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You’ve probably had a bowl of miso soup thrown in free with your Japanese takeaway, but it’s more than a warm bowl of free goodness.
Miso means ‘fermented beans’ in Japanese, and generally refers to the paste made from the fermented beans. There are many different types of miso – white (shiro) miso, red (aka) miso, barley miso – but they all have one thing in common: they’re really good for you!
The health benefits provided by miso are down to a number of factors. Miso is a great source of copper, manganese, vitamin K, protein, and zinc. The fermentation process enriches the paste with enzymes and enhances the number of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria – probiotics – are thought to help a wide range of health issues, especially digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients. The probiotics and enzymes increase the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and enhance your immune system. Studies in 1997 and 2013 have shown that beneficial bacteria synthesise vitamins in the gut, primarily vitamin K and vitamin B12.
It’s also high in cancer-fighting antioxidants and has been shown to inhibit tumours and help with recovery from radiation therapy.
Soy as a health food has been debated strongly in recent years, but like all foodstuff, it’s important to trace where your miso comes from. Most soy products are derived from genetically modified (GMO) crops, and soy found in a lot of processed foods may have some negative side effects. Negative impacts of soy products have been observed in thyroid and reproductive functions as well as certain types of carcinogenesis. Existing data regarding soy’s negative impact on your health is somewhat inconsistent – which is why the topic continues to be debated hotly.
So when you’re buying your miso paste, fresh is best. Try to buy the unpasteurised, enzyme-rich “must be kept in the fridge” variety. These are the enzyme-rich miso pastes you want. Just keep an eye on it after opening, as the texture, colour and flavour may change. Most pastes can be kept for a long time if you store them correctly.