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be traced back to the 4th century BC in China, in the form of a soybean paste called jiang—a fermented food that was originally made with animal protein instead of plant-based protein.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.