What's the Deal with Miso, Anyway?
Ah yes, the humble, yet elegant fermented soybean paste. (Yum!)
Cultivated for a couple thousand years in China, miso-making is a culinary art form unto itself, much like wine or cheese-making. Variations on fermentation processes and added ingredients creates a broad spectrum of nuances in flavor and color .. lending it to many purposes such as sauces, condiments, dressings, even desserts, and, of course, soup broth.
Miso is one of those miracle foods... rich in digestive enzymes and nutrients, and was believed to have been bestowed on humankind to ensure long life, health and prosperity. Modern research has borne this out (well, not sure about the prosperity part, unless maybe you own a lucrative miso-production company), finding that miso may help to prevent breast cancer, as well as slowing the growth of other types of tumors.
Miso is also shown to create a more alkaline condition in the bodily environment, which promotes resistance to disease.
Primarily though, miso shines when made as a simple soup to be eaten before meals.
With its warming nature and abundance of digestive enzymes, it relaxes the digestive tract, and helps the body to assimilate the nutrients in the rest of the meal. This has the benefit of leaving us feeling more satisfied with less food, as well as promoting all the other benefits of good nutrition: vitality which is felt and seen in healthy skin, nails and hair.
Miso has also been used as a healthful response to radiation exposure (ie., x-rays, mammograms, radiation treatments) as well as having some benefit against the effects of smoking and air pollution.
Miso is primarily salty in taste, as a result of using salt in the fermentation process. But the flavors vary according to the addition of rice, barley, chickpeas, etc. and length of fermentation, some even reaching into lighter and sweeter tones. Its richness in flavor and high protein content help those making the transition to a vegetarian diet feel more satisfied without the heaviness of meat and fats (although one has to be careful not to overdo it).
It's a food worth exploring, and if you're in the Chester County area, be sure to check out my introductory cooking class on Sept 25th (or Sept 30th) by going here.
An ebook is also in the works, with lots of detail and recipes from the class... contact me if you'd like to be updated when this comes out.