Miso Paste

Tip Tuesday 1/24/17

What is Miso:

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae) and sometimes rice, barely, or other ingredients.  It like gochujang is a thick past with a strong concentrated flavor, so remember a little goes a long way and you rarely just use it on its own. Miso is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, which played an important nutritional role in feudal Japan. The pairing of miso and rice is as essential to the Japanese as meat and potatoes are to an American. A common Japanese breakfast is built around rice and miso soup, with the addition of leftover fish, chicken or other meat from dinner the night before.

In the eastern Kanto region of Japan (which includes Tokyo) the darker brownish akamiso is popular while in the western Kansai region (encompassing Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe) the lighter shiromiso is preferred.

Types of Miso:

Like beer, the more it ferments the deeper the color and the flavor becomes.

  • Kome Miso (Rice Miso): can be yellow, yellowish white, red, etc. Whitish miso made from boiled soybeans, and reddish miso is made from steamed soybeans.
  • Mugi Miso (Barley Miso): a whitish miso with a peculiar smell. Produced in Kyushu, western Chugoku, and Shikoku areas.
  • Mame Miso (Soybean Miso): a darker more reddish brown than kome miso. This miso requires a longer maturing term, which produces a not so sweet but full umami flavored miso. 
  • Chougou “Awase”  Miso (Mixed Miso): comes in many different varieties because it is a mixture of different misos. This type of miso is produced to improve on the week points of particular miso varieties; an example is mame miso is very salty because of its long fermenting process, when mixed with kome miso it helps to balance the finish product to have a milder taste.
  • Akamiso (Red Miso): is an aged miso, typically for more than a year. Due to the Maillard Reaction, the color of the miso changed from white to red or black, producing red miso. With its intense color is also a intense saltiness and umami flavors. 
  • Shiromiso (White Miso): the most widely produced miso. The main ingredients are rice, barley, and a small quantity of soybeans (the more soybeans added the darker the color would be). The taste is usually sweet, and the umami flavor is soft or light compared to the others.
How Can you use it:

The applications of miso are pretty endless. Besides being used in the most commonly known way of miso soup, miso can also be used in marinades, dressings, blended into butter, mixed with mayo to make an aioli, incorporated into caramel, etc.

Very rarely will you use miso alone because of its high salt content and potent flavor. Think of it as a piece rather than a whole, and keep in mind — miso doesn’t blend seamlessly into oil, so a blender is your best friend if you prefer an extra smooth consistency. 

Avoid boiling miso directly, which is said to “spoil” it, killing some of the aroma and flavor (this goes with melting it, too). If you are adding miso to a simmering liquid, gradually add the paste a little at a time and continue stirring, keeping the heat at a low temperature. 

-Food 52 “All About Miso”

Where can you find it:

You can find it in any Asian supermarket, and as of late most conventional grocery stores are starting to catch on and carry it  as well. Whole Foods or any natural grocery store should have it as well.

How to store it:

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The lighter varieties can last for about 9 months and the darker for up to a year. Just remember to check the sell by date.