Rise of the Korean Miso: Good, Bad, and the Best of Korean Food
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September , The World's Healthiest Foods are health-promoting foods that can change your life. The George Mateljan Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests or advertising. Our mission is to help you eat and cook the healthiest way for optimal health. What's New and Beneficial About Miso Miso is typically considered to be a high-sodium food, since one teaspoon of miso often contains milligrams of sodium.
However, recent research has shown that in spite of its high-sodium content, miso does not appear to affect our cardiovascular system in the way that other high-sodium foods sometimes can. In recent animal studies, for example, identical concentrations of salt sodium chloride obtained from miso versus table salt were discovered to have very different impacts on blood pressure.
High-salt diets that derived their high salt level from table salt raised blood pressure in these animal studies, but high-salt diets that derived their high salt from miso did not. Recent human studies on miso intake among Japanese adults have also shown that miso-containing diets tend to lower risk of cardiovascular problems, despite the high-salt content of miso. Reasons for this unique relationship between miso and our cardiovascular system are not yet clear. However, some researchers have speculated that the unique soy protein composition of miso including peptide building-blocks of protein that get formed from soy proteins when the beans are fermented is one of the key reasons for the cardiovascular support provided by miso.
Since miso is seldom eaten alone, other cardio-supportive foods in miso soups and miso stir-fries might also play an important role in these research findings. Some of the health benefits provided by soy foods depend on the ability of bacteria or other micro-organisms to break down two of the soy's isoflavones - daidzein and genistein—into related compounds for example, equol. Interestingly, recent research has shown that many different strains of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae —by far the most widely-used fungus in the fermentation of miso—are capable of breaking down both daidzein and genistein.
This finding is great news for anyone who already enjoys miso, or is considering adding miso to their diet. If micro-organisms used in miso fermentation don't break down some of the daidzein and genistein into other compounds like equol, it's up to the micro-organisms in our digestive tract to do so. While it is fantastic when we have the right balance of micro-organisms in our digestive tract to help us get optimal nourishment and health benefits from our food, those conditions don't always hold true.
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When the millet grains start to surface, it is a sign that the miso has matured, and this can be likened to the crystallization of amino acids in cheese that has been matured over long periods. Throughout this lengthy period of maturing, the salt harmonizes with the miso, giving it a mellow saltiness. The most difficult job in the production line goes to the stone-layers. Once in the barrels, the beans are covered with a cloth tarp. The stone-layers must create a stone cone pyramid of 3 tonnes. This process is still done by hand. The pyramid like river stones are not merely piled up randomly.
It is carefully-calculated not to collapse. The stones are piled up by making the outside higher and putting pressure on the centre.go to link
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This structure operates similar to stone walls of old Japanese castles and can withstand earthquakes with a seismic intensity of 3 or 4. It requires 10 years of experience to pile up stones in a good shape. The reason why one big stone of 3 tonnes cannot be used is because there would be deviations to one side or the other. This shape puts an equal amount of pressure over the paste to keep the moisture separating from the solids, maintaining product quality throughout the entire tub. Over the centuries, a particular strain of Aspergillus, known as Aspergillus hatcho, has made its home in the cracks and crevices of the old seasoned vats and throughout the fermentation rooms seen here.
Today, the traditional Yahagi blend is not sold.
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Every year, this blend is presented to the shrine for worship activities. Most of what is sold are of the Hokkaido soybean blend. The miso is rich dark, full bodied, intense in flavour, almost alcoholic. It is also less sweet taking on the qualities of a fine bottle of aged whisky. Produced specifically in Gujo Hachiman, is a type of mame-miso known as Gujo miso. Apparently, it is also called jimiso which means local miso, meaning that every household who makes it, makes it slightly different.
However, to be classified as mame miso, it should not detract too much from using only soybeans and mame-soybean malt and the length of fermentation is at least 1 year. Daikokuya is well known for its homemade miso made from local grown soybeans and fresh water. This is a family run business started 70 years ago right in this charismatic old town. If you look closely to the picture hanging on the wall in the photo below, you can see the texture of gujo jimiso. It is pretty watery due to the higher water content added and very different from the brick like dark red Hatcho miso produced.
Gujo jimiso has more salt added and hence requires a longer time to reach maturity compared to shiro miso. Daikokuya ferments miso for at least 1. The colour of gujo jimiso is dark red in colour due to its prolonged fermentation process. The gujo jimiso is not blended and the whole soybeans can be seen in the miso.
The wooden vats used by Daikokuya are about 70 to years old too. At Daikokuya, he has about 10 vats. The method of production of gujo jimiso is that of mame-miso and it is quite similar to that of hatcho miso as detailed above. The only difference is the salt added and the water amount used. Gujo jimiso uses the soybean malt method as well. He explained to us to that it takes him 1 week to do kg of miso so technically, each vat requires at least 4 weeks to fill up before he seals it for fermentation.
Increasingly, these barrels will be retired due to hygiene concerns by the health authority. He has started using plastic vats with covers due to new government regulations. The special Aspergillus Hatcho mold cannot be replicated in other places thus far. Besides making miso, Daikokuya also brews tamari and mirin. Previously, when I was doing research on gluten free, in an attempt to find a substitute for soy sauce which almost always contain gluten, I chanced upon tamari and had always assume it is gluten free soy sauce with a fancy name. I have learnt that tamari is specifically Japanese soy sauce and it is in actual fact a by product of miso production.
The tamari is great to use for dipping of sashimi. It is very rich, complex and thick. It had the characteristics of aged balsamico vinegar, with sourish notes. We found these interesting packs at Daikokuya. This was in fact miso wrapped in hoba leaves. Hoba is the leaf of the Japanese magnolia.
The large leaves of the ho tree a type of magnolia have antibacterial properties, and in this area are used to wrap portions of sushi or mochi rice cakes. Dried, the leaves are used to prepare hoba miso. This is a speciality of the Takayama area. The custom originated as a way to thaw out pickles that were frozen solid in the depth of winter. Apparently, water in Takayama area is hard, so it is unfit for miso soup.
Hence the locals thought of a way to enjoy miso without the soup. Chopped negi green onion , mushrooms and wild plants are mixed and seasoned with miso on a hoba and they are broiled. Now miso soup has been served in any ryokans and restaurants by using water filter, but hoba-miso remains a local favourite dish.
Glossy and golden yellow, the nutritious seasoning made of soybeans, malted rice and salt has been valued by locals as a source of energy since long ago. It is a very popular variety of miso with residents from Tokyo as told to me by my interpreter, Rie san as compared to gujo miso and hatcho miso. Shinshu miso is a form of kome miso using rice malt rather than soybean malt. It however can be full bodied in taste like that of hatcho miso with a 2 year fermentation process achieving a dark red colour too as seen in the pictures to follow. He explained what makes Nagano perfect was the purity of the water and air in Nagano, and it being at a fairly high altitude being surrounded by mountains thus having cold winters, warm summers, excellent spring and fall weather.
Here, rice malt is mainly used for the fermentation.
However, we have learnt Hayashi san is a pretty innovative person using buckwheat malt mixing in with the rice malt to create new types of miso via varying the ratios used. Walking around his shop, you can see that he is very creative with miso filled doriyaki, miso pan breads , miso donuts and a variety of miso coated rice snacks and nuts. I loved the azumino miso rice crackers that he sells.
In summer, he even makes miso ice cream! He makes a wide variety of miso based sauces for cooking and salad dressings too. With a vocational training in mechanical engineering, it was no surprise when we toured his miso making facilities. It was pretty automated in the process from the steaming of the soybeans until the addition into the vats for fermentation.
He shared with us that in the s, was when he started to introduce machines and slowly automating the system. He too has changed to using plastic vats due to government regulations which prohibit making of miso in wood vats for safety reasons. Hayashi san, also has an online store and does delivery to homes and other businesses. I never realised that there is so much art that goes into miso making with the variances of the malt used, the fermentation periods and even the adaptation to the regions where they are produced.
Generally, good miso is expensive.
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Organic, traditionally made Japanese misos are ideal and worth the money. Miso must be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for months. Maybe years.
To keep it from spoiling, always use a clean spoon when you remove it from the container. The color can be a fairly good indicator of the strength of flavor, age and saltiness of the miso. Generally speaking, the lighter in miso color, the sweeter less salty it is. Light colored misos are also younger than dark colored ones in general.
Commercially available miso is usually aged from months to 2 years. Besides miso soup, there have been many new innovative ways of having miso, like as miso butter, miso mayo, as marinade for grilling vegetables and meats.
Go forth and explore! As a general rule of thumb, the white miso or sweet miso which has a milder and more delicate flavour, is great for soups, dressings and light sauces for salads, seafood and even mashed potatoes and probably best not for prolonged cooking. Yellow or shinshu miso which is fermented longer is more adaptable to most cooking applications from soups to glazes.
The red miso or aka miso which is generally stronger, is best used for rich soups, braises and marinades. As the taste can be overwhelming, it is best to use sparingly. Thank you for a fascinating article on Miso manufacture. I love home made miso soup and my other favourite use is miso and tahini mixed as a savoury spread. Your email address will not be published. The art of miso why you should eat miso daily? Nutrition Journal, The role of dietary fibre in inflammatory bowel disease.
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