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All about miso

What is miso?

Miso (味噌) - pronounced "misso" - is a traditional Japanese fermented paste, usually made from fermented soybeans, rice, barley or other grains. It is a fundamental ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and is also used in other Asian cuisines.

Here are the main constituents of miso:

  1. Soya: Soya is the basic ingredient of miso. Soybeans are often cooked and mixed with other grains such as rice or barley before being fermented.

  1. Grains: In addition to soybeans, grains such as rice or barley are often added to the mix for fermentation. This results in different varieties of miso with varying flavors and textures.

  1. Salt: Miso contains a significant amount of salt, which helps preserve the product.

  1. Koji: Koji (麹) is a ferment derived from the mold (Aspergillus oryzae) used in the miso fermentation process. It converts grain carbohydrates into sugars, which are then transformed into alcohol and acids during fermentation.

Miso is produced by a fermentation process that can last from several months to several years, depending on the type of miso desired. There are several varieties of miso, each with distinct flavor characteristics. The most common types are white miso (shiromiso), red miso (akamiso) and brown miso (awasemiso).

Miso is widely used to prepare soups, broths, sauces and even marinades. It adds a depth of umami flavor to many dishes, and its versatility in the kitchen makes it a popular ingredient.

What are the different types of miso?

There are several types of miso, each with distinct flavor characteristics, depending on the ingredients used, fermentation time, production region and other factors. The main types of miso include:

  1. Shiromiso (白味噌) - White miso: This is a mild, clear miso, usually made from soybeans and rice. It has a slightly sweet flavor and is less salty than other types of miso. It is often used in soups, sauces and marinades.

  1. Akamiso (赤味噌) - Red miso: This miso is darker and saltier than shiromiso. It's made from fermented soybeans and grains like rice or barley. It has a more robust flavor and is often used in soups and simmered dishes.

  1. Awase Miso (合わせ味噌) - Combined Miso: This is a blend of different types of miso, usually shiromiso and akamiso. This creates a balanced flavor that can be used in a variety of dishes.

  1. Genmai Miso (玄米味噌) - Brown Rice Miso: This miso is made from brown rice and soybeans. It has a rich flavor and distinctive rice aroma. It is often used in soups and sauces.

  1. Hatcho Miso (八丁味噌): Native to the Aichi region, hatcho miso is made only from soybeans and is fermented for a longer period than other types of miso. It has a very intense flavor and is often used in cooked dishes.

  1. Saikyo Miso (西京味噌): Originating in Kyoto, this miso is mild, light and light in color. It's usually made with lots of rice and is less salty than other types of miso. Saikyo miso is often used in pickled dishes.

  1. Mugi Miso (麦味噌) - Barley miso: Made from barley and soybeans, mugi miso has a robust flavor. It is often used in soups and simmered dishes.

It's important to note that these general descriptions may vary according to producer and production region. Each type of miso has its own specific culinary applications, and some may be preferred for particular dishes because of their unique flavor.


How is miso made?

Making miso is a fermentation process that combines several basic ingredients such as soybeans, cereals (like rice or barley), salt and a mold called koji (Aspergillus oryzae). Here's a general description of the miso-making process:

  1. Soaking and cooking soybeans: The soybeans are first soaked overnight in water to soften them. They are then cooked until tender.

  1. Koji preparation: Koji is prepared by growing the mold Aspergillus oryzae on cereal grains, usually rice or barley. These koji grains are then blended with cooked soybeans to create a mixture called "koji-mai".

  1. Main fermentation: The koji-mai mixture is combined with salt to create a paste. This paste is then placed in fermentation tanks and left to ferment for several months to several years, depending on the type of miso desired. The length of fermentation influences the miso's color, flavor and aroma.

  1. Grinding and smoothing: After fermentation, the resulting paste is ground to a smooth texture. This can be done mechanically or manually, depending on the production method.

  1. Packaging and aging: The miso paste is then packed into containers for aging. During this period, which can last several months, the miso's flavors develop further.

  1. Types of miso: At the end of the process, different varieties of miso are obtained, depending on the ingredients used (soy, rice, barley), the length of fermentation, and other factors. The most common types of miso include shiromiso (white miso), akamiso (red miso), and others specific to certain regions or traditions.

The resulting miso is then used in a variety of dishes such as soups (like miso soup), sauces, marinades, and even simmered dishes. Miso's fermentation process gives it rich, complex umami flavors, as well as health benefits thanks to the probiotics and enzymes it contains.

What are the benefits of miso?

In addition to adding a distinctive umami flavor to cooking, miso also offers certain health benefits due to its nutritional composition and the fermentation processes involved in its manufacture. Here are just a few of miso's potential benefits:

  1. Source of Protein: Miso, being based on soy (and sometimes other vegetable proteins such as rice or barley), is a source of vegetable protein. Proteins are essential for growth, tissue repair and general body function.

  1. Probiotics: During the fermentation process, beneficial probiotic bacteria are produced. These probiotics promote intestinal health by supporting a balanced intestinal flora, which can have positive effects on digestion and the immune system.

  1. Digestive enzymes: Miso fermentation produces enzymes that can help break down nutrients and aid digestion. This can be particularly beneficial for those with digestive problems.

  1. Antioxidants: Miso contains antioxidant compounds, such as polyphenols, which can help neutralize free radicals in the body. Antioxidants play a role in preventing oxidative stress and maintaining cellular health.

  1. Rich in nutrients: Miso contains various nutrients such as vitamins (B2, B6, B12, K), minerals (such as zinc, iron and calcium), and essential amino acids.

  1. Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Some studies suggest that regular consumption of miso may be associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as lower cholesterol levels.

  1. Potential for Cancer Prevention: Some research suggests that the phytochemical compounds present in miso may have anti-cancer properties, although more research is needed to confirm these effects.

It's important to note that, while miso may offer certain health benefits, its consumption needs to be balanced, as it is also salty. People watching their sodium intake should take into account the salt content of miso in their diet. Furthermore, the nutritional quality of miso can vary according to the type and method of production, as well as the ingredients used. As with all foods, miso should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

How to cook with miso

Miso is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. In particular, miso provides umami as a result of the fermentation and breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fats present in its basic ingredients, such as soy, rice, barley and other grains. Umami is considered the fifth basic flavor, alongside sweet, salty, sour and bitter. This is often the reason why Japanese dishes are considered so fine and tasty!

Here are a few ideas for cooking with miso:

1. Miso soup:

Miso soup is one of miso's most classic uses. To make a simple miso soup:

- Dilute a tablespoon or so of miso in a little hot broth.

- Add this mixture to your vegetable, noodle or tofu soup.

- Do not boil miso, as this may alter its flavor.

Soupe Miso

2. Marinades :

Miso is an excellent ingredient for marinades, especially for grilled meats and vegetables:

- Mix miso with other ingredients such as soy sauce, ginger, garlic and honey to create a tasty marinade.

- Let meat or vegetables marinate for a few hours or overnight before cooking.

3. Sauces:

Add miso to sauces to give them extra umami flavor:

- Mix miso with mayonnaise for a sauce for vegetables or sandwiches.

- Use miso in pasta sauces or soy-based sauces.


4. Dressings :

Miso can be incorporated into salad dressings:

- Mix miso with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey and herbs for a delicious dressing.

5. Glazes:

Use miso as a base for glazing vegetables, proteins or even tofu:

- Mix miso with mirin, sake, sugar and soy sauce to create a sweet-salty glaze.

6. Simmered dishes:

Add miso to simmered dishes or stews for rich flavor:

- Stir miso into vegetable, meat or tofu dishes during cooking.


7. Dips:

Make dips by mixing miso with yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese.


- Start with small quantities of miso, as its taste is concentrated and can quickly dominate dishes.

- Add miso at the end of cooking to preserve its nutritional properties and flavor.

Feel free to experiment and adjust quantities to suit your personal preferences. Miso is a versatile ingredient that can add a depth of umami flavor to a variety of dishes.