Miso (soybean paste)
Miso has history over 1300 years. At first it was considered as a luxurious food only for aristocrats, but gradually it was spread to other social classes.
In the 13th century when the military class (samurai) succeeded to take power, their ordinary meal was “rice with Miso soup”. They poured Miso soup on a bowl of rice. The eminent effect of Miso to health was generally known among the samurai who were basically farmers at that time.
In the 15th century, during the civil war period, Miso attracted more and more attention of the feudal lords for its high nutritional value. For example, long braided potato stem was simmered with Miso soup and brought to military expedition. At first it served as a string to support luggage and then it was cut and put into a cauldron to make Miso soup. The stem served as ingredients for the soup.
A feudal lord named Takeda Shingen encouraged the farmers to cultivate soybeans on the roadside and produce Miso, saying he would buy them at high prices during his expeditions. This method brought him not only victories but also an industry in his territory.
The other lord called Date Masamune always bought quantity of Miso to prepare for the wars. He built many storehouses to keep Miso in reserve. In this way, he could always ensure Miso of good quality in abundance. Later, the sale of Miso to Edo (now Tokyo) became important trade for this region.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Tokugawa Ieyasu finally finished the civil war and built the Edo castle (today’s imperial palace). This Edo government lasted for about 260 years until the end of the 19th century.
Ieyasu is also known as a great Miso lover. He encouraged his vassals to eat a lot of Miso and when he invited guests, including aristocrats of high rank, a series of dishes made with Miso were served quite often.
Among the offerings form feudal lords, Ieyasu favored the meat pickled with Miso offered by the Ii family which dominated the Hikone region (today’s Shiga prefecture). At that time, samurai ate meat relatively frequently (gradually, under the influence of Buddhism, they began to avoid eating it).
In the Edo period, Miso was spread among commoners and produced in almost all regions in Japan. There are various Miso depending on materials, water, climate etc.
Based on the type of Koji, Miso can be classified in three: “rice Miso”, “wheat Miso” and “soybean Miso (only soybeans are used)”. Based on taste, “sweet Miso” and “piquant Miso”. This difference is mainly created by the proportion of Koji. With more Koji, Miso makes sweeter. Based on color, “red Miso” and “white Miso”. This difference is created by fermentation time. The more fermented, the more reddish.
Rice Miso, the most popular Miso, is produced as mentioned below:
1) cook the rice soaked in water
2) add Koji-bacteria to make rice- Koji
3) add salt to the rice- Koji
4) cook soybeans and mix it with 3)
5) make 4) ferment in a bucket (the 1st fermentation)
6)move 5) into smaller buckets for further fermentation (the 2nd fermentation). This displacement is done for the following reasons:
– to release the heat caused by fermentation
– to standardize the degree of fermentation in all parts
– to multiply the yeast by offering oxygen
Modern science attests many nutritional functions of Miso, which have been universally known in Japan for a long time. Below are the nutrients active in Miso: