I regard my miso soup as a daily tonic because of its high nutritional value and ability to clear toxins from the body. It is traditionally made with mineral-rich wakame seaweed and garnished with scallions, occasionally with the addition of tofu cubes. I also like to jazz it up with a nice, colorful assortment of vegetables, depending on what happens to be in my fridge.
I may be straying a bit from my Irish roots here, but I love to start my day with a big bowl of miso soup, served with some nice whole grain bread or with a scoop of rice.
Miso could be an entire blog post, but, for now, here's a brief overview: Miso is a paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with salt and koji, which are grains (mainly rice but also barley) that have been fermented with mold cultures. The miso is aged in cedar vats for one to three years. (The longer the fermentation process, the darker and stronger flavored the resulting miso.)
Because of the fermentation process, miso is high in enzymes that can promote healthy digestion. However, in order to get the benefits of the enzymes, you need to make sure that the miso is unpasteurized. Miso is also an excellent vegetarian source of protein, is high in minerals and is a good vegetarian source of vitamin B12, which is otherwise found mainly in animal foods.
Adding different ingredients and varying the lengths of fermentation time result in different types of miso that vary in flavor, texture, aroma and color.
The Most Common Types of Miso:
- Genmai miso is made from brown rice and soybeans. It is traditionally fermented for up to 18 months, has a red color and has a nice mellow flavor. It is a good miso for everyday use to flavor soup and stews.
- Mugi miso is made with barley and soybeans. It has a hearty, yet mellow flavor and is usually my first choice for my daily miso soup.
- Hatcho miso is a strong, dark miso made from soybeans and used for flavoring hearty dishes. It is fermented for up to three years and is highly revered in Japan for both its medicinal properties and robust flavor.
- White miso, also known as shiro miso, is a lightly colored miso with a milder flavor. It is made with 60 percent rice koji and 40 percent soybeans, so it is higher in carbohydrates and sweeter than other misos. White miso is only fermented for about two weeks and it also has a shorter shelf life—up to two weeks at room temperature and two months refrigerated. It is used mainly to season lightly colored soups or stews or as an addition in salad dressings or marinades.
- Natto miso is made from a combination of soybeans, ginger, kombu seaweed and barley malt. It has a unique savory yet sweet flavor and is used more as a chutney or relish.