Miso (soybean paste) is a lactic acid fermented paste made from soybeans, usually another type of grain, and salt. Their taste is fine and aromatic; the shades of color offered range from yellow to orange to brown. After steaming and cooling, the ingredients are mixed with a certain mold culture, “Koji”. The raw materials now have to mature under heavy weights in cedar barrels for at least a year. A complex fermentation process takes place that involves many types of microorganisms.
In the age of food additives, many industrially produced types of miso now contain colorings and flavors, including synthetic ones such as monosodium glutamate and preservatives.
Traditionally produced, naturally matured miso does not contain these additives. It is usually darker and has a distinctly different taste.
In today’s Japan, miso production is one of the largest branches of the food industry. There are hundreds of different types of miso, differentiated according to the place and type of production, the ingredients, the climate and the environment.
As a basic ingredient of the Japanese diet, miso is used together with sea and garden vegetables, especially in soups. Miso soup, eaten at the beginning of a meal, stimulates the appetite. Countless other uses for miso can be found, for example, in the preparation of sauces, dressings, spreads, pasta, stews, fish and vegetable dishes.
Miso – The process of fermentation
The fermentation of miso causes the soybeans and grain to be completely broken down into easily digestible nutrients. Above all, the protein structure is broken down into 18 different amino acids, including all essential amino acids. Therefore, the economical use of miso also increases the total amount of usable protein in the food considerably.
The enzymes released by the fermentation process actively support digestion and also stimulate the secretion of gastric juices.
Like Shoyu, Tamari, Sake, Amazake and Genmai-Su, miso is made using Koji, a mold culture that contains starch- and protein-decomposing enzymes similar to those found in human saliva. The different types of miso are created by using different types of koji.
Traditionally, the Japanese have always pasteurized miso. The process of conversion is then completed – a “round” food can be consumed.
In the 70s of the last century, as part of the natural food movement in Western Europe and North America, there were people who valued miso for its enzyme content. However, these enzymes are only active in unpasteurized miso.
The Japanese exporters and their suppliers gave up their long resistance not to pasteurize miso at some point and responded to the request of their overseas customers.
There were major problems in finding appropriate packaging for this active miso, as there were many losses during the long transport through different climate zones, mainly in summer.
If you read the macrobiotic-oriented cookbooks, it says in every recipe that you should stir the miso into the hot vegetable water or that soy products such as miso, shoyu and tamari should be briefly boiled again before consumption so that they can be used by the human organism at all can. And at this point it becomes problematic: If you heat an unpasteurized miso above 40 ° C, the enzymes become inactive.
A well-known macrobiotic consultant said on the subject that he recommends pasteurized miso to most people, there are few for whom unpasteurized miso would be better.
Schematic representation of the miso production
Soy paste with barley
Ingredients: soybeans, barley, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea),
Mugi-Miso is also available unpasteurized
Mugi miso is made with barley koji. That is, koji is added to cooked barley and then mixed with soybeans in wooden barrels, where it is stored for one to two years for the fermentation process.
It is perhaps the most versatile miso in terms of taste, suitable for the kitchen of all seasons and for all ages. In Japan, it is considered a rural variety of miso. It tastes very good and can be used for a wide variety of dishes.
Harcho miso is very strong, while Genmai miso is light and sweet in taste. In terms of taste, Mugi-Miso lies exactly in between. Because barley contains both protein and starch, barley koji produces both protein and starch degrading enzymes.
The resulting amino acids and starches are fermented by yeast bacteria. This is where the mild aroma of Mugi-Miso comes from. It is also the most mineral-rich miso. It is best suited to our European cuisine as its taste is the least foreign. It also goes particularly well with root vegetables, which are often eaten here.
Soybean paste with whole rice
Ingredients: soybeans, whole rice, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
Genmai means “brown rice”. Genmai miso is made from Genmai koji. As contradicting as it sounds, this is a new product, not a traditional one. Almost all rice miso varieties are made from polished rice because the outer shell of brown rice is very resistant to mold, including koji. After some experimentation, however, a way was found to make miso from whole rice as well. The result is a new, very rich and amazingly tasty variety. It’s not as sweet as rice miso made from polished rice, but lighter in taste – a new, versatile miso. It is particularly gratifying that
Genmai miso is now also made from organic rice, which means that the quality is even better.
Rice miso is light, tasty and the sweetest kind of miso. It is ideal for summer miso soup or to mix with other varieties. It is also very well suited for the preparation of sauces, dressings, spreads, etc. It contains a relatively large amount of grain sugar and little salt.
To be served: soybeans, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
There are only two manufacturers of Hacho-Miso, two neighbors in Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture. Hacho miso is made from soybean koji and salt, which is very similar to the koji used to make shoyu and tamari. The spores of the mold culture are added directly to the soybeans.
For this purpose, cooked soybeans are shaped into balls the size of a child’s fist and inoculated with koji spores. The koji then grows – in a thin layer – on the surface of the ball, while lactic acid bacteria penetrate inside.
These koji balls are placed in huge wooden cedar barrels with water and salt. Compared to other varieties, hatcho miso is very dry because less water and salt are used to make it. Therefore, the fermentation process takes longer than with other miso varieties, namely a full two years. After this long maturation period, the lactic acid fermentation process of Hatcho miso is complete. It is fully ripe and therefore does not need to be pasteurized. The miso is weighed down with stones in the barrels so that it is constantly covered with liquid.
Hatcho-Miso is the strongest and driest of all miso types. Due to its special composition and maturity, it has a full, almost chocolate-like taste. It can be used alone or in combination with other types of miso and is ideal for all miso soups. It also goes particularly well with peanut butter – this mixture is a delicious spread.
Since a soybean consists mainly of protein, hatcho miso has the highest lactic acid content. Koji made from soybeans produces mainly protein-degrading enzymes and supports the growth of lactic acid and other acid-producing bacteria.
Soybean paste with rice
Ingredients: soybeans, husked rice, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
Light miso (from shiro – “light, white”) is made according to a different recipe than the aforementioned miso types. Rice koji, soybeans, rice and sea salt are used. Since Shiro Miso contains significantly more koji and less salt than other types of miso, the natural fermentation time is only 2 – 8 weeks. After this time it is ripe and its fermentation process has not been interrupted prematurely.
Its taste is therefore very light and mild, which is why it is also used for a particularly pleasant-tasting instant miso soup with tofu.
Shiro miso is particularly popular with gourmets as a refinement of many dishes that would otherwise be prepared with cream or milk products.
If you use miso in the kitchen, you should not only use Shiro or Awase miso, but also barley, rice or other types of miso in order to increase the digestibility. If you want to reduce or stop the consumption of dairy products, you can use Shiro-Miso to get your taste used to cereal or macrobiotic food very easily, as it emphasizes a full, creamy, mild taste as a condiment.
Combination of hatcho and shiro miso
Soy paste with rice
Ingredients: soybeans, husked rice, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
This variety is an ideal miso for European tastes. It combines the somewhat strong-tasting, very strong effect of Hatcho-Miso with the mildly sweet taste and the rather stimulating, relaxing effect of Shiro-Miso. Akadashi miso is therefore suitable for classic miso recipes as well as for preparing specialties such as spice paste, delicious casserole sauces, pickled vegetables and for making tofu cheese.
Soy paste with rice and barley
Ingredients: soybeans, peeled rice, peeled barley, water, sea salt, koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
Awase miso is a combination of the three types of miso described so far, because soy, rice and barley are combined here. It is one of the faster fermented, lighter varieties.
Soy paste condiments with barley and ginger
Ingredients: barley, water, sea salt, soybeans, ginger, kombu (laminaria sp.), Koji ferment (aspergillus oryzea)
Natto miso is very different in consistency and composition from the other miso varieties. It is more of a chutney and tastes very good as a condiment with rice, Brussels sprouts or green beans.