TL;DR A friend of ours over at Ngo Your Meal helps us out on learning about Miso–the yummy, umami, fermented soybeans thats good for more than just Miso soup.
What’s up, everyone! I’m Jon Ngo, and I’ll be writing for Bicoastal Cooks in this guest post. Today, we’re going to learn about miso. Why? Well, not only does it have a cute name, it is also a tasty, multi-faceted superfood! Miso is usually in paste form. It is a fermented mixture of soybeans, sea salt, and koji (a fungus/mold).
Miso is made in a two-step process. First, the koji is made by inoculating steamed grains with the bacteria Aspergillus oryzae. Once aged to perfection, the koji is added to cooked soybeans, water, and salt then placed in a large container and fermented anywhere between 6 and 18 months. The koji will break down the soybeans’ complex carbohydrates and proteins into amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars. The acids released by the breaking down of carbohydrates and proteins produce an intense, deep umami flavor that we all adore. #bae
FUN FACT #1: Koji is also used in the sake-making process. Rice is mixed with koji, which breaks down the carbohydrates in the rice. The leftover product is fermented by yeast to produce alcohol. YES. THANK YOU, SCIENCE.
FUN FACT #2: Miso’s ancient relative is considered to be soybean jiang (or doujiang), which appeared around 300BC. Upon jiang’s arrival in Japan, it was pronounced hishio and later mutated into misho (mid 700s) and miso (late 900s). Jiang was so old that it was even mentioned in the Analects of Confucius… on a scroll. Given its history, it isn’t surprising that miso and jiang have both been and continue to be staples in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. When you go into any Japanese restaurant, you will usually be welcomed with a bowl of warm miso soup. This is believed to stimulate your appetite and support digestion. This is no empty statement. Miso is a good source of vitamin B. It is high in antioxidants, strengthens the immune system, and lowers bad cholesterol. It also improves the quality of your blood and reduces your risk of cancer (breast, prostate, lung, and colon).
Anyways, there’s also a ton of different types of miso. Usually, the variety of miso determined by the type of grain used in the process. Darker miso will signify a stronger taste. If you prefer milder tasting miso, go for the yellow or light brown colored miso. When buying miso, invest in unpasteurized miso rather than the pasteurized version. Pasteurization will cause certain probiotic enzymes to be destroyed. And, we all know that if you don’t have probiotic enzymes in your body, you don’t have swag. So, miso = swag.
Miso can range in its flavor. It could have a rich, hearty, meat-like flavor or it could be milder, and somewhat sweet. It is often included in soups, sauces, or marinades. If you use miso in your cooking, feel free to experiment. But, too much will overpower the dish with an exceedingly salty taste.
Sidenote from Bicoastal Cooks: while the most commonly known form of fermented soybeans is Miso, similar developments show up in different cuisines: Gochujang in Korea, Soy sauce in China, Stinky Tofu in Taiwan! All using the same key ingredient and similar processes.