Miso is a sweet, flavorful paste made from fermented soybeans and used to enhance the taste of sauces, soups, dips, marinades, dressings and main dishes. Miso comes in a variety of flavors textures, color and aromas. Flavor varies greatly depending upon the proportion of salt to soybeans, the addition of rice or barley, and the length of fermentation. Colors range from bright gold to blackish-brown. Miso is high in phytochemicals, beneficial enzymes, and bacteria that help keep your gut healthy!
In the Market
The widest choices of miso will be in the refrigerated section of Asian markets and natural food stores. Look for unpasteurized miso because it contains more flavor and beneficial microorganisms than pasteurized versions. It is sold in cups, plastic tubs, plastic bags or glass jars. The most common packaging is one- to two-pound tubs or 12 – 14 ounce plastic bags.
The wide variety of miso falls within three main categories: rice miso, barley miso and straight soybean miso. The fun of cooking with miso is experimenting with various types and becoming familiar with its many colors, textures and flavors. If you have never used miso in recipes before, it is useful to learn about the different styles of miso.
- White (Shiro) miso has a sweet and mellow flavor and is also lower in salt than other styles of miso. The nature of white miso makes it a great addition to dressings, light sauces, and even as a substitute for dairy in some recipes like mashed potatoes.
- Yellow (Shinshu) miso is fermented slightly longer than white miso and appears light yellow to light brown. Add it to soups and glazes for deeper flavor.
- Red (Aka) miso is fermented the longest and is the darkest in color. It’s flavor is also the strongest, so use sparingly to make any dish more bold.
- Hatcho miso is considered the miso of Emperors. Strictly a pure soybean paste, it is savory-tart and mildly sweet.
Give Me Five
- Stir a tablespoon of miso into a bottle of Italian dressing or into any homemade marinade recipe for a zesty flavor boost when grilling meat, poultry, or fish. (think Ginger Miso salad dressing)
- Add a tablespoon or two of miso to chili for additional flavor depth. (try Red/Aka miso here)
- Create a zesty honey mustard dip to serve with fresh vegetables by mixing a couple teaspoons of miso to honey mustard dressing. (this might be best with white/shiro miso)
- Prepare a classic sweet miso sauce by combining 3 tablespoons white miso with 1-1/2 tablespoons mirin (a kind of rice wine), 3 tablespoons sugar, 4 tablespoons fish or vegetable broth and 1 sliced scallion in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve over firm tofu, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables or whole grains and pastas.
In the Kitchen
Store miso tightly sealed in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several months. It is not advisable to freeze miso. Recipes using miso usually require only one to two tablespoons. Boiling or prolonged heat will destroy the live microorganisms and the wonderful aroma of miso. For hot dishes such as soups, always add miso at the end of cooking. Also, blending miso with a small amount of liquid before adding it to a dish assures that it dissolves completely with a smooth creamy consistency. Because it is a fermented product, miso will add a cheese-like flavor to many of the foods it is added to.
Miso is one of the four main foods in the Japanese diet that contributes high amounts of isoflavones, important phytochemicals, and beneficial bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion. Research shows miso acts as an antioxidant. Current studies are exploring potential anti-cancer properties of miso.
|Serving: 1-Tbs. (17 grams)||% Daily Value|
|Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17 (2004)|
Source: USDA -Iowa State University Database on the Isoflavone Content of Foods, Release 1.3, 2002, USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory Agricultural Research Service
Sodium content varies with the type of miso. Although high in sodium, compared to the same amount of salt, the sodium content of miso is significantly lower.
Exchanges: 3 Tbs. = 1 starch + 1 lean meat/meat substitute
Source: Exchange Lists for Meal Planning, 2nd edition, 2002.
The American Diabetes Association/The American Dietetic Association.