This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.
Have you met… miso?
Perhaps as early as 2,500 years ago miso paste originated in Japan as a convenient, nutritious condiment that could be incorporated into a variety of dishes — most commonly hot miso soup for breakfast — without the need of refrigeration or much storage space in small kitchens. Miso since migrated first to neighboring Asian countries, then further west and beyond, to the point today that it is a familiar ingredient in kitchens around the world.
Miso paste is made from cooked soybeans that are pressed in cedar wood vats with sea salt, small amounts of steamed rice, barley or other grains + koji — a natural, live fungus called Aspergillus oryzae that kick-starts fermentation. Traditional methods vary in terms of fermentation times, ranging from 6 months to 1 1/2 years or longer. As a result of this fermentation process, miso is a source of umami, or the “fifth taste,” naturally enhancing the savory flavors of other foods.