Adding miso to meals not only adds intense flavor but also the health benefits of fermentation. But for many, miso as an ingredient can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Here is a simple primer:
Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae) and sometimes barley, seaweed and rice. Saccharomyces cerevisiae and lactic acid bacteria may also be used.
Probiotics in miso?
A microbial analysis of miso revealed several species of Bacillus and Staphylococcus to be present during fermentation; only the Bacillus species remained in the final product. Fortunately, some samples produce bacteriocin-producing organisms with strong antibacterial activity.
As for health benefits, Japanese are known to have low rates of colon and prostate cancers. High soy intakes are thought to be relevant.
Yet there is limited research supporting the effects of miso on gastrointestinal conditions and microbiota. “There are several observational studies demonstrating associations between miso intake and the risk of stomach cancer, however the strength and direction of these associations remains unclear,” according to authors of a 2019 review article. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease appeared in Nutrients journal online.
Miso adds intense flavor
Japanese have been enjoying miso for thousands of years. Besides being another way microbes enrich our lives, it is delicious.
Three kinds of miso
A mild paste which undergoes a short fermentation period of about three months, white type is a good starter paste for soups, dressings, and marinades.
Still with a mild sweet flavor, yellow is fermented a bit longer. It is also a good option for a variety of soups and sauces.
After a lengthy fermentation, red miso packs a bigger punch.
The marriage of miso and soup is a long comfortable union.
And it’s super easy to prepare with ingredients on hand. Here’s a simple soup to try:
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 3 Tbsps. white miso paste
- ½ cup spinach or chard
- ½ cup green onion
- ½ cup cubed firm tofu
Mix miso with a spoonful of hot water to smooth. Bring broth in pot to simmer. Add greens, onions and tofu to broth; cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in miso.
The great thing is that you can doctor up packaged ramen and simple microwave soups to add this intense umami and nutrition, even in a dorm room.
But don’t stop there. Miso is delicious when added to salad dressings, all kinds of sauces and marinades. It doesn’t require any cooking. Just mix in a small amount to taste.
Stir-fry vegetables are enhanced with a little miso paste thinned with liquids such as rice vinegar or broth. Soba noodles are also classic in the Asian cuisine. Miso complements the buckwheat noodles for a tasty side dish.