Miso pastes are a staple of Japanese cooking and have even made their way to the western world as the main ingredient for so many dishes besides miso soups. Miso paste has been used traditionally to help treat many illnesses such as chronic fatigue, stomach ulcers, and chronic inflammation. Research has also shown that miso may be associated with more health benefits such as lowering cholesterol levels. In addition, miso is also loaded with probiotics and important nutrients, making it a great addition to your dietary plans!
So what exactly is miso? And is miso good or bad for you? Read on to find out more about this flavorful fermented ingredient!
Table of Content
- How to Cook With Miso
- Health Benefits of Miso
What is Miso
Miso is a salty paste made from fermented beans (soybeans) that have been a staple ingredient in the Japanese diet for thousands of years. Miso can also be made using certain grains such as fermented rice, mixed with salt and a bacteria called koji – a mold that affects miso tastes, colors, and uses. It is one of the best condiments to keep in your cabinet due to its versatility in recipes, transforming dishes into something exquisite, and also because of its numerous health benefits.
Soybeans are fermented with salt and koji for months or even years to get their unique flavor! The longer the soybean mixture ages, the darker and more complex in flavor the miso paste gets.
Different Types of Miso
Since there are so many types of miso, a method of distinguishing between different types of miso is by categorizing them by colors!
Miso Types by Colors
You might be wondering why there are so many different colors of miso types? The color differences of miso can be a great indicator of the level of saltiness and depth of flavor which you desire! It is also an indicator of the different ratios of soybeans and rice used to make the miso and the length of the fermentation period! But the general rule of thumb is that the darker the color of the miso, the stronger the flavor is!
White miso is generally the mildest and the sweetest miso. White miso is made from about 40% soybean and 60% rice or barley. the fermentation period is much shorter compared to red miso, resulting in milder and slightly less salty miso. White miso contains the most carbohydrates and therefore is the sweetest miso out of all miso varieties. The texture is also considered generally smooth!
Miso uses suggestions: Salad dressings, light-flavored marinades, light-colored soups, sauces.
Red miso is made from about 70% soybeans and 30% rice! The soybeans are steamed before mixing with the Koji. The much longer fermentation period is the reason why red miso is darker in color, stronger in flavor, and saltier in taste! Red miso contains the highest amount of protein among the miso varieties and color can go from red amber to a lighter brown! The color of red miso is the result of the Maillard reaction when the amino acids in the soybeans react with the sugars.
Miso uses suggestions: Stir-fries, glazes, marinades for meat and vegetables
Blended Miso (Awase Miso)
Blended miso is all-purpose miso that is made by mixing red and white miso! This is the most common type of miso paste which is light brown in color and is the most versatile miso paste of all. They are so versatile that they can be used in many Japanese dishes!
Miso uses suggestions: Almost everything!
How to Cook With Miso
There are lots of delicious recipes or dishes that can be made with miso! You could simply make yourself a homemade miso soup every day to take advantage of the numerous health benefits of miso or you could try using the miso paste to boost the flavor of your codfish by making a miso glaze! The following are some easy miso recipes for you to try out!
- Miso Soup with Kombu Dashi
- Poached Salmon in Miso Soup
- Red Miso Glaze
6 Health Benefits of Miso
Each serving of this flavorful ingredient miso not only contains a low amount of calories, but also a high amount of protein, manganese, and vitamin K. It also contains numerous other important micronutrients such as copper and zinc.
1. Provides Beneficial Probiotics
Since miso is a result of fermentation of soybeans/rice, miso would therefore contain live active cultures – beneficial good bacteria in our digestive system known as probiotics. These good little beneficial bacteria help boost digestion in our gut, thus improving digestion and increasing immunity.
There has been study that shows what probiotics do to our digestive system and what their benefits are! Many would think probiotics only benefit digestive health. However, probiotics have also been tied to health benefits such as:
- enhancing digestion
- improving immune function
- lowering allergies occurrences
- better cognitive health
- lower risk for obesity
- regulating mood
- appetite control
2. Great Source of Nutrients
Like kimchi, miso helps to activate specific enzymes that allow you to absorb nutrients better! On top of that, miso is also a source of several important micronutrients such as manganese and vitamin K.
Being a very important trace mineral, manganese supports many vital functions, with one being notably, supporting the function of enzymes. Another important micronutrient, vitamin K also plays a large role in our daily lives such as building strong bones by being involved in bone metabolism!
3. Boosts Digestion
Having miso soup is an easy way to improve digestion! The powerful probiotics found in miso soup can help combat digestive issues caused by an imbalance in gut bacteria! These digestive issues include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotics could even benefit people who are suffering from conditions like food allergies and leaky gut syndrome! Probiotics can basically help cleanse your digestive system and ramp up your body’s ability to heal from gut-related illnesses!
4. May Reduce Blood Pressure
Although miso is high in salt – high in sodium, it’s been shown to help prevent high blood pressure! According to a model conducted at a Japanese Society of Hypertension, the sodium in miso might react differently than sodium chloride alone.
5. Fights Cancer Cell Growth
Thanks to its content of immune-enhancing probiotics, vitamins, and minerals, miso has been linked to natural cancer prevention.
There are studies that found that miso may be beneficial for preventing radiation injury and progression of cancerous tumors! researchers discovered that miso with a longer fermentation time helps prevent tumor growth and increase healthy cell survival in mice following radiation. Consuming fermented miso could also help block the growth of cancerous colon cells and also be linked to a lower risk of stomach tumors! Other studies also showed that consuming miso is effective at scavenging free radicals and slowing the development of breast tumors!
Studies suggest that miso that has been fermented longer may be very important for protection against cancer and radiation. Miso at different fermentation stages was tested and was later found out that survival in the long-term fermented miso group was significantly longer than the short-term fermented group!
6. Decreases Cholesterol Levels
We all know high cholesterol levels can be detrimental when it comes to our heart health; it leads to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, blocking blood flow and increasing the risks of heart diseases and stroke. Fortunately, studies have shown that miso could help reduce cholesterol levels to reduce risks of heart diseases; consuming miso soup resulted in a decrease in total cholesterol levels, plus significantly lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol compared to placebo!
Miso Side Effects
If you have a soy allergy, definitely stay away from miso. However, like any other fermented gluten product, fermentation changes some of the chemical structure of the soybeans and makes it easier for people to digest as it becomes less inflammatory.
Soy contains phytoestrogens, which mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This could potentially increase the risk of conditions like breast cancer, cervical cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and other hormone-related disorders. Hence, more miso doesn’t necessarily mean better! Although fermented soy poses less of a risk and also provides many other benefits, it’s still a good practice to consume miso in moderation!
As far as introducing probiotic food into your system, it’s best to ease into consuming these for most people. This allows your gut to slowly adapt and can help prevent digestive issues such as diarrhea or gas that many people can face when first starting out on probiotics.
Lastly, miso still contains a high amount of sodium after all. Hence, keep the sodium content in mind and consume the miso in moderation especially if you have high blood pressure to help keep your heart health in check!
As you can see, the unique taste and properties of miso can be attributed to the way the miso is produced through the fermentation process! The longer the fermentation process takes place, the more intense the taste is! And also because of the months of fermentation, miso bought from the supermarket can be kept for a very long duration – months or even years!
Miso is such a versatile condiment that adds great umami taste and fantastic flavor to many great dishes! You can basically use miso for your fish and meat marinades, dressings, and even dips for your salad! There are so many benefits that outweigh the downside of consuming miso! Having said that, there should not be reasons not to consume miso unless you have a soy allergy! To really maximize the potential health benefits of miso, consume miso in moderation and increase intake slowly to reduce potential chances of adverse health effects!