What is miso?
Miso means ‘fermented beans’ in Japanese. A traditional ingredient in Japanese and Chinese diets, miso paste is made from different types of grains but mainly soya and a unique koji fermentation culture and contains millions of beneficial bacteria.
There are many different types of miso, with versions linked to regional cuisines, identities and flavours. This protein-rich paste adds the fifth taste, known as ‘umami’, and can be used in all sorts of dishes, including soups or broths, salad dressings, vegetables, stews, glazes and marinades. The length of fermentation time can affect the flavour, ranging from sweet and mild to salty and rich.
Miso is a live product and ongoing fermentation may cause the lid to bulge (similar to sauerkraut). It will still be safe to consume. Harmless white yeasts may develop from exposure to air. Simply skim off.
During the 18 years Clearspring's founder Christopher Dawson lived in Japan he became an expert on miso quality, and the Clearspring range is his selection of the finest traditionally made Japanese miso. All traditionally fermented Japanese miso is prepared by cooking the finest organically grown ingredients (whole soya beans and cereal grains) and combining them with a koji culture (grains or soya beans inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae mould spores) sea salt and water. Then naturally aged in cedarwood kegs over many months at ambient temperature the enzymes from the koji, along with naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria, gradually break down the complex grains and beans into readily digestible amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars. The resulting miso has rich and complex flavours and an abundance of umami, the fifth taste.
Different varieties of miso
The most common type of miso is made from only soybeans, but the variety and ratio of raw ingredients can vary. Some miso pastes are made from cultured wheat or millet, or combinations of different grains and beans. The colour is a fairly good indicator of the strength of flavour. The texture can vary, too. Miso made from a wholegrain is typically saltier than that made from a hulled grain.
The robust miso, Genmai Miso in Japanese, has been developed for maximum nutrition. Since it is made using whole soya beans and brown rice, it has a very wholefood nutritional profile.
Depending on the region and climate where the miso is made, the skill and experience of the brewmaster judges when the miso has reached its optimum maturity. This can vary from 6 months during a hot summer period in certain prefecture to 18 months in colder regions.
What are the different varieties of miso?
Like with French wine or Belgian beers, miso comes in numerous varieties, each with its own unique taste, colour and texture, and each reflecting the local culture, crops and growing conditions of different regions of Japan. While sweet miso with lower soya content, less salt and more koji is popular in the south of Japan, darker miso, often called "aka" or red miso, contains more soya and less grain koji, and traditionally comes from the northern part of Japan. The Clearspring range includes the best of each type of miso, both dark and light, as well as pure soya bean and grain based varieties.
White miso (shiro)
Made from soybeans and rice and fermented for no longer than two months. Shiro ('white' in Japanese) is light in colour and sweet to mildly salty. Shiro is a great gateway miso – it's very versatile, providing a bit of oomph to salad dressings or fried vegetables.
Yellow miso (shinsu)
Another mild type that is fermented for slightly longer than white miso. Yellow miso is adaptable in a wide range of recipes.
Red miso (aka)
If a recipe calls for dark miso, you’ll want to use an aka or red miso. Russet in colour, this type is made from a higher proportion of soybeans, fermented for up to three years and saltier and deeper in flavour. Its full flavour is best used in hearty dishes like stews and tomato sauces. Use with caution: its flavour can overpower other ingredients.
Barley miso (mugi)
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 mild and slightly sweet in flavour.
See full range of jars and sachets currently in stock by clicking here: https://karrysdeli.com/search?q=miso
How should miso be stored?
Generally, the best way to store miso to maintain its freshness and quality is in a cool cupboard or refrigerator. However, it really depends on climatic conditions and personal preference. High temperatures will encourage further fermentation, which although not harmful, will darken the colour and alter the flavour of the miso as well as possibly leading to a build-up of pressure within the packaging.
How salty is miso?
Salt plays an integral part in many fermented and pickled foods. It acts as a check to the fermentation process, creating foods with optimum nutrition but preventing them from spoiling. Miso contains enough salt to successfully control the fermentation, with the actual amount varying from 5% for lighter varieties up to 12% for stronger, darker varieties. Miso is a concentrated seasoning with considerable flavouring ability, so there is no need to use a lot of it. When substituting miso for salt, add approximately one to two teaspoons of miso for one quarter of a teaspoon of salt. This way salt intake can be lowered and full benefit gained from the flavour and nutrition of miso.
Are Clearspring soya foods non GM?
Organic certification does not allow genetic modification, so all Clearspring organic foods are therefore certified non GM. With its non-organic foods, Clearspring is careful to only trade products where there is a declaration from the supplier that all the ingredients are non GM.
Should miso be cooked?
Unpasteurised miso contains an abundance of live enzymes that can be destroyed through prolonged cooking. However the nutritional properties, as well as the flavour of miso, are left unaltered by cooking, and some recipes suggest cooking miso to develop the flavour of other ingredients in the dish.
To maximise the enzymatic benefits of miso, choose an unpasteurised variety (or freeze-dried miso soup) and select recipes where miso is added towards the end of cooking.
What kind of dishes can it be used in?
Enjoy this hearty miso year-round and can be used instead of salt to flavour dishes like sauces, spreads, baked dishes, soups and stews. It combines well with ingredients such as ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, tahini and citrus zest and juice.
Top 5 health benefits of miso
1. May support gut health
The fermentation process involved in the production of miso promotes levels of beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics. These bacteria are thought to help a range of health issues, including digestion and gut health.
By incorporating a variety of fermented foods in your diet, you may help promote levels of beneficial bacteria and enzymes in the gut, which may in turn improve the balance of gut microbes as well as the function of your digestive system. When buying miso, choose the unpasteurised, live, enzyme-rich product that will need to be stored in the fridge.
2. May promote vitamin levels
Studies in 1997 and 2013 have shown these beneficial bacteria in the gut manufacture vitamins (primarily vitamins K and B12) as a by-product of their metabolism. This means that by improving the balance of your gut microbes through the consumption of fermented foods, an indirect benefit may be enhanced nutritional status.
The process of fermentation also reduces toxins and anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid levels of the soybeans in miso.
3. May reduce the risk of certain cancers
Regular miso consumption is thought to potentially reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women. This is thought to be thanks to the paste’s isoflavone content. Miso is also a rich source of protective antioxidants which may further support its protective role in this area. However, more studies are needed to clarify and confirm these possible benefits.
4. May enhance immune function
Being a rich source of probiotic bacteria, miso may support immune function and help fight infections. Regularly consuming a variety of fermented foods like miso may minimise your need for antibiotic therapy when fighting infection. That said, more studies are needed to assess the benefits of different strains of bacteria, including those most commonly present in miso.
5. May support brain health
Recent advances in our knowledge and understanding of gut-brain connectivity supports a role for diet and in particular the consumption of fermented foods in cognitive health, including anxiety and depression. Although much has been learned, there is still more to discover before we can definitively define the bacterial strains that may be of most value.
Is miso safe for everyone?
Miso is generally safe for most people; however, if you follow a low-salt (sodium) diet, you may wish to limit your intake because miso has high levels.
Soybeans are considered to be goitrogenic. This means if you have a thyroid issue you may be advised to minimise your intake. This is because these foods may interfere with the absorption of iodine, which is needed for the production of thyroid hormones. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you would need to eat a reasonable amount on a consistent basis for this to be an issue.
Some people may have an allergy to soy protein and may need to avoid miso and other soy-based foods. Those with coeliac disease will need to check labels to ensure the miso product is appropriate for them and made from gluten-free ingredients in a suitably gluten-free environment.
If you are on blood-thinning medication such as warfarin, your GP or dietitian may suggest you monitor vitamin K-rich foods like miso in your diet to ensure you eat similar amounts consistently. If in doubt, consult your GP before making any significant changes to what and how much you eat.