What Is Miso and Why Is It Good For You?
What is Miso?
Miso is a living, probiotic, protein-rich food that is typically made on a base of soybean and grain koji (Aspergillus oryzae). The end product is a complex blend of fungi, yeasts and bacteria in the form of a spreadable condiment.
Miso originated in China, where it has been part of the kitchen and medicine cabinet for centuries. The West is late to this party, only recently understanding the potential of this functional food.
Why Is It Good For You?
This earthy, salty and satisfying supplement is a functional food that feeds our body while improving the diversity of our gut flora.
Don’t worry about the salty nature of miso, studies show that despite its salt content it doesn’t raise blood pressure! Nutritionally, the koji culture which ferments the bean base of what we come to call miso increases Vitamins B2 and B12. The finished miso contains a good amount of lysine (which helps us absorb calcium) and also high levels of magnesium. This is why I often recommend miso for depression, anxiety and thyroid/adrenal imbalances.
If your miso is made with soy (I know- I don’t often recommend soy, but in this case it’s ok as long as you use organic beans and don’t make a meal of it) you also get the benefits of the soybean. There are saponins in the soy that help to lower cholesterol along with lecithin and linoleum acid which serve to dissolve it. Fermented soy contains increased levels of isoflavones that have been shown to protect against breast cancer in women.
My First Taste
The first time I experienced miso was right after returning from Rosemary Gladstar’s Sage Mountain where miso had been mentioned as a great therapeutic option for radiation. My very first trip to the grocery store had me digging through the fermented foods case at Whole Foods. I proudly brought home with a white plastic tub of brown pastey goo….
I wasn’t impressed… Carson was even less so.
That first taste was very strong, bitter and salty all at once. It was overwhelming and I thought, maybe I’d just take my chances with everyday radiation…. could it really be that bad?
Only a couple years later, a friend that ran The Going Green Store in Granville, Ohio introduced me to a different brand than I had tried. She was carrying South River Miso… and I was instantly hooked! I began to look deeper into this new food/medicine and that set me on a path to make a new friend.
The Ferment Works Masters
When I met Kirsten Shockey behind the scenes at a Mother Earth News Fair where we were both speaking I could immediately appreciate why she has devoted so much of her life to this ancient ferment.
Kirsten and her husband Christopher run an educational website called Ferment Works. They have written several books on fermentation with our shared publisher, Storey, but none that I love quite so much as their book, Miso Tempeh Natto and Other Tasty Ferments. Honestly, I believe it is one of the most important fermentation books from a cultural (sorry!) aspect… examining the history, the benefit and the how-to behind these little-known and little-understood (in the West) functional foods.
I still dream of bringing the Shockey’s into town to meet my local community and teach a hands-on class, but their book will have to suffice for now. I am certainly encouraged to give these a try on my own at home and am already adding some new fermentation crocks to my wish list!
This is my favorite brand of miso for many reasons. They are a small company… with roots in Ohio! They make their miso in small batches, in the traditional Japanese way. The flavors they achieve are smooth and mild, perfect for the miso newbie! I also love that they offer miso that is NOT made on a base of soybeans. We currently carry their chickpea miso that doesn’t contain any soy at all and that is important for those who need to avoid soy for allergy reasons.
You can buy some right here in our farm shop!
In the shop we just started serving the South River Miso as a tea. You can sit and enjoy a hot cup of this probiotic brew along with a bit of fresh-baked bread, a savory hand pie or a house-made baked treat.
Whether you enjoy a cup at our bar, take some home to enjoy or pick up Kirsten and Christopher’s book to learn to make your own, I highly recommend you give miso a try!
Do you make your own miso? What are your favorite ways to enjoy it?