Cooking curiosity: What is miso?

What is misoSince I’ve been having some kitchen adventures lately (my town under a blanket of snow and ice = perfect time to stay in and experiment in the kitchen), I decided to pick up a tub of yellow miso paste to play around with.

I was inspired because a local chef told me miso broth makes a nice substitute for chicken broth in vegan recipes. Over the years, I’d heard that it was a “healthy” ingredient to incorporate into recipes, but I couldn’t remember why. I engaged my Google-fu to find out.

What is miso?

Miso is a paste used as a seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It is made by combining soybeans (though other seeds and grains can be used to produce different flavors) with salt and the same fungus used to make other Japanese products you may already be familiar with: sake and soy sauce. Then, the ingredients are left alone so they can get to know each other better. The fermentation process of miso takes between 18 months and three years, depending on what color and flavor is desired. (Find out more about the different colors and flavors of miso in this Food52 blog post.)

Why is miso good for me?

But there are some downsides to consider before adding miso to your diet:

Where can I get it?

I remember not too long ago, you’d have to make trek to an Asian grocery store to get your hands on some. I have fond memories of going to Asia Plaza in Cleveland’s Chinatown (if you have the chance, check it out… dim sum at Li Wah is a lot of fun) with one of my gal pals who kept it stocked to keep tummy troubles under control. However, miso has hit the mainstream. I’ve found it on the shelves of several local grocery stores. If your preferred grocer doesn’t carry it, ask. They may be able to order it for you through one of their vendors. If not, at least they’ll know there’s interest in it and might stock it in the future.

What’s my review?

The results of my early experiments with yellow miso have been positive. I would venture to say this could become a refrigerator staple in my house. But, one warning: a little goes a long way. The flavor is intense–kind of salty and, well, ferment-y–so I don’t recommend spreading it on a sandwich (it would add a little too much tangy zip).

Have you tried miso? What are your favorite ways to use it? I’m looking for some inspiration to use mine up. Let me know in the comments!

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