Miso has long been a favourite and we adore Miso Soup. Recently I found a sweet little Japanese bowl that just smiles sweetly and says “let’s make miso soup” to me every time I catch its eye on the kitchen bench. It is very easy to make if you have miso paste. But miso is not limited to making miso soup – there are hundreds of ways that it can be used.
Miso is a Japanese staple made by fermenting soybeans and grains (rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, rye for example) with salt and a particular type of fungus, called Aspergillus oryzae. The result is a thick paste, the colour and flavour of which varies according to many different factors (the exact ingredients, the season, the region, the duration of fermentation and the fermenting vessel, to name a few).
There are many different miso pastes, and it is great to experiment with them. Miso paste is available at most health shops, Japanese and Asian groceries and some supermarkets. Some brands are made locally, and others are imported from Japan.
One of the most common ways to use miso is to make miso soup. It is very easy to make, have a look at our recipe here, and feel free to ask any questions.
There are quite a variety of different misos. The four main ones are:
Shiromiso – White Miso – mainly white rice with soybeans
Akamiso – Red Miso -Soybeans
Genmai Miso – Brown Miso – Soybeans and brown rice
Awasemiso – Mixed or Blended Miso
There are a number of other varieties, many fermented with soybeans:
Hatcho Miso – Just soybeans
Mugi Miso – Barley and Soybeans
Tsubu Miso – Whole/Wheat Barley
Soba Miso – Buckwheat
Natto Miso – Ginger
Moromi Miso – Unblended
Nanban Miso – Mixed with chilli pepper
Taima – Hemp Seed
Hadakamugi – Rye
Nari – Cycad pulp [found in Buddhist temples]
Inika – White rice
… and many more…. They say that there are 1300 types! Each varies in colour, aroma, and flavour based on where the miso was made, the type of koji (mold used to ferment the miso) used, the proportion of soybeans to koji, and how long and under what conditions it ferments. If you are vegetarian it is worth knowing that some misos are mixed with dashi, a Japanese broth that is not vegetarian. You will see the word Dashi on the label – it is best to avoid those.
From a macrobiotic perspective, Hatcho, or soybean miso, is the most strengthening. Any of the barley misos have a more deeply nourishing and strengthening effect on health, though not quite as strong as Hatcho. They energise and encourage appetite. Genmai Miso (brown rice miso) is the most relaxing and soothing – Shiro Miso is as well. It depends on our health and desires to decide which miso is best for regular use. Simply speaking, Hatcho for strengthening, barley and soybean miso for strength, warmth and activity, and rice miso for relaxation and unwinding.
Common Types of Miso
Akamiso (Red Miso)
Akamiso is generally saltier than light yellow and white miso and has a more assertive, pungent flavour. You only need a little bit to add some serious umami to your dishes. It’s typically made with fermented soybeans and barley or another grain, and ranges from dark brown to red in colour.
It’s best suited for heartier dishes like rich soups, braises, and marinades or glazes It is terrific with eggplant. It can easily overwhelm milder ingredients, so use sparingly.
Genmai Miso (Brown Miso)
Genmai Miso is a mellow, sweet, golden miso paste of whole soybeans and brown rice which is traditionally aged in cedar kegs for up to 18 months. It is good for soups, sauces and slow cooked dishes, and is often referred to as Brown Miso.
Shiromiso (White Miso)
Shiromiso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with a large percentage of rice. It is fermented for a shorter time and lower in salt than darker varieties. It has a milder, more delicate flavour which is easily adaptable to various dishes. The colour of this miso can range from white to light beige, and the miso has a definite sweet taste. It’s mostly used in condiments like mayo or salad dressings, or in light sauces. It’s great in warm-weather soups and can be used in place of dairy in some recipes (think miso mashed potatoes). It can be blended with other miso types for a stronger flavoured soup, or a white miso broth can be boosted with additions such as garlic, chilli, onion, tamari, umaboshi, and/or sesame oil.
Mugi Miso (Barley Miso)
Made from barley and soybeans, mugi miso usually has a longer fermentation process than most white miso. It has a strong barley aroma, but is still milder and slightly sweet in flavour. Barley miso has become the most widely accepted by Westerners and is also very popular in Japan. Its not-too-sweet, funky and medium-strength flavour makes it appropriate for both summer and winter use. It is an ideal base for soups, sauces, and spreads. In Japan, mugi miso is considered a country-style food. It is available in smooth and chunky textures. It is great in stews and has a particular affinity for mushrooms.
Hatcho Miso (Soybean Miso)
Hatcho miso literally translates to 8th Street Miso because the original two companies that made Hatcho Miso have been on that street in Okazaki in Japan for hundreds of years. It is the darkest, firmest, most intensely flavoured of misos, with good umami, and it resembles a thick chocolate fudge. Its fermentation process is a long one, optimally between 2 and 3 years. Because its flavour is strong, hatcho miso is often mixed with other misos.u
The robust flavour of hatcho makes it a favourite winter miso, perfect for use with root vegetables and in hearty dishes such as soups and stews.
All of our Miso recipes can be browsed here. They include the following dishes: