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Our Simple Guide to Miso

Our Simple Guide to Miso

When many people think of miso, they often are familiar with miso soup served in Japanese restaurants – or those awful instant miso soup sachets from the supermarket. But in reality, there are few ingredients in the pantry as useful, flavourful, versatile or easy to use as miso.

Made by fermenting soy beans, chickpeas, barley with salt and a fungus known as koji. Koji is a ‘starter’ for miso and is simply fermented grain. Over time – from a few months to years – the koji continues to consume the starch (sugar) from the grains, transforming them into a deeply savoury flavour bomb.

Miso is widely used now, not just in Japanese cuisine to add a depth of flavour or umami. It is an easy way to add savoury notes that are usually tasted in long slow cooking and caramelisation. Try adding it to butter and the usual ‘stuffing’ ingredients for your next roast chicken or slather it over a cauliflower or pumpkin for a really satisfying vegetarian meal.

There are a lot of miso products on the market – and they all bring a difference to your dish. At the very basis in the miso hierarchy is the source of the fermentation – that is the starch; a rice koji, a soy koji, a chickpea koji or a barley koji.

Most commercially available miso will have soybeans in them as they are a traditional component of miso. If you avoid soy – look for a chickpea miso or one that specifically excludes the ingredient ‘soybean’.

Rice Based Miso
Red miso has a deep flavour profile and can be either fermented for longer hence deepening the colour, or has red rice or red lentils added and is based on a rice koji. It is best used where you need a stronger flavour (say in a braise or with bold vegetables like pumpkin).

White miso tends to be a younger miso, but this can also refer to the starch used (ie a higher percentage of koji). Gentle and nicely rounded, it is a lovely addition to a salad dressing, a dressing for fish and in a compound butter used under the skin of a roast spatchcock or quail. It is also sensational in a dressing for caponata – just lovely deeply roasted Mediterranean vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, mushroom, baby tomatoes and red onion) tossed through soba noodles.

Chickpea Miso
Yellow miso sits somewhere between red and white miso and has an earthy flavour. Perfect for people who can’t have soy. It is the perfect addition to salad dressings, in a dressing for gado-gado or in a peanut cookie. Try it in a vegan pesto as a cheese substitute.

Barley Miso
Barley miso tends to have an earthy miso flavour with a mild sweetness. This miso has a longer fermentation time so while it is mild, it is also rather complex. It is an amazing addition to a mushroom soup or added to bread prior to baking. Add to oat cookies for an amazing savoury accompaniment to your cheese platter.

Use miso in whatever form you like to boost flavour and to add an earthy depth to dressings, braises, biscuits and bread. We always have an interesting range of organic miso – just remember they are a fermented product so look for them in the fridge section.

If you dare ask us – we could talk under water about our favourite flavour bomb!

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