Miso is one of those ingredients that fall into the super food category in a vegetarian and vegan diet. It is more than just fermented grains and beans with salt and water added to it.
Most commercially available miso is usually prepared from a combination of cultured grains and soybeans. Customarily, miso takes between two to three years to reach maturity but today commercial miso is processed within three months with preservatives, sugar and other agents to artificially aid the aging process.
What is miso exactly?
Miso is Japanese in origin. It is made from cooked grains, most commonly barley or rice, which have been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae spores, which in turn acts on the nutrients of the grain or soy to break down carbohydrate and protein, forming koji. Koji is then mixed with cooked soybeans and sea salt and left to ferment in wooden vats for three summers.
Similar to yoghurt and sourdough starter, miso is a living food rich in microorganism and beneficial enzymes. These enzymes are alive and play a vital role in balancing complex carbohydrates and nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals. Heating, as in pasteurising can kill these friendly enzymes and beneficial microorganism.
The fermentation process transforms both grains and beans, breaking down the protein and making it more accessible and digestible. The combination of the essential amino acids in both grains and beans has another beneficial effect for the body. Grain protein and soy protein complement each other, and the result is a complete protein.
The fermentation process also creates antihypertensive peptides, which aids in the lowering of blood pressure. Furthermore, unlike protein derived from animal, soy based protein eliminates sodium from the body more easily, which again helps to keep blood pressure in check.
A nationwide medical study carried out by Japan’s National Cancer Centre in the early 80’s indicated that people who consumed miso soup as part of their daily diet experienced lower rates of cancer and other debilitating illness such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Miso is widely used in soup preparation. But it robust flavour lends itself readily to sauces, salad dressings, dips and even as a spread. Miso comes in many varieties but the three main types are:
- Hatcho miso, which is made from 100% soy beans,
- Genmai miso is prepared from brown rice and is lighter in colour and taste than hatcho, and
- Mugi miso, which is made of barley
Any of these can be used on its own, or in combination with others for different flavours. Needless to say that the best miso is the one prepared the traditional way using organic ingredients and most importantly, unpasteurised.