Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans or other grains like rice or barley. This salty, flavorful paste is used extensively in Asian cooking as a seasoning for sauces, soups, meat, and vegetables. Miso has been praised for centuries not only for its flavor but also its high nutritional value.
Miso Varieties and Flavors
There are hundreds of varieties of miso available, each with a unique flavor and appearance.
Each miso variety will vary depending on the grains that have been fermented, the type of bacterial or fungal culture used for fermentation, and the length of time the mixture is allowed to culture. The level of saltiness may also vary quite a bit from recipe to recipe.
Although most miso is made from soybeans, it can also be made from rice, barley, buckwheat, rye, millet, wheat, or other lesser-known grains. Each will impart a unique flavor, appearance, and nutritional content.
As a result of this variation, asking what the flavor of miso is can be compared to asking what cheese tastes like. As with different types of cheese, the flavor can be completely different from miso to miso.
White miso (shiro miso) is milder and is fermented for a shorter period of time. Yellow miso (shinshu miso) is still mild but fermented long enough to give it a darker color. Red miso (aka miso) is more pungent and saltier, having been fermented longer.
How to Use Miso
Perhaps the most popular use for miso is in miso soup. Miso soup is a simple broth prepared with miso, dashi (fish stock), and sometimes other ingredients such as tofu or seaweed. Miso soup is a mainstay in the diets of most Japanese. Miso is also used to flavor the broths of many other types of soup.
Because of its paste-like texture, it dissolves easily into hot broths.
Miso is often mixed into glazes, marinades and braising liquids for meat and vegetables to add saltiness and umami flavor. Because of its flexible flavor, miso can be combined with both salty and sweet dishes and is even used to make many popular Japanese confections.
In addition to being an ingredient in many recipes, miso is also often consumed straight as either a side dish or condiment.
Miso is prized for its high protein, protein, vitamin, and mineral content. One ounce of miso contains roughly 56 calories, 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and 1044 mg of sodium. The nutritional content of miso will vary depending on the ingredients used to make the miso. Miso is often used in vegetarian cooking to not only add flavor but to provide a nutrient boost.
Purchasing and Storing Miso
Because miso is a fermented product with live cultures, it is sold in sealed containers and should be refrigerated after opening. Always check the expiration date on miso, as it is considered a fresh product.
Miso has grown in popularity in the United States in recent years and can now be found in many grocery stores, especially those specializing in natural or health foods.
Asian markets will provide a greater selection of miso varieties. Miso is often offered as a fresh paste but can also be purchased in a dry, powder form.
When trying to choose a miso variety, keep in mind that darker misos will have a stronger, more robust flavor, while light misos will be more delicate and mild.