Friday food treat: Miso

Miso paste in a bowl

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One of the traditional seasonings in Japanese cuisine is miso. It is used in sauces, spreads, in pickling meats and soup. Widely used in both traditional and modern dishes, miso can be a great standby in the pantry for making a last-minute meal. 

What’s in miso?
Miso is made from fermented soybeans and salt, koji (a fungus) and sometimes rice and barley. It makes a thick paste. The paste is added to water and then combined with other regular Japanese ingredients like mirin, vinegar, sesame oil, dashi and water, to make delicious sauces, spreads, marinades and soups.

Varieties of miso
Miso’s taste, texture and aroma varies according to where (region) and when (season) it is produced. Factors that contribute to these variations are temperature, fermentation time, salt content, the variety of koji used and the container in which the fermenting takes place.

The most common flavour categories of miso are:

  • White miso – shiromiso (more delicate flavour)
  • Red miso – akamiso (stronger flavour)
  • Mixed miso – awasemiso

Red and white miso are the most common types available.

Nutritional value
Miso is said to be high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. It is also a good source of “dietary fibre, Vitamin K and Copper, and a very good source of Manganese” (SELF Nutrition Data).

Historical significance
Miso was introduced to Japan by Buddhist priests, 1300 years ago. Originally it was considered a luxury food – enjoyed by the nobility – because it contained rice. This food became known for its energy-giving properties. It was later adopted as a staple of the samurai diet, and adapted to suit.

The popularity of miso spread in the 14th century and it was enjoyed by people at all levels of Japanese society. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries it became a food used in times of financial hardship, for those being thrifty.

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Miso soup (Photo credit:

Three ways to use miso

  1. As a sauce (on fish/other meats)
    Miso sauce is made up of water, mustard, miso paste, vinegar, mirin, sugar and soy sauce. It is made in a saucepan and heated briefly. For details read this recipe.
  2. Miso soup
    This dish is staple in Japan, and has many variations according to what you have in your pantry. The basic ingredients are water, miso paste, tofu and seaweed of some form. It is a one-pot recipe that takes 15 minutes to create. Read more here.
  3. As a marinade
    Miso is easily made using  miso paste, mirin, vinegar, soy sauce, green onions, ginger, and sesame oil. They are simply mixed together and placed on the food. Once again, the recipe can be varied according to the availability of ingredients. This marinade is often used on fish, as this recipe highlights.

Writing about these dishes makes, me so hungry! I think it must be miso soup time.


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