From shoyu (soy sauce) to tofu (soybean curd cake), soybeans provide protein-rich food products that are essential to Japanese cookery. Another such product is miso paste. You may be familiar with miso in the requisite miso soup which is served as a first course in most Japanese restaurants, but miso paste also lends wonderful flavor to all sorts of dishes.
Miso paste is a fermented product made from soybeans, salt, rice or barley and koji-kin, a rice and fungus starter that begins the fermentation process. Koji-kin, by the way, also is used in fermenting soy sauce and brewing sake. The different flavors and colors of miso result from the length of fermentation and the ratio of soybean to any other grain added to the mixture such as rice or barley. The fermentation period can be anywhere between five days to three years or more.
Different prefectures in Japan produce regional types that are unique in texture, color and flavor and small miso shops carefully guard their secret methods, but here are the most commonly known:
Shiro Miso (white miso)
Not actually white in color, shiro miso is a light oatmeal color. Like its color, shiro miso has a light flavor because it goes through a short fermentation period.
Saikyo Miso (sweet white miso)
With a pale yellow color, saikyo miso has a sweet flavor from a very short fermentation period and high rice content.
This miso paste has a distinctively dark chocolate color. It is made with 100 percent soybeans and has a strong soybean taste and aroma.
Aka Miso (red miso)
Aka miso is very salty and robust in flavor due to the high amount of salt added and long fermentation period that lasts about 18 months. Aka miso is about 70 percent soybeans and 30 percent barley or rice.
Awase Miso (blended)
This miso paste is a blend of both shiromiso and akamiso. Chefs sometimes make their own blends of miso paste types.
Gen mai Miso (brown rice)
Gen mai means brown rice and this miso is made from brown rice and soybeans. It has a deep, earthy flavor.
Hizio Miso (moromi)
This miso is made from soybeans, barley, salt and millet syrup which results in a mellow, sweet flavor. It also has a slightly chunky texture.
Kyozakura Miso (speciality red miso)
Hailing from Kyoto, kyozakura miso is prized by professional chefs for its complex flavor and a dark hue.
Up until recent times, the typical Japanese family made its own miso paste. They varied flavors even more by adding vegetables like eggplant or citrus juices to the mixture. Other countries now manufacture miso paste from many types of grains.
Store your miso paste in a lidded container and keep it refrigerated. This way, miso paste will keep for years. When using miso paste, start with small amounts because the flavor is intense. Aside from adding it to dashi stock for miso soup, use miso paste as an ingredient for your salad dressings, dipping sauces, marinades and meat rubs. Be bold and experiment with adding other spices and seasoning like honey or rice vinegar. Check out some miso recipes at BellaOnline.comfs Japanese Food site for both traditional and contemporary uses of this fascinating food.