Making the Most of Miso

Louise Hagler
Miso is a traditional cultured and fermented food available in a variety of robust flavors, aromas, colors, and concentrations. It is a unique food that contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes to aid digestion, along with other healthful attributes. Miso evolved in Asia as a way to preserve the soybean without refrigeration. It usually contains soy protein from soybeans, which, unlike animal protein, allows the regular excretion of sodium form the body, helping to keep blood pressure lower. There are recent studies suggesting that the fermentation process in miso creates antihypertensive peptides that may also help lower blood pressure. It can help protect the body from cancer and can bind with toxins in the body and carry them out.

The traditional process of making miso begins with cooked grains (usually rice or barley) being inoculated with aspergillus oryzae spores. Together, they are incubated overnight and become what is called koji (pronounced KO-jee). The next day the koji is mixed with cooked soybeans or chickpeas and salt. Soybeans add complete, high-quality protein plus all the healthful benefits of the whole soybean, while natural sea salt adds an abundance of trace minerals. This mixture is packed into wooden vats, then covered and weighted down. The fermentation process can last up to three years, if it is made using traditional methods.

The culturing and fermentation processes change the soybeans and rice or barley to a readily digestible form. Miso delivers the most easily digested form of soy. It also transforms both bean and grain into a kind of protein booster. Since the essential amino acids in the soy and grains complement each other, the amount of protein that can be utilized by the body is increased.

Traditional unpasteurized miso is a live food. If you look closely at the container it comes in, you will see a small hole in the lid that lets the fermentation gases escape. Look for the word “unpasteruized” on the miso label. Commercially prepared miso is also available, but it is usually pasteurized, destroying much of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes, and the fermentation process is artificially speeded up to take only a few months. It is usually packaged in sealed bags, since it is no longer alive and giving off gasses.

Cucumber Gazpacho

When cooking with miso, it is best to never let it boil, since boiling will destroy the beneficial bacteria and enzymes. For making hot soups, always cook the soup first to it’s finished state before adding the miso. Remove it from the heat, take out a cup or so of the broth in which to dissolve the miso, then stir it back into the soup. Cucumber Gazpacho is a great recipe for miso since it calls for no cooking at all.


Louise Hagler

Cucumber Gazpacho
(from Tofu Cookery 25th Anniversary Edition, Louise Hagler)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This is a cool, refreshing way to make good use of the cucumber bounty in summer. Kirby cucumbers are my favorite variety to use in this soup, because they are more substantial in flavor and less watery than other types. To ensure a smooth soup, process it in at least two batches. Sweet white miso adds a delicate sweet-salty flavor to this soup, and since it is not heated, ensures delivery of all its benefits.

For the Soup:
Process in a food processor or blender until smooth and creamy:

  • 2 1/2 pounds cucumbers, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 5 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, basil leaves, or cilantro leaves (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sweet white miso
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Pour into a container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

For the Toppings:

Have ready:

  • 1 tomato, sliced or cubed, or small grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound firm regular tofu, cut into very small cubes
  • fresh basil, mint, or cilantro chopped

Spoon the chilled soup into serving bowls and float a slice of tomato on top of each one. Adding both red and yellow tomatoes adds more color to the presentation. Top with 2 tablespoons of the tofu cubes and a good sprinkling of the basil, mint, or cilantro, or both!

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Written by Louise Hagler

Explore Wellness in 2021