The magic ingredient
This fermented soybean paste (also used to make natto) is as tasty as it is beneficial to your health. What more could you ask for?
Miso is a savory, salty paste, more or less fermented and therefore pretty strong in taste, used in many Japanese dishes. Everything can be flavored with miso: ramen noodles (with their own special version in Sapporo) and udon, nasu dengaku (grilled eggplant), nabe, various sauces, and of course the famous miso soup (miso shiru).
It is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, much like natto, which they say contributes to the longevity of the Japanese.
Rice, soybean and barley
The recipe is simple: soya beans, rice and/or barley, salt and koji (also used to ferment sake and shochu). This mixture is fermented from three weeks up to three years maximum, resulting in a milder or stronger paste.
How do you make your own miso soup?
As is often the case with Japanese recipes, miso was imported in the seventh century by Buddhist monks from China, although a paste of fermented grains already existed in Japan at the time. It first became a great success in the courts during the Heian period (794 - 1185), where it was even part of the salary of members of the government.
An important ingredient for the samurai, miso became increasingly popular thanks to the Buddhist vegetarian diet that eschewed animal products.
The Color of Miso With miso, we can learn a lot by its color: the darker it is, like akamiso (red miso), the stronger and saltier it is. The paler it is, like shiromiso (white miso), the sweeter it is. There is an in-between, called awasemiso, that blends two or more different types of miso.
Japan has a large number of recipes (with varying proportions and different fermentation times), and each region has its own variant. In Tokyo red miso is preferred, whereas in Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe), white miso wins the most votes.
Hacho miso is a sweet red miso, but not just any old kind: it's the official miso of the imperial family, made in Okazaki near Nagoya by the company Kakukyu. Saikyo miso comes from the Kansai region, and its characteristically sweet, soft and very yellow; unlike moromi miso, which is more crumbly and typically used in sauces.
Sumiso and misozuke are diluted with vinegar, mirin and/or sugar, and are used for seasoning.