Miso is a versatile food. In its traditional form, it comes in a textured paste that is rich and complex in flavor, slightly denser than hummus in consistency, and full of important nutrients. It comes in dozens of varieties and can be used to make miso soup, delicious meat and fish marinades, vegetable stir fries, and much more.
Miso has been a staple of the healthy Japanese diet for hundreds of years. Marukome is Japan’s biggest producer of miso, making over 100,000 tons every year. Because more and more countries are discovering the health benefits of fermented foods, miso is rapidly gaining popularity outside of Japan—in the United States and globally.
Miso’s origins can be traced back to the 4th century BC in China, in the form of a soybean paste called jiang—a fermented food that was originally made with animal protein instead of plant-based protein. Jiang began to spread out of China and into adjoining countries around the 7th century BC. There is evidence that Buddhist monks brought soybean jiang into Japan and Korea while various Chinese traders carried it southward. As it entered new countries and cultures, it took on unique forms and names, gradually becoming what we now know as miso in Japan.
Over the centuries, as miso evolved and spread throughout Japan, various different types of miso were created, often named after the provinces in which they originated. Japanese miso gained a more widespread popularity than its predecessor jiang, and by the 17th century, industrial production of miso had begun. High in protein and rich in essential vitamins and minerals, miso became an important nutritional element of feudal Japan. Miso continued gaining popularity and today is used in both traditional and modern Japanese cooking. As its health benefits become more widely known, miso is rapidly becoming a popular food worldwide.
Miso’s Health Benefits
Miso’s many nutritional benefits have made it an important part of the Japanese diet for hundreds of years. One of those major benefits is miso’s rich source of probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria, essential for a healthy digestive system.
The protein, fiber, and lecithin that you get from the soybeans in miso also have their own wealth of healthy benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and preventing arterial blockage.
The Japanese have always attributed cleansing and detoxifying qualities to the traditional morning bowl of miso soup, and indeed, miso soup is full of ingredients and properties that contribute to overall good nutrition and health.
Making miso is a lengthy and delicate process. At Marukome, we ensure that each and every step is done with the care and quality that makes our miso so delicious.
We make our own koji—the fermented food used to make miso, soy sauce, sake, and other Japanese staples—and use only non-GMO soybeans: soaked, steamed, and mashed. Once combined, the mixture has to be aged sufficiently. The entire miso-making process takes several months, but after it’s all said and done, we get to send it straight to your kitchen and help you create healthy and tasty meals.
Types of Miso
The color, texture, degree of saltiness, and flavor profile of a particular miso depends on the ingredients used and the duration of the aging period. Miso ranges in color from white to brown. The lighter varieties are mellower in flavor, while the darker ones are richer in flavor.
Traditional Japanese miso can be classified into four categories: rice miso (Kome miso), barley miso (Mugi miso), soybean miso (mame miso), and blended miso (Awase miso). Rice miso is the most common, and usually what we are talking about when we describe miso.
Salty, Sweet, and Umami
The flavor of miso is complex and built with a harmony of sweetness, saltiness, umami, sourness, and bitterness. To make a tasty miso soup, all of the components must be high quality and blended for the proper balance.
Miso’s sweet flavors come from koji; the more koji, the sweeter the miso. Miso’s umami flavors come from the breakdown of proteins into amino acids, which happens during the fermentation process. The longer miso is aged, the stronger the umami flavor will be. As the umami flavors get stronger, the saltiness is rounded out and softened. So, the longer miso is aged, the less salty it will taste.