One of the best-loved and most delicious fermented foods, miso is a Japanese flavouring made by the action of fermenting steamed soy beans with salt and the fungus aspergillus oryzae (kōji). It can be fermented and stored for up to three years before sale.
There’s a range of miso styles, but each offers the umami taste, a great begetter of feelings of satisfaction after eating, and also a stimulator of wider spectrums of flavour in other foods. Few other ingredients can be as gratifying in such small amounts, whether diluted in a simple soup or used to add flavour to rice, fish, meat and more. A simple soup of diluted miso is hard to beat as a feel-good, taste-good comfort food.
Widely available in many supermarkets.
Choose the best
Most miso types include other grains, which changes their flavour, but all can be used in the same way according to taste. The most common are known as white, yellow or red/brown.
White or shiro miso: the sweetest and mildest, it is made with a large proportion of rice.
Yellow or shinsu miso: an all-purpose miso that has a slightly deeper flavour than shiro because it is fermented longer.
Red/brown or aka miso: richer, darker than the others, it is moreish in soups and stews, yet too much can spoil the flavour.
Hatcho miso: made only of soy beans and aged in wood for up to three years, giving profound, complex flavours and a very deep colour that many prefer as a drink or soup.
Only experience will tell how well-flavoured you like miso. It's best to buy it in small amounts unless you know you will use it all.
Miso has a naturally long life but like all food stuffs, it can easily be contaminated and thus go off or develop other unattractive qualities. Combat this by following storage instructions carefully and ensuring you use only clean utensils to take each serving. Refrigeration greatly extends its life.
Yeasty and salty but with smooth, sweet and somewhat meaty flavours, miso is useful to add depth to a wide variety of dishes - from marinades to simple cooked rice. It adds body to soups, stews and gravy. Use it sparingly.
There are few things more comforting than a bowl of miso soup; it is commonly served with cubes of soft tofu and a sprinkle of chives but a teaspoon or so in a cup of hot water is delicious in its simplicity. If you want, add cooked vegetables, flaked fish, shredded chicken or a soft-boiled egg for a satisfying light meal.