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One of the best-loved and most delicious fermented foods, miso is a Japanese flavouring made by fermenting steamed soy beans with salt and the fungus aspergillus oryzae (or kōji). It can be fermented and stored for up to three years before sale.
There’s a range of miso styles available, but each offers the umami taste. 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 comfort food.
Yeasty and salty, but with smooth, sweet and somewhat meaty flavours, miso is useful for adding depth to a wide variety of dishes, from marinades to simple cooked rice. It adds body to soups, stews and gravy too, but use it sparingly.
Miso soup is commonly served with cubes of soft tofu and a sprinkle of chives, but even a teaspoon or so of miso stirred into a cup of hot water can be delicious. If you like, add cooked vegetables, flaked fish, shredded chicken or a soft-boiled egg for a satisfying light meal.
Miso has a naturally long shelf life, but it can easily be contaminated, which will cause it to go off. Follow storage instructions carefully and ensure you use only clean utensils when dipping into the miso. Refrigeration also greatly extends its life.
Widely available in most supermarkets.
Most miso types include other grains that change their flavour, but all can be used in the same way. The most common types are white, yellow or red/brown.
White or shiro miso is the sweetest and mildest type, and is made with a large proportion of rice.
Yellow or shinsu miso is an all-purpose miso that has a slightly deeper flavour than shiro because it is fermented longer.
Red/brown or aka miso is richer and darker than the others and works well in soups and stews, but too much can spoil the flavour.
Hatcho miso is made from 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.