Salty, sweet, savory, earthy, miso is a veritable explosion of taste and flavor.
If you’ve eaten Japanese food or sushi, chances are you’ve had a small bowl of miso soup somewhere during the course of the meal.
Miso is a paste made from fermented grains and legumes; most typically, soybeans but it can also include barley, rice, or beans like the azuki bean. The beans and grains are prepared and then mixed with a fermented culture, called koji, which constists of rice and a particular kind of mold (aspergillus). Traditional preparation calls for these ingredients to then be placed in wooden barrels and fermented for a couple of years. Current day practices have become mechanized in a factory setting and can now produce miso within a matter of months. Of course, I feel compelled to wonder what is lost, with respect to flavor and nutrient complexity, in the new conventional production methods.
From a culinary perspective, Miso is part of traditional Japanese cuisine that has become more globally popular over the last decade or two. It is typically used as a seasoning or a main ingredient in things like miso soup. While it’s main initial flavor is salty, there are a multitude of other nuances that cascade over the palate after the first bite. I have always loved miso soup but began really investigating the nuances of miso when I started using it as a healthy replacement for vegemite. (Yes, I used to be a huge fan of vegemite until I started reading ingredient labels.) I wondered what else could impart similar umami, savory, sweet, earthy flavor nuances but also still be actually good for me. One day I decided to try some miso paste on a piece of toast with avocado and I’ve never looked back. It’s absolutely delicious. Now I use miso to add a complex flavor combination to dressings and sauces as well as enjoying it in soups and on toast.
From a health perspective, miso is a fermented food packed with beneficial bacteria, especially if it produced following guidelines that are more traditional. Unfortunately, many of the quick conventional types of miso deliver more sodium than beneficial bacterial and are best avoided. However, if you do get your hands on quality miso, you are in for some belly loving health benefits. The fermentation delivers pre and probiotics contributing to the health of your gut and boosting immune function. Because it’s legume and grain based miso can deliver all the vitamin and mineral benefits of those particular ingredients, of course the caveat being, make sure you’ve chosen a non-GMO variety. For the moment, if you choose organic then you can be assured that it is non-GMO. One other interesting sidenote, much of the research concerning the health properties of soy comes from fermented soy products like miso rather than just plain soy (more on that in tomorrow’s flavor of the day).
So, if you’re looking for a way to get upgrade your gut microbiome and increase your flavor potential, miso could be a great option.