Miso, A Savory
Health Secret

Miso is a fermented soy paste that is both delicious and versatile. According to ancient Japanese mythology, miso was a gift from the gods. It has been a staple part of the diet of the Far East for centuries. Being a fermented, living food, it's flavor takes shape over time, much like a fine wine. And, like the best wines, good-quality miso is a natural, traditionally made product crafted by artisans. Traditional miso is made by preparing koji (rice, barley or soybeans inoculated with Aspergillus enzyme), combined with cooked, crushed soybeans and salt, then transferred to huge 6-ton cedar vats. There the miso ages and the bacteria grows for 2 to 3 years. It comes in colors ranging from ivory yellow to near black, and can be moist and smooth like apple butter, pasty as peanut butter, or lumpy as baked beans. Its flavor ranges from sweet and mild to robust and earthy. A highly concentrated source of nutrition, it is high in protein and provides lecithin, linoleic acid, and B12 (otherwise hard to get in a vegan diet). As a fermented food, miso contains a wealth of natural enzymes which stimulate digestion.

Two of the oldest & most respected families in miso artistry are Onozaki & Hatcho. They incorporate centuries old methods of producing miso, eschewing modern accelerated, temperature-controlled methods. With the addition of some simple equipment, their misos are essentially hand-crafted. They are aged in 200 year old cedar vats relying on the equally old Aspergillus bacteria living there to begin the fermentation process, while natural weather conditions determine the temperature of the fermentation room. Hatcho miso has long been revered by shoguns and emperors as well as the common people of Japan. Unlike other misos, it is made solely from whole soybeans and a minimum amount of water, giving it a higher protein content. It ferments and the live cultures grow under the pressure of three tons of river rocks so skillfully arranged that they never collapse, even in an earthquake. The very best miso comes from the center of the cask and was traditionally presented to the emperor of Japan.

What about the salt content of miso? Sea salt acts as a natural preservative slowing down the fermentation process, providing time for the yeast and bacterias to do their work. For this reason, miso is about 8 to 14 percent salt, but most of miso's intense and complex flavor comes from fermentation, not salt. A tablespoon of miso contains 680 mg of sodium compared to a tablespoon of table salt at 6,589 mg of sodium.

Miso as medicine
After studying the use of miso as a preventive medicine Dr. Sinchiro Akizuki of Nagasaki demonstrated that miso plays a part in protecting against the deadly effects of radiation. In 1972, this was confirmed upon discovery that miso contains dipicolonic acid which chelates (attaches to) heavy metals like radioactive strontium and discharges them from the body. Additional research has also shown miso to be effective in treating some forms of cancer, and heart disease. Hatcho miso was imported by the truckloads to areas surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.

The Japanese speak of aisho, a special affinity between certain foods. Among the ingredients in western cooking, miso seems to have an affinity for beans, all kinds of winter squash, and dishes containing tomatoes. Miso can take the place of dairy, particularly in soups and dressings providing a rich flavor and creamy texture. It's also good in salad dressings, stews, sauces, spreads, and unexpectedly in recipes such as apple crisps and pizza doughs. Always blend miso with a bit of liquid before adding to a dish to assure that it dissolves completely. Remove two to four tablespoons of liquid from the pot and blend it with the miso in a small bowl, then stir this mixture back into the pot. Never boil miso because that kills the live cultures which are so beneficial. For dressings, combine miso with vinegar, rice syrup, mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine) or sesame oil.

Give this versatile, nutritious food a try in your next meal and bon appetite!

So what do you do with miso?
Miso Broth
Boil water. Remove a few tablespoons of water and dissolve 2 Tbs. miso in it. Drink as is or return to pot, add cooked rice, cubed tofu, chopped onion, garlic, peppers and/or whatever other vegetables you have on hand and serve warm.

Miso Spread
Combine 1 Tbs. miso, 1 Tbs white wine , 1 Tbs. maple syrup, 1 Tbs. minced onion and mix thoroughly. Use as a dressing for vegetables, over potatoes, a spread for toast, or thin with a little water for a sauce over rice.

Miso Gravy
In a saucepan, sauté 1-2 cloves minced garlic & 1 diced onion over medium-low heat in sesame or olive oil until translucent. Add 3 Tbs. organic whole wheat flour, and stir constantly for 1 minute. Slowly add 1 1/2 cups miso broth or water while stirring briskly. Stir frequently until gravy simmers and begins to thicken.
Thin 2 tsp. hatcho miso in 1 Tbs. water and add to pan along with, 1/4 tsp. dried basil , 1 Tbs. mirin or sake (optional) and 2-3 Tbs. minced fresh parsley. Simmer gently, uncovered, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep warm until ready to use.
Serve over rice or noodles.
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This page built by Ray Neff andDavid ResSeguie Last update: May 23, 1996