Miso and miso soup are very common food items eaten in Japan and other eastern Asian countries, but these are very much foreign and exotic foods in the West, and their tastes might not appeal to many Westerners. Indeed, the first time I bought a small box of miso paste, I did not finish it. In fact, I probably only used a few spoonfuls of a 500g box, and never finished the rest. It just sat in the back of my refrigerator.
Miso paste in Japan is most commonly used for miso soup, which is a rather simple soup stock made from dissolving the miso paste in water and adding bonito stock or mushroom stock to it. Cut up tofu and a seaweed called wakame is also added to finish it up. Over the years I have drunk many bowls of this soup, and I must say that I quickly grew to love the flavor.
Yes, miso soup is very salty and it is recommended that you do not consume too much sodium, but the fermentation process of miso creates micro bacteria that is supposedly very good for your gut health. You can also use miso for stir fries, salad dressings, pestos, dips, and so on. The possibilities are endless. And so are the varieties.
The general types are red miso, white miso, and an “awase” miso that is a “mix” of the first 2 types. White miso has a much higher white rice content, making a light, slightly sweet taste. This is a very popular miso in Japan and it is perfect for miso soup, fish marinades, and salad dressings. Red miso is normally made more from soy beans and barley and the fermentation process is much langer, giving a stronger taste. It is used in hearty soups and for marinades for meats and poultry. There is also miso made mainly from barely, and it is popular in southern regions in Japan.
Miso was first created in China somewhere in the 4th Century, and it was originally called Hisio. It was a paste made from soybeans, wheat, alcohol, and salt. In Japan, miso was introduced in the 7th century by buddhist monks. It was used as a simple dish to be paired with rice and some fish. It was originally fermented without grinding up the beans, much like the way natto is made. It was later discovered that the beans and ingredients could be ground into a paste by Buddhist monks, and that is how miso paste as we know it came to be.
Have you ever tried miso paste in some form? What is your favorite miso?