Magical Miso

images (18)Miso paste is an Asian seasoning made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans, barley, brown rice and several other grains with a certain fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. The result of this fermentation is a smooth-textured paste with a strong, salty flavor. Often used in Asian cooking, miso is a healthy, probiotic food that helps support digestion by adding beneficial microorganisms to your digestive tract.

Here is an image of this beautiful filamentous fungus in a petri dish:

images (19)

Let’s quickly take a look at fermentation

Fermentation is a metabolic process in which microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds – usually carbohydrates such as sugars and starch – into alcohol or acids. For example, yeast converts sugars into alcohol, lactobacilli bacteria turn sugars and starch into lactic acid and acetobacter bacteria turn alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar).


Remember your biochemistry classes? I hope you can read the last row on the above image. Fermentation comes in two types: lactid acid fermentation and alcohol fermentation. Lactid acid fermentation happens in bacteria, fungi and animal cells. The pyruvate molecules are being reduced to lactate. InThe difference in alcohol fermentation is that pyruvate is being reduced to ethanol.

What does fermentation do?

Fermentation preserves foods, adds microbes to the gut, increases micronutrients, makes food more digestible, changes taste (can add a nice sour or tangy note to foods), eliminates anti-nutrients (e.g. phytic acid in legumes and seeds) which in turn increases the absorption of nutrients, decreased cooking times, produces carbon dioxide (can be used for leavening bread and carbonating drinks such as beer).

Which plant foods are fermented?
Bread, pickled vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut which I hated to eat as a kid,..), Kombucha tea, yogurt, olives, vinegar, miso, tempeh, soy sauce, vanilla (Ripe vanilla pods have no vanilla aroma. But when curing in the sun and in insulated boxes, they undergo fermentation, where microbes convert glucovanillin (a sugar) into the aromatic vanillin flavour and glucose) and alcoholic beverages such as beer or champagne.

What are the benefits of consuming fermented foods?

One of the key claims for the health benefits of fermented foods is their contribution of live microbes – ostensibly “good” microbes – to the existing colonies in the gut. Collectively called the microbiome, these microbes exert powerful effects on our bodies. Plus, as listed above, food is being better and more easily absorbed.

Your large intestine contains about 100 trillion beneficial microorganisms from more than 500 different species. These microorganisms, called your normal flora, help you digest your food and process indigestible fiber, which you then eliminate in stool. They also protect you from pathogenic bacteria you ingest with food by maintaining a proper balance of bacterial colonies in your intestine.

What is Miso made of?

Miso paste is made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans, barley, brown rice and several other grains with a certain fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. Miso paste is a probiotic food that contains millions of microorganisms similar or identical to those beneficial bacteria that live in your large intestine. These microorganisms grow during the fermentation that produces miso, a process that typically takes anywhere from a few days to a year or more. The length of the fermentation process determines the flavor strength of the miso and also contributes to the number of probiotic organisms in the final paste.


Miso paste also contains all essential amino acids, a long list of antioxidants and phytonutrients and is a good vegetable-quality source of B vitamins (especially B12).
Miso is typically considered to be a high-sodium food, since one teaspoon of miso often contains 200-300 milligrams of sodium. However, recent research has shown that in spite of its high-sodium content, miso does not appear to affect our cardiovascular system in the way that other high-sodium foods sometimes can.

Miso comes in four different colors- white, red, yellow and black miso. The difference is the ratio of their ingredients and the fermentation time. The depth of color with any particular miso can also tell you something about its flavor. Generally speaking, the darker the color, the longer it’s been fermented and the stronger it will taste. Both yellow and red misos can sometimes be labeled “barley miso.”

And here is the extremely difficult (just kidding) way to prepare your own miso soup:

Traditionally, the base of miso soup is made with Japanese dashi, a simple broth made from kombu, a dried seaweed, and dried bonito fish flakes. Following a plant-based diet, I naturally leave out the fish flakes.

Bring water to a boil, add your choice of vegetables, tofu and seaweed, then stir in miso paste until it has dissolved. Be careful not to boil the miso because it changes its flavor.


Here are the simple steps to make a delicious miso soup:

  1. Prepare dashi
  2. Stir in miso paste
  3. Add tofu and vegetables

This time, we added mushrooms, tofu cubes and crispy seaweed strips, that the kids love. I missed the fresh taste of scallions in my miso soup but had had no time to run to the supermarket before dinner. Another delicious suggestion is to add asparagus pieces to the soup. Anyway, feel free to experiment with your favorite veggies.

See recipe on

For everyone who is sweating at the moment on the Northern hemisphere, keep this delicious recipe in mind as the next cold weather front will surely approach…



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