January 7, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Miso

Is [tamari] similar to miso? I've seen miso listed as an ingredient before, but have no idea what it is.

-- Corey Clark
(location withheld)

Miso shares some similarities with tamari.

Whereas tamari is liquid, miso is a thick paste usually made by fermenting soybeans, rice, buckwheat, or barley (with the help of a particular mold, of course).

Before letting it age for anywhere from two months to three years, a little salt is also sprinkled on.

Miso is mainly used as a flavoring agent -- often in place of salt -- due to its high sodium levels.

Many chefs prefer to use miso since, as a result of its fermentation, it adds earthy, savory tones to food (akin to nutritional yeast.)

Some vegans like to include it in their diet since the bacteria used in the fermentation process creates B12.

However, miso's B12 content -- which isn't really that spectacular -- is of the analogue variety, so I urge vegans to instead get this vitamin through nutritional yeast or fortified soy products.

The most popular use of this ingredient in the United States is with miso soup, which is basically a mixture of miso paste with water, seaweed, tofu, and scallions.

Although some people laud it as a nutritious food, its high sodium content has me viewing it more as an alternative flavoring agent to use when cooking, rather than an ingredient to bolster the nutritional profile of a dish.


Kristin said...

Here's a miso soup recipe: http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2007/05/20/simple-10-minute-miso-soup/

People who are trying miso for the first time should be aware that there are lots of different kinds of miso.

Here are a few that are commonly found in the U.S.:

Shiro miso: I find that most people favor Shiro miso for making miso soup. It's a light color and is the sweetest/mildest miso. It also has less sodium than the others.

Genmai miso: another popular miso, made with brown rice. It's a medium color and has more sodium than the others b/c it takes more salt to make miso from a whole grain.

Hacho miso is the darkest and richest flavored miso b/c it's aged the longest. It's very thick and almost black in color.

Sometimes people mix the various kinds of miso to get the color/flavor they want. If I were buying it for the first time I would stick with Shiro miso.

Corey said...

thanks for the info

Andy Bellatti said...

Thanks for sharing that, Kristin!