If you love Japanese cuisine, you’ve probably heard of miso before in that ever-popular Japanese appetizer: miso soup!
However, did you know that miso is the backbone of many more Japanese dishes other than miso soup?
This article will tackle everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this ingredient, as well as how you can cook with it!
What is miso?
First of all, what EXACTLY is miso? Does it come from an animal, plant, or fungi?
Miso is a paste that is traditionally made from a mixture of soybeans, salt, and koji, a type of mold that’s responsible for giving miso it’s signature umami taste.
Yes, you read that right: mold!
The koji is responsible for the fermentation process that transforms the soybean mixture into the delicious and familiar taste you know.
In fact, koji is so popular in Japanese cooking that it’s also used to ferment other well-known Japanese goodies such as soy sauce and sake.
Today, many chefs are experimenting with using koji in other cuisines. One noted American chef is Kevin Fink, the head chef at Austin’s Emmer & Rye.
He’s actually trying to see whether he can make an umami ice cream!
What does miso taste and look like?
Miso paste is thick and comes in a variety of colors, ranging from white to reddish-brown.
It is not meant to be eaten on its own, but if you do take a small bite out of curiosity, you will find that it tastes extremely salty, tangy, and somewhat pungent.
Is miso healthy?
Yes, miso is healthy because it’s a probiotic! This means that it’s full of “good bacteria”, which are also known as healthy probiotics.
Good probiotics help with digestion and promoting healthy stomach flora. However, you do need to keep in mind that miso does contain a fair bit of sodium.
This high amount of sodium coupled with the intense taste is why a little bit of miso goes a long way.
Another note: the live good bacteria in miso is also why you cannot boil or otherwise cook miso for a long time in a high heat environment.
The prolonged exposure to the heat will kill all the good bacteria!
Is miso gluten-free?
If you are using traditional miso, it’s gluten-free. Some recipes use other types of beans such as chickpeas and adzuki beans, which are also gluten-free.
However, there are also brands on the market that include grains such as rye, barley, and wheat, which are NOT gluten-free.
You should always check the ingredients list of any miso product that you purchase to check whether it includes any components that have gluten.
Are there different kinds of miso?
There are generally three types of miso you can find: white, yellow, and red. All of them are made from fermented soybeans but differ in the type of grains added in the recipes.
White miso (shiromiso) is made from adding rice. It is the lightest in color and has the mildest taste.
It is only aged for a few weeks, hence the light color and mild flavor. If you’re new to using miso in your dishes, this is a good type of miso to use.
Yellow miso (mugimiso) is made from the addition of barley malt. It is sweet and “full-bodied”, and has a strong flavor compared to white miso.
This kind of miso is generally aged for around 3-4 months.
Red miso (akamiso) is made from adding rice malt and barley. It is the strongest type of miso available, and it has a deep reddish-brown color.
It is aged for at least a year, although some manufacturers have a longer aging process.
There are also other types of miso available, but these are not as common as the three mentioned above.
Remember, the longer miso is aged, the deeper the color and the stronger the flavor!
Where can I find miso?
In the past, you would only be able to find miso in specialty Asian groceries or health food stores. Luckily, you can now find miso in stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes!
How do I store miso?
Storing miso is quite easy! Since they usually come in sealed tubs, you simply need to keep them in your fridge when not in use.
They’ll keep good for 9-12 months. Dark-colored miso keep for longer compared to light-colored miso.
What can I use as a miso substitute?
Miso has a very unique and distinct flavor, so you won’t really have a substitute that you can use to get that same umami flavor profile.
However, you can use soy sauce or oyster sauce for recipes that call for miso if you don’t have it.
How do I cook with miso?
As mentioned above, the most common and quintessential dish that you can use with miso is miso soup!
However, you can add a teaspoon of it to various dishes to give it a distinctly Asian flair!
Add a teaspoon of miso to this crunchy and fresh Asian slaw if you want to bump up the umami flavor.
You can also blend a teaspoon with some butter and use it for an Asian-style garlic bread or corn on the cob.
However, you don’t have to restrict yourself to Asian recipes! Miso adds a new level of flavor to gravy for your next steak or turkey dinner, and miso also works well with white-fleshed fish.
You can even use miso as a dessert ingredient! The salty profile of miso works so well as a foil for chocolate, so why not add a pinch of miso paste to this chocolate mug cake? The salt will bring out the flavor of chocolate.
It bears repeating: when working with an ingredient like miso, a little goes a long way.
You might think that a teaspoon of miso wouldn’t really make a lot of difference especially if you’re working with other strong-flavored ingredients such as steak.
If you love that umami punch, you can always add a little bit more miso if you want to boost the flavor, but you can’t remove the ingredient if it becomes too salty or pungent for your taste.
If you have any more questions about miso or how to use it in a recipe, let us know! We’d love to hear your thoughts about this delicious ingredient.