More and more Americans are embracing the power of natural foods and discovering the correlation between what we eat and how we feel. As these trends shift, miso is becoming increasingly popular, showing up in recipes for everything from cookies to vegan cheese.
And while we have been handcrafting Miso Master Miso in North Carolina for more than 40 years, it is not a traditional American food. If you’ve recently come across a recipe that calls for miso, and you’re not sure what that is, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the miso basics!
What is Miso Paste?
Miso paste originated in Asia and has been used as a flavorful ingredient for more than 1,000 years. This savory paste is made by combining a cooked base ingredient, such as soybeans or chickpeas with koji, rice, water and salt. Though there are many different varieties of miso paste with varying ingredients and ratios the production process for each is essentially the same, with the primary difference being the length of time the miso is aged for.
What is Koji?
Koji is a cooked grain such as rice or barley, that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a fermentation culture. After inoculation, the koji is stored in a warm and humid place for up to two days.
During this time the Aspergillus feeds on the grain, using enzymes to break down carbohydrates and proteins. Koji isn’t just used to make miso. It is the fermentation catalyst for sake, mirin, soy sauce, and rice vinegar as well as other traditional Japanese foods.
What Happens Next?
The incubated koji spores are combined with the cooked base ingredient, salt and water and put into vessels such as large wooden barrels, where it is left to ferment. During the fermentation process this mixture is broken down by microbes and enzymatic action to create the umami flavor and probiotic bacteria found in miso.
Different miso paste varieties are aged for different periods of time to produce the desired taste.
Lighter misos, such as Miso Master Organic Mellow White Miso are aged for 15 to 30 days, whereas darker misos, like Miso Master Organic Traditional Red Miso, are aged for a year or more. Generally speaking, the darker the miso paste is the more concentrated the flavor will be.
Types of Miso
There are many types of miso on the market and the run the gamut on flavor. Miso is often categorized by color: white, yellow, red, and mixed. Oftentimes color is an indication of flavor, with white miso being mild and red miso having a more concentrated taste. Yellow miso is saltier and more acidic than white miso. Mixed is a combination red and white, which is very popular in Japan.
Short-Term Miso Varieties
Short-term miso varieties are lighter in color and typically have a more subtle flavor than darker, long-term misos. In addition to traditional soup short-term misos are often used to add a savory, umami element to salad dressings and desserts.