Miso: The not-so-secret ingredient of Japanese cuisine
Miso: the origins
Have you tried miso before? Miso, like soy sauce, is a healthy fermented product that plays a pivotal role in seasoning washoku (Japanese cuisine). Both condiments share roots in China, yet were adapted for Japanese cuisine as early as 1,300 years ago. By the late 1500s, it became an authentically Japanese seasoning, with a savory aroma and intense umami quite unlike its Chinese counterparts.
Red and white miso paste
What is miso?
Traditionally an important source of protein, miso can be divided into three types: one made solely of soybeans, one made with rice, and another made with barley. The latter two use soybeans as a secondary ingredient. As it is produced from locally harvested ingredients, miso varies in colour, flavour, and taste depending on where it is made.
How do you use miso?
There are a multitude of recipes using miso in Japanese cuisine. It is often simmered down with minced fish or meat and vegetables to yield condensed pastes, that are eaten with rice or used in dips and sauces. Partially sun-dried daikon radish or salt-cured eggplant and other vegetables are often marinated in miso. And miso is, of course, the essential seasoning for its eponymous soup—an indispensable companion to rice in the washoku diet. Miso makes an excellent marinade for fish and meat as it aids in preservation, removes unpleasant odours, and adds a savory flavour. Oilier blue-backed fish like mackerel are often stewed with miso to mitigate their briny scent. Boiled daikon, turnips, or jellied konnyaku are commonly served with miso-based sauces, while a dish known as dengaku takes miso as its main seasoning: tofu pieces are grilled, spread with miso paste, and lightly roasted. Commonly used in sauces for aemono cooked salads, miso also blends well with such regular components of Western fare as oil, butter, and cream.
Eggplant with miso
Tremendously versatile, miso is one of the greatest features of washoku. So if you have never tried it before, make sure to do so when travelling Japan. Or if you can find some in your neighbourhood, why not treat yourself and have a taste?