What is Miso Paste and How is it Used?
Miso paste is an essential ingredient in the Japanese diet, acting as a fundamental component in many popular dishes. Made from fermented soybeans, miso paste offers a strong umami and salty taste that adds some intense flavours to a variety of meals. The paste is also packed with nutrients and is high in protein, making it increasingly popular around the world as people search for healthier ingredients. There are a number of different types of miso paste, with their flavours depending on the specific fermentation processes used to create it. We take a look at what miso paste is and how it is used in Japanese cooking.
What is Miso Paste?
Miso paste is made from mashed soybeans, salt and koji – a grain mash used to promote the fermentation process. This mixture of ingredients is left to age and ferment for between six months and three years. The flavour of the resultant miso is dependant on the grain type used as the koji. The most popular type of miso in Japan is kome-miso, which uses a rice grain as the starter. Different types can then be produced by using a different fermentation starter. Examples of this include mugi-miso, which is a miso made using barley as a starter, while mame-miso uses already fermenting soybeans as the fermentation activator, creating a far more intense flavour. There are also regional differences in miso pastes, with colour and flavour varying between areas of Japan, depending on the production practices preferred by each region.
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Varieties of Miso Paste
Shiro Miso (White Miso)
Made from soybeans and a rice grain starter, shiro miso is fermented for a shorter amount of time than other miso types, leaving it with a lighter colour than some varieties. It has a mild taste, with a hint of sweetness, that makes it perfect for light soups, sauces and salad dressings. While known as white miso, it is more of a yellow colour.
Aka Miso (Red Miso)
A miso with a red-brown colour, aka miso tends to use more soybeans, and may also involve barley as a starter grain rather than rice. It is also fermented for far longer than shiro miso is, resulting in a darker colour paste. This is best used in meatier and stronger dishes, as it has a pretty strong umami flavour and is packed with salty notes.
This type of miso is a mixture of different kinds of miso. At least two or more miso pastes are blended together and used in a variety of dishes. Typically, it will be a combination of white and red miso, which makes it suitable for all styles of cooking.
What Is Miso Paste Used For?
Miso is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be used in a very wide range of dishes. Here are just a few of the most popular ways in which miso is used in Japanese cuisine.
By far the most popular use for miso in Japan is as a key ingredient in the famous miso soup. A staple dish, miso soup is served alongside most meals in Japan, enjoyed as a snack, and is even eaten as breakfast by many. Miso paste, typically red and white mixed (awase), is added to a dashi broth, with spring onion and tofu cubes. Miso can also be used as a base for other soup types.
Miso is typically used as a base flavour for noodle dishes such as ramen, which involves a broth. Udon noodles are also typically served in a broth made from a red miso paste. The same is true for other stew-like dishes in Japan.
Pickling ingredients is very common in Japan, and pickled vegetables, such as radish, are often enjoyed as a condiment or side to main meals. One of the easiest ways to pickle things is with a miso paste, as the high salt content helps to act as a preservative, as well as to add some extra flavour to the ingredients.
Miso is a great choice for marinades, sauces and glazes, as it adds a great deal of flavour to each dish. Similar to pairing wines with food, matching a miso type to a dish is often down to the colour, with white miso primarily used for fish and seafood, while red miso is for meat, such as beef. To create a marinade using miso, a miso paste will be combined with sake and mirin (or sugar), making a flavorful sauce for your dish.
Miso is not just reserved for savoury dishes; there are several Japanese desserts that use miso to add some incredible flavour to the sweet treat. Miso is added into things such as brownies, ice cream and cheesecake, providing a sweet and salty bite.
If you want to try out cooking with miso paste in the UK, then Oriental Mart has all the ingredients you need to get started!