Miso, the traditional Japanese fermented soybean paste we know best in miso soup, is intensely flavorful, nutritious, cancer-protective, packed with good-for-you probiotics—and remarkably versatile in the kitchen.
Here’s what you need to know to maximize both health benefits and flavor with this ancient superfood—10 recipe inspirations, including a quick-and-easy everyday vegetable soup.
Both the culinary and the health benefits of miso stem from the fermentation process. To make miso, steamed soybeans and grains (such as rice and barley), along with salt, is inoculated with a fungi known as koji (Aspergillus oryzae) and allowed to ferment over several months—like wine or beer.
Koji fermentation allows beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to develop and also breaks down the cancer-protective isoflavones in soy to make them easier for our bodies to use.
Fermentation also intensifies the flavor. Miso is rich in umami—the “fifth” taste that adds depth to foods. Foods high on the umami scale, such as aged Parmesan cheese and roasted meats, taste rich, earthy and complex. It’s a subtle flavor that blends well with others, expanding and rounding them out. Umami flavors are literally mouthwatering—they stimulate saliva, which enhances appetite and digestion.
A few tips to make the best use of miso for flavor and health…
• Look for miso that is produced by the traditional, artisanal method. Check labels, and avoid any that contain MSG. Some products use fermentation accelerants, but you’ll get more probiotics when your miso is aged naturally. Look for it in natural foods stores and natural-food–oriented supermarkets.
• The longer the fermentation, the more probiotics. Products aged 180 days or more have the most probiotics. This is a darker (often red), richer, earthy and savory miso. It’s great in wintry foods such as hearty soups and roasted meats.
• Lighter miso, often white or yellow, has its place, too. It has a sweeter, more subtle flavor. Use it in vinaigrettes and with grilled chicken and vegetables. It’s good to use in the summer.
• Miso is high is salt, so use it sparingly. One or two teaspoons per serving will enhance a food’s flavor without overpowering it.
• You can warm miso paste, but don’t simmer it—and definitely don’t boil it. That kills the probiotics. It’s best to add it to dishes at the end of the cooking process—after the pot has been removed from the heat.
10 WAYS TO COOK WITH MISO
You’ll be amazed at the layers of flavor miso builds in the following recipe ideas…
1. Miso Pesto. Combine in a blender or food processor 1 cup packed basil leaves, 2-4 cloves garlic, ¼-cup toasted walnuts, ¼-cup packed parsley leaves, 2 tablespoons white miso and ¼-cup extra-virgin olive oil. Pulse, leaving some texture. Serve with cooked shrimp, cooked pasta, grilled chicken.
2. Sriracha Miso BBQ Sauce. Whisk together 5 tablespoons packed brown sugar, ¼-cup Sriracha sauce, 3 tablespoons miso, 2 tablespoons sesame oil and 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Serve with grilled tofu or chicken.
3. Thai Miso Peanut Sauce. Combine in a small saucepan ¼-cup miso, 3 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, ⅓-cup water, 1 tablespoon dry sherry (optional), 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger and ½-teaspoon spicy sesame oil. Cook and stir over medium heat until hot. Serve with soba noodles, kebabs or grilled chicken.
4. Miso Maple “Caramel” Sauce. Heat ½-cup maple syrup and 1 tablespoon white miso in a small saucepan (don’t simmer or boil it). Serve over ice cream or pancakes.
5. Red Miso Chickpea Hummus. Process in a food processor until smooth 1 cup cooked chickpeas, ¼-cup diced roasted red bell pepper or pimiento, 2 tablespoons white miso, 2 tablespoons tahini, 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 2 cloves minced garlic. Serve as a dip or sandwich spread.
6. Miso Sesame Salad Dressing. Whisk together 1½ tablespoons white miso, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1½ tablespoons fresh orange juice, 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil and 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger. Cover and chill. Serve with greens or drizzle on grilled chicken or fish.
7. Miso Balsamic Glazed Roasted Vegetables. Mix 2 tablespoons red or white miso, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Brush on cut vegetables before roasting.
8. Better Miso Burger. Mix 2 tablespoons red or white miso with 2 tablespoons water and mix into 1 pound of ground beef, lamb or turkey. Form into burgers and grill.
9. Raspberry Miso Sauce. Thaw 1 cup of frozen raspberries in a small saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons honey, and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Press through sieve over a bowl. Stir 2 teaspoons miso and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar into the juice. Spoon over fish fillets after cooking or baste shrimp after grilling. Also delicious over frozen yogurt.
10. Vegetable Miso Soup. Miso adds a slight sweetness and depth of flavor to this broth-based soup. For a variation, serve with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. You can also add cubed firm tofu along with the carrots to make it a protein-rich main dish.
Makes 9 cups, or 4 to 5 servings
5 cups plus 2 Tablespoons low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons grated fresh garlic
¾-cup sliced carrots
1 cup very thinly sliced cremini mushrooms
1½ cups packed chopped fresh kale
1 cup very thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
1 cup hot, cooked soba noodles
Stir together miso and 2 tablespoons of the broth in a small bowl.
Combine remaining 5 cups of the broth, ginger and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat—simmer for one minute. Add carrots, cover and simmer for three minutes. Add mushrooms, cover and cook until the carrots are tender—four to five minutes. Add kale and Brussels sprouts, cover and cook briefly to wilt and blanch them—about one minute.
Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in miso mixture and soba noodles. Serve immediately.
Got a miso tip to share? Leave a comment below!