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Once you discover the magic of miso, this deliciously flavoursome paste will become one of your must-have pantry items.
Dating back to the 8th century, protein-rich miso was made with fermented soya beans, and is a staple of Japanese and Asian cooking. It is the ultra-savoury, umami flavour of miso that gives all sorts of dishes like soups, marinades, salad and vegetable dressings, and sauces a lovely depth.
Miso is made using a mash of cooked soybeans, a grain (usually either rice, barley or soybean) that has been cultured with koji (a mould) and salt which is all mixed together and then left to ferment.
The process of making miso can take from a few months to a few years, and the time it takes makes a big difference to the end product. The length of fermentation time can affect the flavour, ranging from sweet and mild to salty and rich. The colour is a fairly good indicator of the strength in flavour. With a longer fermentation period, the miso will have a darker colour and a more intense flavour, while a shorter ferment results in a miso that is a lighter colour and is much sweeter.
Other factors that the affect the colour, aroma, and flavour of miso include where it was made, the type of koji used, and the proportion of soybeans to koji.
As well as being super tasty, miso is rich in essential minerals and is a great source of various B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. As a fermented food, it also provides the gut with beneficial bacteria that help us to stay healthy.
According to the Miso Promotion Board of Japan, there are more than 1,300 kinds of miso, with different versions linked with regional cuisines, identities and flavours. Here is a list of the most common miso types.
White Miso (Shiromiso)
Shiro means ‘white’ in Japanese, and this style is made from soybeans and white rice koji and is fermented for between one to three months. It is light in colour and sweet to mildly salty. Shiro is a lighter and very versatile and provides a great core for dressings, soups, or a glaze for fish and meat.
Another mild type that is fermented for slightly longer than white miso. Yellow miso is adaptable in a wide range of recipes.
Red Miso (Akamiso)
Made with a higher proportion of soybeans to koji and fermented for around three years, red miso can range from reddish brown to nearly black. Its saltier, deeper flavours are suited to hearty dishes like stews and braises. Use it sparingly as its flavour can overpower other ingredients.
Barley Miso (Mugimiso)
Mugimiso is made from barley and soybeans, and usually has a longer fermentation process than most white miso. It has a strong barley aroma, but is still mild and slightly sweet in flavour.
Country Miso (Nakamiso)
Mostly used in rural Japan, this rustic miso is made with white rice or barley koji and can range from mild to medium-strong in flavour.