Many westerners have, at the very least, encountered miso, in the ubiquitous Miso Soup offered in almost every Japanese Restaurant. It doesn’t however, appear all that frequently in the cupboards or fridges of many western homes, and this is a pity, as the umami rich product is extremely versatile, being useful for flavoring soups, stews, and sauces, and also as a marinating ingredient and a pickling agent, to boot. Being rich in flavorful glutamates, it is, one might say, a ‘natural’ MSG … [
Miso is a fermented (primarily) soy bean paste, and, while it is mostly associated with Japanese cuisine (the name ‘miso’ is Japanese), the Chinese also use a range of similar pastes as well.
Now, in the first picture, illustrating two products from the same manufacturer labeled ‘Red Type’ and ‘White Type’, you might get the impression that there are two ‘official’ sorts but, in fact, miso can range in color across a whole spectrum of color, varying in hue from extremely light to very dark. To use a ‘woody’ analogy, you can go from a pale Balsa, through dried pine, red cedar, and then dark mahogany. The basic umami flavor is present in all and the most you can say is that, as a very general rule of thumb, the darker the color, the stronger the taste and the more salty the product becomes. In the soup you see pictured above, the type of miso used (from a different manufacturer than those in the first picture), is a very light sort indeed.
As to the taste? Well, if you have never had miso, you can get some idea by thinking ‘soy sauce’ and the reason for this is that soy sauce is actually a ‘by-product’ (if you will) of the miso making process. Essentially, the involves a mash of soy beans, and sometimes various grains, being fermented with salt and the microscopic Aspergillus oryzae fungus over a period of months to years. Liquid thrown off during this cycle is further fermented to make soy sauce and the remaining mash, further fermented and aged becomes ‘Miso’.
Anyway, I have done a few posts in the past using this interesting ingredient and I will have more upcoming in the near future….