Miso: A Nutritional Powerhouse
Miso has been a staple in Chinese and Japanese diets dating back approximately 2,500 years. Today, most of the Japanese population begins their day with a warm bowl of miso soup believed to stimulate digestion and energize the body.
There are more than 1,000 types of miso, ranging in texture, flavor, and color. These factors can be influenced by the ingredients, length of fermentation, and the conditions under which the miso is kept. Miso imported into the United States is typically divided into two main categories: light or white miso and dark or red miso. Some miso is labeled awase, which is a mixture of more than one kind of miso paste.
Types and Purchasing Tips
White or light miso (sometimes called sweet miso) can be light beige to yellow in color and tends to be lighter and sweeter in flavor thanks to a shorter fermentation time. It's made with less soybean content and more grains, like white rice. Red or dark miso ranges in color from light brown to almost black and is fermented for longer for a stronger, funkier, and saltier flavor. This miso is made with a higher proportion of soybeans and salt for an intense experience.
Different types of miso can often be used interchangeably in recipes but with varying results. Generally, the darker the color, the stronger the taste. Light-colored miso is better for light dressings and sweets, while dark miso is best for long braises and stews.
When purchasing miso, avoid the pasteurized version (found on store shelves) and go for the live enzyme-rich product (found in the refrigerated section usually near the tofu), which is also loaded with beneficial microorganisms. Look for miso with a short ingredient list, free of stabilizers, and preservatives.
Since it's a fermented product, miso keeps very well. Store it tightly sealed in the original container in the refrigerator and it will keep for a year or longer. Light miso doesn't have the shelf life of the darker varieties, since it had a shorter fermentation time, and should be used within a year for best results. Miso does oxidize, so placing a piece of plastic wrap directly against the paste after each use will help prevent discoloring.
Miso is a nutrient-rich, versatile condiment definitely worth keeping on hand.
The fermentation process used to produce it may be especially beneficial, potentially boosting digestion, aiding the immune system, and helping fight disease including certain types of cancer. Moreover, the fermentation process makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients it contains.
Miso contains vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds including B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, and choline.
In addition, the binding agent zybicolin found in miso is effective in detoxifying and eliminating elements that are taken into the body through industrial pollution, radioactivity, and artificial chemicals in the soil and food system.
10 scientifically researched benefits of eating miso:
Contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Stimulates the secretion of digestive fluids in the stomach.
Restores beneficial probiotics to the intestines.
Aids in the digestion and assimilation of other foods in the intestines.
Is a good vegetable-quality source of B vitamins (especially B12).
Strengthens the quality of blood and lymph fluid.
Reduces risk for breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers.
Helps remove heavy metals from the body.
Strengthens the immune system and helps to lower LDL cholesterol.
High in antioxidants that protect against free radicals.
Cooking with Miso
Miso has a wonderful sweet/salty flavor that can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The color of miso can vary from light yellow, good to use in a sweet miso soup during warm weather, to a deep dark brown with earthy tones and hearty flavor, which can be cooked with cubed root vegetables, wakame sea vegetable and dark leafy greens during the colder months. When cooking with miso use just enough to enhance flavor and avoid overpowering the dish with a strong salty taste.
8 Ways to Use Miso
Make Miso butter by adding miso paste to softened butter and adding a bit of lemon or lime juice. Use it as a sauce for a cooked protein or serve on steamed vegetables or rice.
Add umami flavor to vegetarian soups and steps. Add about 1 tablespoon per 4 servings of soup in vegetarian versions of split pea or minestrone soups.
Add extra flavor to stir-fry sauce, just be sure to add toward the end of cooking as too much heat will destroy the beneficial organisms.
Whisk into a salad dressing especially those that are Asian-inspired.
Puree with tofu and lemon juice and use in place of sour cream.
Use unpasteurized miso in marinades to help tenderize animal protein and break down vegetable fiber.
Mash it into potatoes for a flavor boost.
Combine equal parts miso, tahini, and olive oil to make a sauce to serve on a meal bowl or drizzled over roasted vegetables, especially sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts!
NOTE: Be careful not to get carried away and use miso in everything. Your body will respond to the excess salty taste with cravings for sweets, liquids, and fruit. It is suggested that the amount of miso used should not exceed 2 teaspoons per person per day.
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