Miso is a traditional seasoning much-used in Japanese cuisine. It is a simple and popular ingredient, produced through the fermentation of soybeans with salt and koji, resulting in a thick paste. This forms the base of many dishes, including the world-famous miso soup, as well as various sauces and spreads. Miso is also used for pickling meats, fish, and vegetables. It is a versatile seasoning, with many different varieties. Additional ingredients can be added during the fermentation process to enhance or alter the flavour.
While there is evidence of grain- and fish-based misos dating back to the Jōmon period (14,000-300 BCE), it is believed that the first soy-based varieties (known as shi) originated in China, around the third century BCE. When Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China in the sixth century, shi was also brought over. Miso as we know it today is from the Nara period (710-794) and was known as mishio. It was not until the Muromachi period (1337 to 1573) that Buddhist monks began to grind soybeans into a paste prior to fermentation. This allowed miso to be used to flavour other foods, much as it is today. Miso is easy to produce, so local varieties sprung up across the country, which is still reflected in the enormous range of misos available to this day. Today, miso is produced on an industrial scale in vast quantities, with home-made misos becoming ever rarer.
As well as the koji starter culture, miso can be made from any combination of soybeans, rice, millet, barley, wheat, rye, buckwheat, cycad, or hemp seed. While these are traditional Japanese ingredients for miso, in theory any pulses or grains can be used. Indeed, countries outside of Japan have started manufacturing their own miso using chickpeas, amaranth, azuki beans, corn, and quinoa, among other ingredients though, as yet, these have gained little traction in Japan itself.
Varieties of Miso
There are as many types of miso as there are ingredients to include in it, with many areas in Japan having their preferred local recipe. Generally, the different types of miso are classified by their main grain ingredient:mugi: barley
We source our miso from some of the most well-established and respected producers in Japan, guaranteeing the high quality of our miso stock. These include the following:
Maruya produces its miso the traditional way, using the same methods first established in their home town of Hatcho-machi during the Edo period. This includes packing their soybean, koji, salt and water mix into cedar barrels and pressing it flat by foot in order to remove air bubbles.
Established in the city of Nagano in 1854, Marukome is one of Japan’s largest producers of miso, with its sales accounting for 13% of the country’s entire miso output. Over the years Marukome has been a continual innovator in miso production and packaging, responding to the purchasing and storage requirements of its consumers.
Trading for more than 140 years, Tsurumiso pride themselves on their traditional production techniques and the simple, unadorned brand of miso that they create. The company produces a high quality miso, rich in flavour, using methods unchanged in over a century.Visit Website
Types and flavour
Miso tends to be salty, but there are many nuances to both its flavour and aroma. Different ingredients and fermentation processes can produce a whole range of flavours from salty to sweet, earthy, and even fruity. It very much depends on the type of miso. There are many factors that can affect the flavour of miso, aside from the ingredients. The temperature and duration of the fermentation process has a profound impact, as does the variety of koji used as the starter culture, and even the fermenting vessel itself. There are three common flavour categories of miso – shiromiso (white miso), akamiso (red miso), and awasemiso (mixed miso) – though, again, there are many regional varieties within those broad groups.
The unique flavour profiles we find in miso come as a result of various compounds produced during the fermentation process. Miso uses a starter culture, known as koji (麹) which is mixed with soybeans and often some sort of grain (usually barley, rice, or rye). Other ingredients can be added at this stage to create different varieties of miso as mentioned above. Once the koji is combined with the rest of the components, mixture is left to ferment, being digested and aged by the enzymes present in the koji culture. This process can last as little as five days or up to several years.
Miso most commonly appears as the core ingredient of miso soup. This is eaten daily by a large proportion of the Japanese population, with miso soup and plain rice being a staple of Japanese cuisine. This popular pairing forms the basis of a traditional Japanese breakfast. Miso is used as a base for many other soups and soup-like dishes. These include certain types of ramen, udon, nabe, and imoni and tend to include the word miso as part of their name (miso-nabe, for instance). These versions of those dishes have an earthier taste and aroma when compared to varieties that do not contain miso.
Miso in Cuisine
Miso is not just used as a soup base. This versatile ingredient is used in many other Japanese dishes. Many forms of Japanese confectionery – including the popular mochi and dango – are coated with a sweet, thick glaze made from miso. Like miso itself, this glaze comes in several varieties, ranging from a thin liquid glaze to a thick coating like confectioner’s Taffy.
Soy miso is also used for making a sweet pickle known as misozuke. These pickles are normally made using aubergine, Nappa cabbage, cucumber, or daikon. They are significantly sweeter than the traditional salt pickle popular across Japan.
Miso forms the base for many dips, sauces, and marinades. Fish and chicken are often marinated overnight in a mix of miso and sake, for instance, before being grilled.
Miso can also be cooked with spice and vegetables and eaten as a side dish. Known as okazu-miso, it is often spread over onigiri or eaten with hot rice.
These are just some of the miso products and variations that prove particularly popular at SushiSushi. Click on a link to learn more, or visit our online store for more miso products.
This super-dark miso from Maruya is the original Hatcho miso, still manufactured in traditional wooden barrels, where it ferments for three years. Made from 99.9% soybean, it has a savoury taste, rich in umami, that is much-prized by our Michelin-starred customers.
Our moromi miso from Horaiya is not intended for use as a cooking ingredient. Rather, this sweet miso is used as a topping or condiment to add texture and those rich umami flavours. It is also a popular accompaniment to cheese boards.