The Japanese diet depends on it and now it’s on supermarket shelves here. So what makes miso paste so popular?
What is it?
This staple of the Japanese diet is made from three main ingredients: fermented soya beans, salt and a fungus called kōjikin. Barley, rice or buckwheat may be added to vary the flavour. Its umami taste (the savoury flavour associated with fermented foods) makes it particularly moreish.
MAKE: Miso fish broth
How is it used?
Most commonly, it’s mixed into stock called dashi to make the consommé-style miso soup (in Japan, it’s usual to have soup with every meal). But the paste is also used in stews and marinades, often with a touch of mirin or sake, sugar or oil. Try our miso marinated beef with sesame salad recipe. It also makes a lovely dip mixed with a little mayo or cream cheese. Don’t be heavy-handed, though – you only need a small amount as it has a very strong taste. Find jars of paste in the world food aisles at supermarkets, or specialist oriental stores.
MAKE: Miso chicken and soba noodle salad
The nutrition facts
It’s high in protein, iron and important antioxidants such as manganese, zinc and copper, but because only small amounts tend to be used, these nutrients don’t make a significant contribution to our diet.
On the plus side, the fermentation process creates enzymes that are beneficial to digestion, causing many Asian cultures to view miso as a form of probiotics – good bacteria that live in the large intestine. The down side is that miso has a very high salt content (1tbsp miso paste typically contains around 1.4g salt) – another reason to go easy.
MAKE: Grilled tofu with miso sauce and ginger greens
From the shop to your table
White miso has the shortest fermentation time and is sweeter; yellow has an earthy flavour; and brown or red miso is made from a higher percentage of soya beans, which are fermented the longest, giving the richest flavour.
Related article: What are the benefits of matcha?