Everything You Need to Know About Miso Paste

Food is one of the most basic things that every being in this world, whether it is human or an animal, needs in order to survive. Every kind of food provides a certain kind of nutrients and minerals that the body needs in order to function properly. Eating the right kind of food every single day not only help one survive the challenges of everyday living but also strengthens the body to face the obstacles ahead. On the other hand, food is not only a basic necessity to be munched on, but also a pleasurable thing meant to hopefully not just satisfy the stomach but to also delight the taste buds. Through the years, chefs and cooks from all over the world have tried to master cooking a certain type of cuisine to get the best flavor of each dish and its ingredients.

Every country has its own signature cuisine and seasonings that it specializes in. Specifically, in Japan, the country is well-known for foods like sushi, tonkatsu, sashimi, and katsudon to name a few. However, there are also some notable ingredients and seasonings that the Land of the Sun is famous for. Among the several seasonings that they have to offer, one of the most popular ones is miso.

Where did Miso Paste Originate?

A traditional seasoning in Japan, miso is created by fermenting soy beans with salt and the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, also known as koji in Japanese. There are also miso seasonings that are produced with rice and barley in them. After combining these ingredients, a thick paste is produced known as miso paste. Miso paste is used for sauces and spreads as well as for mixing with dashi broth in order to make miso soup, also known as misoshiru in Japanese. Miso soup is a staple dish in Japan as it is usually used to accompany almost all meals, especially breakfast.

The flavor of miso is usually on the salty side although this, as well as the aroma, may vary depending on other ingredients and on the fermentation process. A wide variety of miso has produced salty, earthy, sweet, savory, and even fruity flavors. Also known as soybean paste, miso has been gaining worldwide attention for the distinct flavor it brings to various dishes.

To further know more about miso, one may look at its history and origins. Where miso paste really originated is quite unclear. It is said that grain and fish miso were manufactured in Japan since the Jomon period, which was around 14,000 – 300 BC. This type of miso was known as jomon miso, pertaining to the miso during this period. The taste of this kind of miso was said to be similar to that of fish- and soy-based sauces that could be found all over East Asia.

On the other hand, the predecessor of miso came from China around the third century. It is then believed that hishio and other fermented soy-based products were brought to Japan at the time when Buddhism also flourished around the sixth century AD. The fermented food introduced at the time was called shi.

It was during the Kamakura period from the year 1192 to the year 1333 that a serving of miso became typically part of a meal, along with a bowl of steamed rice, dried fish, and a serving of fresh vegetables. Come the Muromachi period from the year 1337 to the year 1573, miso was produced without grinding the soybeans, similar to natto. However, the Buddhist monks discovered another method of preparing miso, which was by grinding the soybeans into a paste. Through this, more methods of cooking with miso paste were invented.

During the Sengoku period, miso became not just a typical dish in a traditional Japanese meal but also a military provision. Come the Edo period from the year 1603 to the year 1868, miso was known as hishio and kuki then. It was also during this period that different types of miso were produced depending on the local climate of the place and also the local culture within different parts of Japan.

Nowadays, miso paste is still being used in several types of dishes not just in Japan but also parts of the world as well. Due to the high demand of miso paste as it is a staple ingredient in typical dishes such as miso soup, the product is now being produced in huge quantities and sold in several stores nationwide. Packs of this can be found in most markets in the country and come in a wide variety. There are variants that have added soup stocks or calcium while there are also others that cater more to the health conscious with organic miso paste or miso paste with reduced salt content.

The Different Types of Miso Paste and Its Nutritional Value

Packed with protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, miso paste is not just any ordinary seasoning. Per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces of miso paste, it contains carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. A hundred gram of miso paste can provide energy for up to 831 kJ or 199 kcal.  Its carbohydrates contain both sugars and dietary fiber, all of which provide energy to the body. Its fat content is composed of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat.

As for protein, it has a lot of components within a hundred gram of miso paste. It consists of 0.155 grams or tryptophan, 0.479 grams of threonine, 0.508 grams of isoleucine, 0.478 grams of lysine, 0.129 grams of methionine, and 0.352 grams of tyrosine to name a few. Protein strengthens the muscles of the body so they can help the body move through everyday living.

On the other hand, miso paste is also packed with a lot of vitamins. For a hundred grams of miso paste, it has vitamin A equiv. beta-carotene lutein zeaxanthin, thiamine or B1, niacin or B3, folate or B9, vitamin B12, and pantothenic acid to name a few. A hundred gram of miso paste also contains high concentrations of vitamins, with 19% of riboflavin or B2, 15% of vitamin B6, 15% of choline, and 28% of vitamin K. All of these components provide a different kind of benefit to the body in order to improve the health of a person.

As for minerals, it consists of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron to name a few. Governing mineral components include manganese with 41%, phosphorus with 23%, zinc with 27%, and sodium with a whopping 249%. Suffice it to say, miso paste is very salty due to its very high sodium content. Another constituent in miso paste is water, with zero alcohol or ethanol content.

Due to the health benefits brought about by miso paste, more and more people are encouraged to try it out for themselves. However, for those incorporating miso paste in their dish for the first time, it is important to note that there are actually different types of miso. These types vary in taste, color, texture, and aroma, depending on which region it came from. Other factors that affect the differences among the various types are the temperature, duration of the fermentation process, sodium or salt content, the fermenting vessel, and the type of koji.

There are many types of miso, but the three most common types are the white miso, yellow miso, and red miso. The first common type of miso is white miso, also known as shiro miso in Japanese. It is produced with a large percentage of white rice koji and only a small percentage of soybeans. Among all types of miso, the white miso has the shortest fermentation time with about one to three months only. Due to this, the taste of white miso is mild and can be slightly sweet, which makes it perfect for light marinades, sauces, and dressings. Babies and children would probably prefer this over the other types of miso. It is also typical to use white miso for making soup in warm weather or for glazing fish and meat. Although called white miso, its color can actually range from white to light beige.

On the other hand, the second common type of miso is yellow miso. Also known as shinshu miso in Japanese, yellow miso is considered as the general, middle ground miso paste. Fermented with a large percentage of barley, a little bit of rice koji, and soybeans, the taste and flavor of yellow miso is neither too strong nor too mild. Its fermentation process takes only a bit longer than that of white miso. Because of its mild and earthy flavor, it also goes well with soups, glazes, and marinades. It is also the typical and safest type of miso to use in many dishes. Although called yellow miso, its color can actually range from light yellow to light brown.

Last but certainly not the least common type of miso is red miso. Also known as aka miso in Japanese, red miso is the most concentrated type of miso. With its fermentation process taking the longest time, red miso has the most intense flavor. Hence, it is best used in dishes with meat and sturdy vegetables such as asparagus and eggplant. It can also be used in rich soups and braises. Due to its concentration, just a tiny bit of red miso paste can already go a long way. Although called a white miso, its color can range from red to dark brown. For a combination of different types of miso, it is called mixed miso or awasemiso in Japanese.

Some Tips When Cooking with Miso Paste

There are certain tips that can be proven useful when cooking with miso paste. Probably the most important tip is to never boil miso soup. Boiling miso soup already with miso paste in it destroys the nutritional benefits that miso paste brings and the balance of flavors. Another tip is to wipe off miso paste when used as a marinade just before cooking. Because it is made of soybeans, the paste may burn when not wiped off. Hence, just leave a very thin layer of miso on the marinated fish, meat, or vegetables before cooking.

Miso paste is used not just in Japanese dishes but in others as well such as Taiwanese and Thai dishes. Even some chefs from the west also incorporate miso paste in their cooking. Other ingredients can also be used to miso paste such as ginger and onion, depending on the dish to be made. Try cooking with miso paste today and see the difference.