Learn about the factors that create the colors and flavors of miso from an artisan miso producer. This post covers both traditional and non-traditional types of miso.
Island Eko Pantry is a small-scale food producer on Vancouver Island that specializes in Asian ferments, in particular miso and gochujang. It’s run by two amazing fermentation enthusiasts, Jungyeon and Misako. This spring, I asked Misako if she would be interested in co-writing a blog post about different types of miso. And here it is!
—Please note, this is not a sponsored post, and I do not accept unsolicited guest posts.—
MISO AT A GLANCE
The precursor of both miso and soy sauce, called Jiang, was first brought to Japan from China in the 7th century. Miso began as a delicacy reserved for the nobility and monks. It was eaten straight or spread directly on food. Then in the 12th to 16th centuries, farmers began to make miso. That’s when miso soup became popular.
The key ingredient of miso is koji, which is a mold that breaks down starches into simple sugars, and proteins into amino acids. A lot of the umami flavours in Japanese cuisine are due to this hardworking mold!
Historically, miso-making was a family tradition and ritual that was passed down from generation to generation. With modern technology and mass production, these traditional skills are disappearing.
Misako learned about miso-making from a Japanese senior and a Japanese manufacturer that has been producing miso for over 100 years. And it is the mission of Island Eko Pantry to keep the miso-making tradition alive.
Miso flavor and color
There are many different flavors of miso available in Japan, with different regions each having their own unique type of miso. Here are a few of the factors that lead to different colors and flavors of miso.
- Ingredients: The color of the miso changes depending on whether it’s made with rice, barley, or soybeans. It’s also influenced by the ratio of each ingredient in the mix.
- Time: A longer fermentation time will darken miso and increase richness. For example, fermenting for 1 week will result in pale, sweet miso. If the same miso is aged for a year it will darken and lose its sweetness for a stronger umami flavor.
- Cooking Method: Boiled soybeans create a pale miso. Whereas steamed soybeans result in darker miso.
- Culture: Miso is made with a combination of mold, bacteria, and yeast. Using a bit of a previous batch of miso will speed up the process of fermentation and change the aroma.
- Salt: The amount of salt impacts the speed and flavor of the fermentation.
- Fermentation Container: Like other aged products, the type of container will influence the flavor of miso. For example, miso can be aged in a wooden barrel, crock, or glass jar.
Types OF MISO
Here are a few popular types of miso. Most of them can be found in your local supermarket or Japanese grocer.
- Kome is the most common type of miso in North America. It is made with rice, soybeans and salt, and is yellow or light red (depending on whether the soybeans are steamed or boiled).
- Mugi miso contains barley instead of rice.
- Shiro is a white miso that has more koji and a shorter fermentation time than other types of miso. As a result, it has a bright and sweet flavor.
- Aka is red miso that is similar to shiro but is fermented for a longer period of time. The flavor is earthy and rich.
- Mame is a type of aka miso made with just soybeans. It is grain-free and has a darker red/brown color and a rich flavor.
- Genmai is also a type of aka miso, except that it is made with brown rice instead of white rice.
- Saikyo is a type of white miso commonly eaten in Kyoto. It is very sweet because it uses more Koji than other types of miso. And it is often used for sweet dishes.
With the recent resurgence of interest in fermentation, many producers are creating non-traditional types of miso. This includes experimenting with Koji made from meat, corn, bread, oats, and other kinds of grains or proteins to create an amino paste. Or making miso from other types of legumes, like chickpeas, lima beans, broad beans, lentils, peas and black beans.
If you’re interested in some experimented recipes, Misako recommends checking out the Noma Guide To Fermentation. Really, the only limit is your imagination!
Do you live on Vancouver Island and want to make your own miso? Island Eko Pantry offers workshops to help guide you through the process.