Miso is a fermented Japanese soya food made using the special koji fermentation culture and different types of grains.
How is Clearspring miso made?
Clearspring miso is still made as slowly and authentically as possible, a rare practice in today's fast moving world.
Slow production and traditional fermentation create a rich and complex flavour and the best possible health benefits for miso.
Clearspring miso is made using organically grown ingredients, with handmade koji that is full of potent digestive enzymes to break down the beans and grains, whole soya beans that undergo long, slow cooking, and natural ageing in seasoned cedarwood kegs over many months at ambient temperature.
Sadly, very little miso in Japan is still made this traditional way. Some may be naturally aged, but has koji prepared using an automated process which excludes the wild organisms that give personality to the miso and benefit digestion - think how traditional sourdough bread compares with quick yeast baked bread and you will get the picture. Moreover, it will be fermented in stainless steel or plastic tanks that fail to impart the subtle nuances of flavour that cedarwood provides. Such standardised miso has a uniform taste and unvarying texture.
Further down the quality scale is the majority of the miso made today. This is produced in just a few weeks using a rapid, high temperature automated process with no real ageing. Whilst it is cheap to produce, it has a dull, flat and lifeless quality when compared with traditionally made miso.
Is miso always fermented in cedar wood kegs? And why are stones piled on top of the kegs?
Clearspring’s long-fermentation misos are always aged slowly in cedar wood kegs. This is in contrast to many modern miso manufacturers who try to mimic the traditional way by carrying out accelerated temperature controlled fermentation in plastic or stainless steel holding tanks. Traditional methods result in a paste that is full of vitality, character and complexity. Heavy stones must be placed on top of the keg to encourage the fermentation by adding weight on top of the mash.
What are the health benefits of miso?
Miso is a nourishing, high energy whole food that can help maintain health and vitality. Centuries of Japanese folklore and recent scientific studies have both shown that miso is a powerful health food, and a concentrated source of essential nutrients.
Production of miso begins by cooking soya beans and combining them with koji (grains or soya beans inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae mould spores), salt and water. This mixture is then fermented and aged over several months in large cedarwood kegs.
Over time, the enzymes from the koji, along with naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria, gradually break down the complex grains and beans into readily digestible amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars, making miso an excellent food for strengthening digestion.
The same enzymes that help with fermentation during the making of miso can also help with digestion of a meal that includes miso, and can even destroy substances in food that cause food allergies.
Miso also acts like a digestive tonic, and once established in the intestine, the acid-loving bacteria found in abundance in unpasteurised miso promote health and stamina.
Beneficial bacteria found in the small intestine are also effective in fighting conditions such as constipation, yeast infections (candidiasis), and lactose intolerance. New research is also beginning to suggest that some friendly bacteria strains may combat more serious diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer.
Miso as a health protector
John and Jan Belleme, who are authors of The Miso Book and have been researching miso for twenty five years, say that using miso regularly is the best health insurance you can have. Much more than a proverbial 'apple a day', a daily bowl of miso will not only keep the doctor away, it will add vitality to your life. Without a doubt, miso is a culinary treasure - the world's most medicinal everyday food.
In some parts of China and Japan drinking miso soup every day is still associated with a long, healthy life. Starting the day with miso soup is said to alkalise the body and help neutralise the acidity caused by the over consumption of meat, sugar and alcohol.
Miso was touted for centuries as a folk remedy for cancer, weak digestion, tobacco poisoning, low libido, and several types of intestinal infections. Recently, some scientific studies have shown that miso really is effective against atomic radiation, heavy metal poisoning, cardiovascular disease, many forms of cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, chronic pain, and food allergies.
Many of miso's reputed health properties have been associated with a group of biochemicals found in soya called isoflavones. These are compounds that have a similar shape to oestrogen and which various scientific studies have indicated may be effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They are believed to help fight cancer as they slot into the body’s oestrogen receptor sites, thereby preventing cancerous tumours from being supplied with the hormone required for their growth. (1)
Research has also shown that fermented soya products contain much higher levels of isoflavones than raw soya beans, and in particular genistein, a plant isoflavone that is a potent anti-cancer agent. Studies have shown that the occurrence of certain types of cancer is lower in countries that have a tradition of consuming soya based foods, such as Japan, China and Singapore. (2)
- From ‘Foods To Fight Cancer’ by Professor Richard Beliveau and Dr Denis Gingras
- From ‘Japanese Foods that Heal’ by John and Jan Belleme
Should miso be cooked?
Unpasteurised miso contains an abundance of live enzymes that can be destroyed through prolonged cooking. However, other health and nutritional properties, as well as the flavour of miso, are left unaltered by cooking, and some recipes suggest cooking miso to develop the flavour of other ingredients in the dish.
To maximise the enzymatic benefits of miso, choose an unpasteurised variety (or freeze-dried miso soup) and select recipes where miso is added towards the end of cooking.
What kind of dishes can it be used in?
Miso can be used instead of salt to flavour dishes such as soups and stews. It combines well with ingredients such as ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, tahini and citrus zest and juice. Check our Kate's Ramen recipe here.
This is an edited version of an article by Clearspring. Check out our full range of Clearspring products, including miso, here.