Miso is a traditional Japanese condiment of fermented beans (soybeans, adzuki beans, chickpeas) and optionally grains (barley, rice, millet, wheat), with salt and the fungus koji. It acts as a full-bodied umami flavouring to season soups and dishes, and to tenderise and preserve foods. It contains live enzymes and many trace minerals.
There are many varieties of miso just as there as many types of cheese and wines. The difference between them depends on where they were made, types and proportions of ingredients used, and the temperature and length of fermentation process. These factors determine the four attributes of the resulting miso: flavour, colour, texture and cost. The main forms of miso with increasing intensity are Saiyako (sweet white) miso, Shiro miso (mellow white), Shinshu (yellow) and Aka (red).
Saiyako Miso & Shiro Miso
Fermented about one year with high proportion of koji to soybeans and low salt. It is light in colour, and has a mild sweet creamy flavour. Saiyako miso from Kyoto is among the lightest, least salty (about 5%) and sweetest of white miso; some contain a sweetener such as mirin. Its refreshing flavour lends a rich, mellow quality to desserts. Regular shiro miso can be used as a savoury marinade or miso soup for an unobtrusive flavour.
This is less sweet and a little saltier.
A rusty red with a rich and savoury flavour.
In general, rice (Kome, Genmai) miso tends to be the lightest colour and least expensive, followed by barley (Mugi), then soybean (Hatcho or Mame) miso.
Mugi Miso (Barley Soy Miso)
This is made in the southern part of Japan, namely Yamaguchi and Ehime prefectures and throughout the Kyushu region. It uses barley koji as a base and is a fragrant miso and less salty than Aka miso.
A typical red miso from Miyagi prefecture, made from rice and soybeans and fermented for a longer time than Shiro miso. It is darker, saltier and stronger in flavour.
From Aichi prefecture, it is made from 100 percent soybeans, including the bean koji. No grains are used in the fermentation process. Fermented for two years, it has a dark, robust flavour and chunky texture, but not as salty as some of the Aka miso varieties.
When purchasing miso, choose raw, unpasteurised (nama) miso, which still has it goodness intact. If avoiding soy, look for chickpea miso. If using a soy-based miso, be sure to buy an organic variety – nearly all conventionally grown soy is a genetically modified crop, and thus, worth avoiding.
How to Store Miso
Store miso in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place away from light« Back to Glossary Index