Miso is a fermented soybean and grain paste that comes in a wide variety of flavors, colors, textures, and aromas. It is popularly used in Japanese cuisine in dressings, for pickling, as a spread for grilled foods, and as a base for soup.
All miso falls under three basic categories: komemiso, miso made with rice and soybeans; mugimiso, miso made from barley or rye and soybeans; and mamemiso, miso made from soybeans alone. Miso is produced by crushing boiled soybeans and injecting them with a yeastlike mold cultivated with a barley, soybean, or rice base. The mixture is then allowed to mature from six months to three years.
The darker the miso, the longer it has been fermented. Darker miso, which is saltier and stronger, is used in more robust-flavored dishes. The lighter-colored varieties are generally used in more delicate soups and dressings.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste whose salty taste, buttery texture and unique nutritional profile make it a versatile condiment for a host of different recipes, including traditional miso soup. In addition to soybeans, some misos also feature rice, barley, or wheat.
Miso is made by adding a yeast mold (known as "koji") to soybeans and other ingredients and allowing them to ferment. The fermentation time, ranging from weeks to years, depends upon the specific type of miso being produced. Once this process is complete, the fermented ingredients are ground into a paste similar in texture to nut butter.
The color, taste, texture, and degree of saltiness depend upon the exact ingredients used and the duration of the fermentation process. Miso ranges in color from white to brown. The lighter varieties are less salty and more mellow in flavor while the darker ones are saltier and have a more intense flavor. Some misos are pasteurized while others are not.
Selecting and Buying
Preparation and Use
Miso is generally sold in tightly sealed plastic or glass containers. Some stores also sell it in bulk containers. To check for freshness, look for a sell-by date listed on the container. In addition, check the label to make sure there are no additives such as MSG.
Conserving and Storing
Miso typically comes as a paste in a sealed container requiring refrigeration after opening. Natural miso is a living food containing many beneficial microorganisms which can be killed by over-cooking. For this reason, it is recommended for miso to be added to soups or other foods being prepared just before they are removed from the heat. Using miso without any cooking may be even better. Outside of Japan, a popular practice is to only add miso to foods that have cooled in order to preserve kōjikin cultures in miso. Nonetheless miso and soy foods play a large role in the Japanese diet and many cooked miso dishes are popularly consumed.Miso should be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container where it can keep for up to one year