Unless you’re an avid home chef who delves into the intricacies of Asian cuisine, chances are you’ve only heard of miso within the confines of an Asian restaurant. While miso soup certainly is one of the most popular uses of this Asian food staple, it is far from the only one. Miso, or fermented soybean paste, is a salty and extremely versatile seasoning. It adds a savory and umami flavor to whatever it is added to, and depending on the type of miso it is, the strength of flavor can vary from mild to very intense.
During the soybean fermentation process of miso, in addition to a fungus called koji, grains such as barley, buckwheat, and rice may be added to achieve a specific flavor profile, but in most cases soybeans act as the main base for miso. The texture of miso is similar to that of peanut butter: a thick paste. Let’s take a look at the different types of miso, their respective flavor profiles, the health benefits of this Asian staple, and of course, how to incorporate it into your cooking!
The Different Types of Miso
Within each category of miso, there is a range of earthy flavors and subtle variations. There are several miso types, but the three most popular ones are White Miso (Shiro Miso), Yellow Miso (Shinshu Miso), and Red Miso (Aka Miso).
White Miso, also known as “sweet” or “mellow” miso is fermented for a shorter time, and as a result is less salty than most of the miso varieties on the market. Since it has a milder taste, white miso is easily adaptable. You can incorporate it into dressings and light sauces for some added nutrition without much of a flavor change, and it can even be used as a dairy replacement in some recipes. Miso mayo? Yes, please!
Yellow Miso is another lightly flavored type of miso and is great for soups and glazes. Use it in your broth for some added saltiness without actually having to add salt, or use it as a healthy and flavorful glaze for steamed vegetables.
Red Miso is fermented longer than white or yellow miso, and as a result has a very pungent and salty flavor. It ranges in color from red to dark brown. The bold umami flavor of red miso may be a bit much for mild dishes like sautéed greens. It’s most suited for hearty soups and glazes. Careful, though! Use red miso sparingly; it doesn’t take much to produce a strong taste!
The Health Benefits of Miso
While the umami flavor that miso is able to contribute to dishes is impressive on its own, it wouldn’t be right to focus on this solely, when miso also is a nutritional powerhouse! The protein content of miso ranges from about 13 percent in rice miso and about 18 percent in barley miso to about 20 percent in soybean miso. In fact, just one tablespoon of miso provides an average of 2.5 grams of protein! Despite the fact that miso is considered to be a high-sodium food, it appears that miso does not affect the cardiovascular system negatively the way other high-sodium foods often do.
Misos, whichever you end up choosing, are also excellent sources of iron, calcium, phosphorus, and the B vitamin range. Most notably, miso contains the vitamin B12, which is rarely found in vegetable sources, and is often a cause for concern for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plus, miso is rich in gut-taming probiotics and since the soybeans are fermented, they are healthier and easier to digest.
Many public health organizations, such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, recommend legumes as a key food group for preventing disease and optimizing health. Since soybeans are a part of this category, miso by extension is a part of this recommendation. While it is still unclear if and how miso deviates from soy products in general in terms of health benefits, overall miso is considered to be a valuable addition to diets.
How to Cook With Miso
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s on to the fun part: how to cook with miso! As mentioned before, one of the most common uses of miso is in soup. However, that doesn’t mean you have to stick with the basic broth soup that miso has become known for. Quite the contrary actually. The delicious umami flavor that miso provides can be added to a wide variety of soups, such as this Slow-Cooker Lentil Miso Soup, this Creamy Root Vegetable Soup, this savory White Miso Vegetable Soup, or this Moroccan Miso, Lentil, and Pumpkin Soup.
If you simply want to apply the flavor of miso without consuming it by the spoonful, try using the paste for a marinade. By making miso into a pourable liquid, you can apply it on to your favorite steamed vegetables, use it as a grilling tool to lock in optimal flavor, or drizzle it on as you sautée or pan-sear dishes. Check out some of these veggie-centric dishes to get you started: Miso Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini, Sticky Miso Grilled Veggie Skewers, Miso Braised Carrots With Leeks, and Sake-Stewed Miso Kabocha Squash.
And of course, you can add a dose of Asian flavor to your noodles, salads, or wraps, by liquefying miso until it is sauce or dressing consistency. To do that, simply combine a bit of miso with olive oil, flax seed oil, ginger, and garlic. Then use this sauce in noodle dishes like these Sweet Potato Noodles With Miso Sauce or these Kelp Noodles in Peanut-Miso Sauce. If you’re in the mood for a dish where forks aren’t required, use miso sauce in these Nori Wraps With Sweet Potato and Avocado, or really step out of the box and mix miso with carrot purée for this Broccoli Rabe Potato Pizza With Carrot-Miso Sauce and Hazelnuts. Be as creative or traditional as you desire!
What is your favorite way of cooking with miso? Tell us in the comments!
Lead Image Source: Slow-Cooker Lentil Miso Soup