Miso Paste – The Key To Long Life

Miso is an integral part of Japanese cuisine. The fermented soy and grain seasoning paste is said to be one of the reasons Japan has so many centenarians. Whether this is true or not, miso is considered very healthy and incredibly versatile. Miso goes particularly well in soups, vegetables, dressings, dips, and marinades.

Miso, the diverse seasoning paste from Japan

Miso is a Japanese seasoning paste based on soybeans. The Japanese refer to the taste of miso paste as “umami”, a word for hearty, spicy, salty, and meat-like at the same time. Literally translated, miso therefore also means “source of taste”.

The spice paste is an integral part of Japanese culture and has a tradition going back thousands of years: miso was first mentioned in writing in the 8th century. It probably originally came to Japan from China.

In Japan, miso is one of the most popular soy products. The mostly savory paste is used to season many dishes, even for desserts, for example:

  • Sauces, dips, salad dressings, and marinades
  • Stews and soups, e.g. B. Ramen (a Japanese noodle soup)
  • Desserts, e.g. B. ice cream or caramel cream

But the Japanese prefer to eat miso in miso soup – a clear soup with tofu, seaweed, and vegetables. It is considered the national dish of Japan and is traditionally eaten every day with rice for breakfast. Instead of using a spoon, miso soup is slurped out of the bowl. The side dishes are eaten with chopsticks.

Miso is made by fermentation

Miso is a fermented food. Fermentation is a method of preservation using bacteria or mold. This processing brings completely new aromas to light, which you know from sauerkraut, for example. Because the white cabbage tastes completely different than its fermented version with the sour taste.

The main ingredients of miso paste are soybeans, water, and koji. Koji is steamed rice (usually white rice, but sometimes brown rice or barley) that has been inoculated with spores of the mold Aspergillus oryzae and then kept warm for 48 hours. This step is referred to as the first fermentation. The rice grains are then covered with a white fluff: the koji mushroom.

Now the soybeans are steamed, mixed with koji, water, and salt, and filled into barrels for the second fermentation (they used to be wooden barrels, today they are mostly steel barrels or so-called solid bioreactors). The koji fungus initiates the fermentation of the soybean mixture. The lactic acid bacteria, which naturally occur on the soybeans, can then multiply optimally in this acidic environment.

Depending on the variety, the miso paste then matures in wooden barrels for many months. The fermentation time can sometimes be several years. The longer the maturing or fermentation time, the more intense the taste.

Incidentally, tamari – a gluten-free soy sauce – is a by-product of traditional miso production. After the maturing period, the fermented mass is squeezed out with cloths – and the liquid obtained in this way is used to make tamari. Tamari soy sauce is thus also a steel barrel (rarely wooden barrel) aged, the fermented product obtained from soybeans inoculated with koji.

Over 1000 different types of miso

Traditionally, miso is made from soybeans. However, there are numerous varieties that also contain rice, barley, quinoa, or amaranth.

Depending on the fermentation time and the mixing ratio of soybeans and koji and the other ingredients, miso has a whitish to almost black color. The darker the color, the more intense the flavor of the miso paste. Miso can taste relatively mild, sweet, salty, hot or very spicy.

Listing all types of miso is almost impossible because there are said to be over 1000 varieties in Japan alone. But they can be roughly classified according to ingredients or colors.

Types of miso by ingredients

For example, miso can be differentiated by ingredients, e.g. B. the following (although there are also misos made from different ingredients):

  • Mame miso: Consists only of soybeans. Its taste is considered to be particularly strong and spicy.
  • Kome Miso: Made from soybeans and rice, it is the most common. Kome miso is traditionally used for miso soup.
  • Genmai Miso: A somewhat newer variety is Genmai Miso. While husked rice is used for Kome Miso, natural rice, i.e. unhusked rice is used for Genmai Miso.
  • Mugi Miso: Consists of soybeans and barley. Because barley contains less starch than rice, this miso is fermented longer than Kome miso.

Types of miso by color

However, the seasoning paste can also be classified according to its color. The longer the ripening period, the darker the color becomes:

  • Shiro Miso (white): Shiro Miso is made from soybeans, barley, and a high proportion of rice. It is only fermented for a few months. Its taste is slightly sweet and mild, which is why Shiro Miso can be used in many ways.
  • Shinshu miso (yellow): This variety also has a high rice content, but is fermented a little longer than white miso. It tastes saltier and more intense than Shiro miso.
  • Aka Miso (Red to Brown): Aka miso is made up of a high proportion of soybeans and a smaller proportion of rice. It tastes strong and salty.
  • Hatcho Miso (black): Hatcho Miso consists only of soybeans and is sometimes fermented for up to 3 years. This makes it very spicy and strong and even reminiscent of chocolate.

Which miso is suitable for what

Many other varieties can be classified in the above categories. Due to the wide range of misos, it is almost impossible to say which miso is best used for which dish. Often several misos are combined with each other. There are also major regional differences in Japan – each region has its own variants and favorites.

And of course, your own taste preferences play a major role. In the beginning, it might be advisable to start with a milder variant. Shiro miso is suitable for this. It is one of the most popular misos and is also common in Europe. Shiro miso tastes less salty than other varieties, so it’s perfect for experimenting.

The nutritional values, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements of miso

Since miso is often used in small quantities for seasoning, you will not only find the nutritional values, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements per 100 g below, but also the values ​​per 10 g of miso.

The information may vary depending on the ingredients used and their proportions in the miso. For this reason, the values ​​below may also differ from those of other information portals.

Miso is very salty food. 10g of miso contains 0.7g of salt – so 100g of miso contains around 7g, which is a significant amount. In contrast to other high-salt foods, the high salt content of miso should not lead to health problems.

That’s why miso is so healthy

In Japan, miso is considered very healthy: In the past, all three meals consisted of miso soup, rice, and side dishes. The spice paste is said to be responsible for the long life of the Japanese. Whether that’s actually true or not – soybean paste is always healthy.

Miso contains isoflavones

Isoflavones are phytochemicals found in soybeans and soy products. Many positive effects on health are ascribed to them: Isoflavones are said to B. help with breast and prostate cancer, menopausal symptoms, and osteoporosis. We have already reported in detail these effects in our article on tofu, as you can read under the previous link.

To benefit from the positive properties of isoflavones, researchers recommend an amount of 50 to 100 mg of isoflavones per day. 100 g miso contains around 43 mg of isoflavones. With a miso soup made from 10 g miso and 100 g tofu, you already have half the recommended amount of isoflavone.

Miso for high blood pressure

Studies also indicate that miso helps against high blood pressure. In one study, participants were asked how often they ate miso and other soy products. The participants who ate fermented soy products such as miso on a daily basis were less affected by high blood pressure in the 5 years after the survey than those who ate little miso (or other fermented soy products). According to the researchers, it is probably the isoflavones that help against high blood pressure.

In fermented soy products, the isoflavones are present in a different form than in unfermented ones. This allows the body to better absorb the isoflavones from fermented soy foods. For this reason, fermented soy products showed a positive impact on high blood pressure, while the unfermented ones did not.

Miso promotes a healthy intestinal flora

Fermented foods such as miso also have an extremely positive effect on the intestinal flora: they contain probiotic lactic acid bacteria, which also occur naturally in our intestines. These probiotic foods promote a healthy and balanced intestinal flora, which in turn protects against health problems and diseases.

In addition, the lactic acid bacteria break down the starch contained in the food during fermentation and pre-digest it, so to speak. Our digestive organs are relieved a little when eating fermented foods.

Miso against gastrointestinal complaints

It is therefore not surprising that the daily consumption of miso soup has a positive effect on stomach problems. Japanese researchers found this out in a survey of around 9,700 participants.

The participants indicated how often they ate certain foods and how often they suffered from stomach problems (e.g. burning in the stomach due to acid reflux). People who ate miso soup every day had fewer stomach problems than people who ate miso soup three times a week or less.

It is already known that fermented foods also prevent diarrhea and have an anti-inflammatory effect. They could therefore play a role in the treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases in the future. A laboratory study has already shown that the probiotic bacteria contained in miso have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on intestinal inflammation.

Miso is said to help against stomach cancer

According to the current state of research, isoflavones should also protect against stomach cancer. Although a high-salt diet is considered a possible risk factor for stomach cancer, researchers studying miso came to a different conclusion:

While consuming high-salt foods such as B. a Japanese dried fish was associated with an increased risk of death in cancer patients, the consumption of miso soup – also very salty – led to the opposite:

The more miso soup the cancer patients ate, the lower their risk of death. The researchers assume that the composition of various substances in miso counteracts the health damage caused by too much salt and that the isoflavones inhibit the growth and reproduction of cancer cells.

However, since miso soup also contains other ingredients such as algae, vegetables and tofu, it cannot be ruled out in this study that these ingredients were also involved in the positive effect and not miso alone.

Miso reduces the aging process

But is miso actually responsible for the Japanese living so long? Possibly the isoflavones are the reason for the emergence of this theory.

The isoflavones are said to improve skin regeneration and thus prevent wrinkles by fighting free radicals. Free radicals are formed in our cells, e.g. through metabolic processes. They are said to be one of the causes of the aging process. In addition, the isoflavones are said to be able to prevent typical age-related diseases that are associated with cognitive decline (e.g. Alzheimer’s).

One cannot (yet) speak of an extension of life in this sense – however, the miso-own isoflavones can at least counteract signs of aging.

It is much more likely that the probiotic bacteria from fermented foods have a rejuvenating and preventative effect due to their positive influence on the stomach and intestines. Traditional Japanese cuisine is rich in fermented foods: in addition to miso, pickled vegetables, soy sauce, and tempeh and natto – both dishes made from fermented soybeans – are eaten.

Miso vs Hashimoto

Hashimoto’s is a chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland. It is an autoimmune disease. The isoflavones in soy products have long been suspected of causing thyroid disease.

In the meantime, however, it is assumed that soy products only inhibit the function of the thyroid gland in the case of an existing iodine deficiency – if at all. Because the research results so far are based either on animal studies or on studies in which isolated isoflavones were taken as dietary supplements.

Miso for soy allergies

Soybeans are among the most important allergens along with cow’s milk, wheat, peanuts, eggs, sesame, tree nuts, fish, seafood, and celery. However, soy allergy is less common than milk allergy. A study of children who belonged to the high-risk group for allergies showed that only 2.2 percent of the children had a soy allergy, while 20.1 percent had a cow’s milk allergy.

Nevertheless, there is now miso without soy. The miso manufacturers Fairmont and Schwarzwald Miso offer z. B. soy-free variants. The miso paste from Schwarzwald Miso is made from lupins – that from Fairmont from rice. Both are suitable as an alternative if you suffer from a soy allergy or intolerance or do not want to eat soy products for other reasons.

Miso for food intolerances

Many people suffer from food intolerances and are therefore limited in their food choices.

Miso for lactose and fructose intolerance

If you have a lactose or fructose intolerance, you can eat miso without hesitation – miso contains neither lactose nor fructose.

Lactose is milk sugar, which is particularly found in dairy products but can also be found as an ingredient in many finished products. Fructose, on the other hand, is the fruit sugar that is not only found in fruit but is also used by the food industry as a sweetener in numerous finished products, sweets, and soft drinks.

Miso for histamine intolerance

If you have histamine intolerance, it is better not to eat miso, as it contains a lot of histamines as fermented food and soybeans are also among the so-called histamine liberators, i.e. they promote the release of histamine in the body.

Histamines are substances that are formed by the body on the one hand but are also ingested through food. Histamines fulfill numerous tasks in the body and are e.g. B. involved in the regulation of gastric acid production. In the case of histamine intolerance, histamines can no longer be completely broken down by the body and relevant symptoms such as a runny nose, skin rashes or digestive problems occur.

Miso for gluten intolerance

Many people do not tolerate gluten well. It is a protein component in many grains. It is used as a binding agent in many foods.

Soybean and rice miso are gluten-free, while barley miso is not. However, you don’t have to do without the unique taste of this type of miso, because there are now misos that contain amaranth or quinoa instead of barley. These are gluten-free and taste quite similar to barley miso and pose no risk to those with gluten intolerance.

Does miso contain the flavor enhancer glutamate?

If miso contains flavor enhancers, i.e. added glutamate (e.g. monosodium glutamate E621 – see also next section), then this is usually a sign that the miso is of lower quality. For reasons of economy, it was only subjected to a short fermentation process, so it could not develop any flavors itself and therefore has to be artificially flavored with flavor enhancers.

With high-quality miso, natural flavors are formed over many months during the sufficiently long fermentation period. It is true that this is also glutamate, so one could say that it does not matter whether glutamate is produced in the miso itself or whether it is added.

During the traditional long fermentation of miso, however, not only glutamate is produced, nor is it isolated, pure glutamate – as is produced by industry – but a highly complex mixture of a wide variety of substances, including not just a single amino acid (glutamate), but many different free ones Amino acids, fatty acids, probiotic microorganisms, lactic acid, etc.

It is therefore food that has undergone an enormous upgrade through fermentation and has thus become a very versatile and also – in moderate quantities – a very healthy food, which is what you would expect from foods that were simply flavored with isolated glutamate and can not claim.

Try it! You will notice the difference. Food and dishes that contain monosodium glutamate or other isolated types of glutamate taste extremely delicious at first but then lead to endless thirst and – in sensitive people – often to headaches, discomfort, indigestion, heart palpitations, and many other complaints. In addition, you usually eat far too much of the food in question because it seems so delicious, which can then lead to a feeling of fullness, but also to obesity.

In the case of foods with natural glutamate, on the other hand, e.g. B. a miso soup or recipes that were prepared with nutritional yeast or vegetable broth containing yeast extract, the above-mentioned disorders do not occur.

However, if you also want to avoid natural glutamate as much as possible but still want to try miso, then choose light-colored miso such as B. Shiro Miso. Because light-colored miso varieties had a shorter fermentation time and therefore contain less glutamate – unless of course glutamate was added, which you can see from the list of ingredients.

You should pay attention to this when buying miso

It is best to buy miso from traditional production in an organic shop, health food store, or in the relevant online trade. Because miso pastes, which are available in supermarkets or Asian shops in Europe, are often produced industrially. Preservatives and flavor enhancers such as glutamate are often used to avoid the long maturing time of miso.

You can tell whether glutamate has been added as a flavor enhancer by the following possible terms:

  • Glutamic acid (E620)
  • Monosodium glutamate / Sodium glutamate (E621)
  • Monopotassium Glutamate / Potassium Glutamate (E622)
  • Calcium glutamate (E623)
  • Monoammonium glutamate (E624)
  • Magnesium glutamate (E625)
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Hydrolyzed Yeast
  • yeast extract
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
  • protein isolates
  • soy extracts

Also, industrially made miso is usually pasteurized (highly heated) which kills the probiotic bacteria, which is not always the case with traditionally made miso. It is also available unpasteurized.

Meanwhile, there is also miso from German manufacturers who produce the seasoning paste in a traditional Japanese way and in organic quality, e.g. B. Black Forest Miso or Fairmont. You can also make your own miso paste.

Make your own miso paste

To make miso yourself, you need koji rice, which starts the fermentation. You can buy koji rice or you can make your own. If you want to make it yourself, you will need some equipment (Prover, fermentation chamber, or incubator) and you will also need to order the fungal spores ( Aspergillus oryzae ).

If you are making miso yourself for the first time, we recommend that you order the koji rice directly (sometimes you can also find it in Asian shops). If you enjoy fermenting, it might be worth getting a proofer and making your own koji rice using koji spores.

For 1 kg of hearty miso paste you need the following ingredients in addition to everyday kitchen utensils (pot, bowl, hand blender, slotted spoon, blender beaker):

  • 250 g preferably fresh, dry soybeans
  • 500 g koji rice
  • 145 g sea salt
  • kitchen thermometer
  • 2 large, boiled stirrup glasses

Always pay attention to careful hygiene when fermenting. Wash your hands, work with clean surfaces and boil the swing-top glasses beforehand so that your miso does not come into contact with unwanted bacteria. Then you can start:

  • Wash the soybeans thoroughly and soak them in a bowl with plenty of water overnight (8-12h).
  • The next morning, pour off the remaining soaking water, sort out the soybeans that have remained hard, put the rest in a large saucepan, and add about 1.25 l of water.
  • Bring the water with the soybeans to a boil. Then reduce the temperature and let the soybeans simmer until they are soft (about 4 hours). A foam forms during cooking, which you skim off again and again.
  • Place the soybeans in a blender using a slotted spoon (you will still need the cooking water). Finely puree the soybeans with a hand blender.
  • For the next step, the soybeans should cool down to a temperature of 34 to 36 degrees. Put the koji rice in a bowl and mix in the soybean paste with your hands (wash your hands first!).
  • The mass should now have the consistency of a firm and moist paste. If the paste is too dry, add some of the cooking water as needed.
  • Now press the paste firmly into the temple lenses so that no air pockets form and leave approx. 2 cm space to the edge. We use clip-on glasses because the fermentation produces gases that have to escape. Otherwise, the preserving jars would have to be opened a crack, which could lead to mold growth due to contact with oxygen. With temple lenses, on the other hand, the gases can escape at the edges of the rubber seal.
  • Now put half of the sea salt on top of the paste. The salt counteracts mold growth. The temple glasses are then sealed and stored in a dark, not too warm place (e.g. in a cupboard).
  • After about 3-6 months you can taste the paste (it should have gotten a brownish color). Depending on whether you like it or whether you would like more intense miso, you can let it ferment longer. The longer the paste ferments, the darker and tastier it becomes. You can leave the second bracket glass closed because then you have a milder and stronger version. To stop the fermentation, place the swing top jars in the fridge.

Shelf life of miso

Because miso paste is fermented, it can be stored for several years. It is therefore not necessary to freeze miso. Once the miso paste has opened, you should only make sure that you only remove it with clean cutlery so that no germs get into the packaging.

This is how miso is stored

It is best to store miso once it has been opened (in a tightly closable glass container or in a resealable bag) in the refrigerator or in a cool pantry.

How to use miso paste

Since miso is very aromatic, even small amounts of the seasoning paste are enough to refine dishes. Enter e.g. For example, add some miso to dips, sauces, dressings, marinades, stews, and soups to give them a powerful flavor.

To benefit from the positive properties of miso on the stomach and intestines, the paste should not be boiled, only heated, as heat destroys the probiotic bacteria. It is best to dissolve the paste in warm water and only add it towards the end of the preparation.

Incidentally, miso is not only available as a paste, but also dried as a powder or bouillon cubes. Miso bouillon cubes and miso powder usually contain other spices and ingredients. They’re similar to the bouillon cubes or powdered vegetable broth you buy in the supermarket – only they’re made of miso.

Can kids eat miso?

In Japan, miso is an integral part of the menu – for both adults and children. So there’s nothing wrong with serving your child dishes with miso, as long as the little ones don’t turn up their noses right away. Even adults don’t like the taste of miso.

Studies even suggest that people benefit from the positive effects of soy products, especially if they have eaten them regularly since childhood and adolescence.

However, you should pay attention to the salt content: children under 9 months should not be given salty food. Children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years should not eat more than 2 g of salt per day and from the age of 7 years, the recommendation for adults is a maximum of 5 g of salt per day. 10g of miso contains about 0.7g of salt, so be careful with the dosage.

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Written by Allison Turner

I am a Registered Dietitian with 7+ years of experience in supporting many facets of nutrition, including but not limited to nutrition communications, nutrition marketing, content creation, corporate wellness, clinical nutrition, food service, community nutrition, and food and beverage development. I provide relevant, on-trend, and science-based expertise on a wide range of nutrition topics such as nutrition content development, recipe development and analysis, new product launch execution, food and nutrition media relations, and serve as a nutrition expert on behalf of a brand.

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