and preparation
Miso typically comes as a paste in a sealed container, and should be refrigerated after opening. It can be eaten raw, and cooking changes its flavor and nutritional value; when used in miso soup
, most cooks do not allow the miso to come to a full boil. Some people, especially those outside of Japan, go so far as to only add miso to preparations after
they have cooled, to preserve the biological activity of the kōjikin
. Since miso and soy foods play a large role in the Japanese diet, there are a variety of cooked miso dishes as well.
Miso is a part of many Japanese-style meals. It most commonly appears as the main ingredient of miso soup
, which is eaten daily by much of the Japanese population. The pairing of plain rice
and miso soup is considered a fundamental unit of Japanese cuisine
. This pairing is the basis of a traditional Japanese breakfast.
Miso is used in many other types of soup and souplike dishes, including some kinds of ramen, udon, nabe, and imoni. Generally, such dishes have the title miso prepended to their name (for example, miso-udon), and have a heavier, earthier flavor and aroma compared to other Japanese soups that are not miso-based.
Many traditional confections use a sweet, thick miso glaze, such as mochidango. Miso glazed treats are strongly associated with Japanese festivals, although they are available year-round at supermarkets. The consistency of miso glaze ranges from thick and taffy-like to thin and drippy.
Soy miso is used to make a type of pickle called "misozuke". These pickles are typically made from cucumber, daikon, hakusai, or eggplant, and are sweeter and less salty than the standard Japanese salt pickle. Barley miso, or , is used to make another type of pickle. Nukamiso is a fermented product, and considered a type of miso in Japanese culture and linguistics, but does not contain soy, and so is functionally quite different. Like soy miso, nukamiso is fermented using kōji mold.
Other foods with miso as an ingredient include:
- dengaku (charcoal-grilled miso covered tofu)
- yakimochi (charcoal-grilled miso covered mochi)
- miso braised vegetables or mushrooms
- marinades: fish or chicken can be marinated in miso and sake overnight to be grilled.
- corn on the cob in Japan is usually coated with shiro miso, wrapped in foil and grilled.
- sauces: sauces like misoyaki (a variant on teriyaki) are common.
Nutrition and health
The nutritional benefits of miso have been widely touted by commercial enterprises and home cooks alike. However, claims that miso is high in vitamin B12
have been contradicted in some studies
Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that some soy products are high in B vitamins (though not necessarily B12
), and some, such as soy milk
, may be fortified
with vitamin B12
. Some, especially proponents of healthy eating
, suggest that miso can help treat radiation sickness
, citing cases in Japan
where people have been fed miso after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
. Notably, Japanese doctor Shinichiro Akizuki
, director of Saint Francis Hospital in Nagasaki during World War II
, theorized that miso helps protect against radiation sickness
Also some experts suggest that miso is a source of Lactobacillus acidophilus