An Important Pantry Staple.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste that adds a savory element to food. It is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and kõji (a mold) and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed or other ingredients. Over weeks or years, the enzymes in the kõji work together with the microorganisms in the environment to break down the structure of the beans and grains into amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars. Miso is earthy with deep layered flavor. It is the key to umami – often called the fifth taste sensation after sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Light miso is mellow and refreshing. It is also known as sweet miso. If you are unfamiliar with miso, start with sweet miso. It is mild and versatile as an ingredient. It dissolves more easily into dressings, soups and sauces.
Dark miso, also known as red or brown miso, has a longer fermentation time, a higher salt content and has a more intense and pungent taste. Darker is stronger and packs more of a punch than light miso.
For all miso, look for organic miso from small producers, and a short ingredient list. Avoid miso that contains alcohol, or other additives like MSG. The only ingredients should be soybeans, kõji, grains, salt and water.
Miso Master, made in North Carolina, is highly recommended for both light and dark miso. An 8oz container of their Organic Brown Rice Miso is $6.30.
The Organic Sweet White Miso has a more delicate flavor and has less soybeans and salt. An 8oz container is $5.60.
South River Miso, made in Massachusetts, is also highly recommended. They have ten varieties of miso. Their shipping season is from mid-September to the end of May. They have a minimum order of $30.00. They make an Organic Sweet-Tasting Brown Rice Miso. A one-pound glass jar is $11.00. It is sweet and works well in light soups, marinades and salad dressings
The Organic Three-Year Barley Miso is rich and hearty and has been aged for three summer seasons. A 1lb glass jar is $13.25.
Miso is delicious in marinades, salad dressings, stir-fry, mayo, vegetable stock and other soups. Blend miso into butter to make a sauce for cooking, or rub on cooked corn, or spread on garlic bread. Here are a couple of recipes.
See our earlier article on Umami – known as the fifth taste sensation.