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What is Miso?

the world of MISO

Miso

Developed in Japan over a millennium ago, MISO is a full-bodied savory or sweetly salty fermented food which adds deep flavor notes to both traditional Japanese and Western dishes, alike, yet also has health-promoting properties and essential antioxidants to maintain good health in our modern world.

Secrets of Japanese miso

Why Japanese live long

According to the World Health Organization (2015), Japan has the longest overall life expectancy of any country in the world at an average of 83.7 years. The reason for this phenomenon? Common knowledge tells us that lifestyle (i.e. exercise) and diet are the biggest contributing factors for increased life expectancy. In Japan, walking, bicycling, and working in the garden are regarded as desirable activities for all ages, while a fermented foods– and seasonal fruit- and vegetable-based diet is held to be the ideal. Western and modern foods have eroded this traditional diet to a degree, but older Japanese still adhere to the time-honored food customs of the last half a century. Veering too far off this course could have drastic health consequences, so Japan should honor and encourage a diet rich in the traditional foods that have contributed to making Japan #1 in life expectancy.

Fermented foods are well known for encouraging good bacteria to flourish in our bodies and thus promote good health. Miso, especially in its unpasteurized state, is the perfect vehicle to introduce these magical properties into our diet and can be added in moderate amounts to almost any dish which uses salt: even Western cakes and cookies!

Miso is a crucial seasoning agent in low-salt as well as low-fat cookery as, even in small amounts, miso punches up the flavor in foods. Shojin ryori, the gentle, seasonal cuisine of the Zen Buddhist temples, relies on miso in any number of ways to infuse dishes with depth and to tease out the natural umami of different ingredients. Miso is the unifying and essential ingredient in these cuisines, along with protein-rich sesame. Without miso, shojin ryori would venture into the realm of bland, but with miso, becomes sublime.

Japanese miso has been credited with numerous extraordinary powers: the ability to ward of cancer, combat radiation sickness, and even negate smoke inhalation or exposure to pollution. Whether or not these claims are exaggerated, there is clear and irrefutable evidence that a bowl of miso soup a day will impart beneficial health properties that will lead to long-lasting lower blood pressure and overall increased intestinal well-being. One soup, one side dish (plus rice) make up the Buddhist ideal of a complete meal (ichiju issai) and it is impossible to deny the roots of this historic food enjoyed for hundreds of years in the heart of Japan.

Why Japanese Miso is so healthy

Due to the interaction between soybeans and koji-inoculated grains that, along with salt, are the basic ingredients used in the preparation of miso, miso has a number of essential health-giving components. Miso suppresses high blood pressure: By drinking miso soup regularly, one can reduce overall sodium intake by 30%. Furthermore, miso directly lowers blood pressure due to inherent components that make it easier to release salt from the kidneys. Ingestion of one bowl of miso soup a day also improves blood vessel age and has skin-beautifying and moisturizing effects because of the antioxidants contained in miso. There is also strong evidence which points to consuming miso in the daily diet as a way to ward the body against cancer. While all lofty claims, the overwhelming evidence does seem compelling, and the fact that the people of Japan live longer than in any country in the world is proof that Japan historically has had a healthy lifestyle and diet.

History&Culture of Japanese Miso

History of Miso

The earliest record of the use of miso in Japan appears in the Taiho code of 701. Scholars cannot say with absolute certainty whether miso was first introduced to Japan from Korea or China or whether it evolved organically from within Japan itself, or indeed all three. While various theories exist, it is commonly held that the method of making miso from tama (fermented miso balls) originated in Korea and is the progenitor to most Japanese farmhouse miso. Whereas the method of fermenting miso from koji-inoculated grains was transmitted from China, most likely through Buddhist channels, and was the method avored by the nobility and in monastaries. Furthermore, there is speculation that the evidence of salt-making during the prehistoric Jomon period and the fermented _sh and meat oncoctions of Yayoi (300 B.C.–300 A.D.) point to a native miso-making culture, which naturally evolved in the northeastern region of Japan, known as the “miso heartland.” In any case, the making of miso can be traced back undisputably to as early as 700 A.D. — well over 1000 years ago.

 

Miso was mentioned in the Engishiki (927 A.D.) as a soup ingredient for the wealthy in the 10th century, but because of its expense, most people could only eat a small dab of miso on rice or pickled vegetables. Also miso was an important seasoning added to simmered fish or vegetables, and thinned with vinegar, became a sauce for a salad of raw fish (namasu). By the 18th century, soy sauce had virtually replaced miso as the flavoring agent in urban areas, and by the year 2000, 90% of miso used in Japan was used for soup.

 

Miso soup, as we know it today, evolved in the Muromachi period (1336–1573) when miso soup–making parties emerged as a popular past time. The host would prepare the basic soup (atsumejiru) with seasonal ingredients and the guests would bring side dishes to enjoy with the communal soup. A rudimentary version of instant miso soup developed in Muromachi by samurai going to battle. Dried taro stems were simmered in miso then braided into long ropes (imogara nawa), which the samurai wore around their waists. The samurai cut pieces of the miso-simmered rope off while on the battlefield and poured boiling water over to create an instant life-sustaining ration.

 

The main fl­avoring of Japan shifted from miso to soy sauce in urban areas over a period of more than two centuries. However, in rural areas, miso remained the seasoning of choice over soy sauce well up to the end of the 20th century. And while many farm families continued making their own miso up until the 1950s, it was rare to make soy sauce because of its difficulty. Nonetheless, miso adds saltiness, ­flavor, and fragrance to food, so is experiencing a worldwide increase in popularity and use. And with a high content of glutamate acid, miso contributes both tart and sweet elements along with complex ­flavor structures. The paradox of Japanese haute cuisine is the saying: “Not to cook is the ideal of cooking,” and miso is an exceptional method to introduce complex, fermented salt notes to any cuisine.