Miso, A Savory
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?
Return to Nutrition
- 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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