One of Japan's most essential and unique ingredients, miso is a fermented paste typically made from a combination of soybeans,kojimold, and either rice or barley, or a combination of the two. While it is common to see miso differentiated by color - red, white, yellow, or a mix known asawase - in Japan it is also typical to see it differentiated by region and the ingredients it was made from. These variations change the flavor and the application of each type of miso.
Types of Miso
Of the most common varieties,shiro miso, or white miso,has a mild sweetness that intensifies as the fermentation time is extended to make the stronger salty-umami flavors ofaka miso,or red miso. Yellow miso is more acidic and less salty than red miso, and awase miso combines the sweetness of white and the richness of red to make the most versatile miso of the group.
Regional Varieties of Miso
Just as there are regional variations of cuisine, there are also regional varieties of miso which stem from the subtle differences in fermentation or ingredients used. For instance, aka miso is used heavily throughout much of northern and eastern Japan, focusing on rice and soybean-based miso. One version unique to the Tōkai region including Aichi, Gunma, and Mie Prefectures, and aptly namedtōkai miso, is one made solely from soybeans, without using rice or barley.
In the Kansai region of western Japan, shiro miso is more popular. In fact there is a style of white miso known asKansai shiro miso. Moving farther south into Kyūshū and parts of Shikoku, rice is replaced with barley, producing what is known asmugi miso, or barley miso.
Although it may be known for its namesake soup, miso is an umami-rich ingredient that has a place in anything from stews to salad dressings. It has a deep, savory flavor with a fermented salty-sweet tang that can act as a base for any dish. Miso is one of the last ingredients added when cooking, as it can lose its flavor when cooked at higher temperatures.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@kevinjkilcoyne) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food.