The Benefits of Miso

Event News 2014

Heard about miso but not sure what it is or how to use it? Find out about the benefits here.

So, what is miso? Put simply, it’s fermented soybean paste, which, let’s face it, doesn’t sound too appetising. How about this, then: miso is the holy grail of healthy eating, a versatile, reasonably priced and delicious tasting superfood with scientifically proven health benefits. That should make you a little more inclined to try it. We’re going to explain the basics of miso right here, and then suggest some authentic Japanese recipes to try, as well as tips on using miso in your non-Japanese dishes.

A Bowl of Miso A Day

Forget apples, miso is the ingredient you want to turn to if you’re looking to boost your health levels. The ingredients contained in miso, such as unsaturated fat, isoflavones, yeast and lactic acid, are effective anticarcinogens, which means that scientists believe they can help prevent cancer. A 1981 study [1] published by Japan’s National Cancer Center and authored by Dr. Takehiro Hirayama looked at the comparative stomach cancer incidence rates for people who had no regular miso soup intake and those who consumed it on a daily basis; regular miso soup consumers were 33% less likely to contract the disease than those who hardly or ever consumed miso soup.

Other studies have shown that people who eat miso regularly are less susceptible to stomach diseases such as gastritis and duodenal ulcers. Miso is also a really good source of dietary fibre, which cleans your intestines and is good for your bowls.

But you can give your outer radiance a boost, too. Miso is packed with Vitamin E and saponin, and along with the brown pigment in miso, these are great anti-oxidants, which means that they are thought to help inhibit the aging process. So if you’re looking for glowing skin and shiny, healthy hair, miso can be a really effective addition to your diet. And it’s probably got something to do with why Japanese women age so well, too.

Finally, if you’re a bit of a boozer or can’t give up the cigs, then making miso part of your diet is definitely a good step. The amino acids in miso are thought to help rid the system of harmful toxins, and it can help to replenish vitamins and minerals after drinking. So next time you have a hangover, reach for the miso soup.

How is it Made?

Miso is made from soybeans, and other ingredients are added, such as genmai brown rice, barley or buckwheat. The ingredients are steamed, and then mixed with a fermentation starter called koji, or Aspergillus oryzae, which is really a mould that’s also used to make soy sauce and sake. Once the koji has been added, the miso is left to ferment for between 6 months to 5 years, depending on the type of miso.

Why So Many Different Types?

Miso has been made in Japan for over two thousand years (although it was originally from China). So it’s hardly surprising that over twenty century, many regional varieties have developed. Here are the main categories of miso.

Kome miso: Miso made with soybeans and rice (kome). This is subdivided into ama miso (sweet miso, white or red), amakuchi miso (mild, light or dark) and karakuchi miso (strong, light or dark).

Mugi miso: Miso made with soybeans and barley. This is subdivided into amakuchi (mild) and karakuchi (strong).

Mame miso: Miso made with just soybeans. One of the best known varieties is Hatcho miso, which is rich, dark in colour and made in just one town in the north of Japan.

Chogo miso: ‘Compound’ miso, made from a mixture of any of the above.

The best type of miso to use will depend on the recipe you want to cook. There are hundreds of varieties of miso, although the choice outside of Japan is significantly smaller. Sweet white miso, for example, can be used in dressings and event desserts, particularly in dairy-free recipes, whereas a dark mame miso will work best as a deliciously rich miso soup.

Miso Soup for Dummies

There are loads of ways to enjoy miso, but the classic recipe has to be miso soup. Here’s the classic recipe for a tofu and spring onion miso soup:

Serves 4

  • 140g soft tofu (1/2 standard block)
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • 30g miso
  • 800ml dashi (soup stock)
  1. Make the dashi. You can make it the proper way or cheat by buying an instant version from your local Japanese or Asian shop. It’s really important not to skip this step; dashi is key to miso soup.
  2. Heat the dashi for 3-4 minutes then gently dissolve the miso into the soup. The best way to dissolve miso is to take a little of the cooking liquid into a small bowl with the miso, dissolve there and then return to the pan.
  3. Add the tofu, continue to heat gently for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Serve up into individual bowls and sprinkle with the sliced spring onion.

Find more inspiration in Eat-Japan recipes books

You don’t have to stick with the tofu and spring onion combination, though. Miso soup is often used as a way to use up leftovers; so feel free to stick in whatever’s left from last night’s dinner. Cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, a bit of kale, bacon, chicken...there is literally no limit. You can take a look at our recipe suggestions for some inspiration or just come up with your own.

Using Miso in Everyday Cooking

You don’t have to be making soup or black cod to incorporate miso into your cooking. You can use miso to replace salt in a lot of dishes, especially soups, stews and casseroles. A dark, strong miso, like Hatcho miso, should be used sparingly however.

Miso is a great way to add depth to ingredients; add a little miso when cooking grains, lentils and beans for a hint of umami richness.

You can also make a simple miso paste which can be used to baste fish (not necessarily black cod). Mix together 50g miso, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp sake and 1 tbsp mirin, then smear over your fish (or, if you’re veggie, tofu or aubergine) and roast in the oven.

For more miso recipes, click here.

Where to Buy Miso

  1. Hirayama, T. 1981. 'Relationship of Miso Soup Intake to Gastric Cancer Risk'. Nutrition and Cancer 3: 223-33.
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