Miso, a fermented soy food, is one of the world's most delicious, versatile, and medicinal foods.
This ancient Far Eastern staple began appearing on natural food store shelves in the West about 30 years ago and has established itself as an essential ingredient in the natural cuisine.
In addition to its great flavor and versatility, the daily use of miso is credited with numerous health benefits, including lowered cholesterol, chronic pain reduction, alkalinized blood, lowered blood pressure, and the reduced risk of some forms of cancer. Unpasteurized miso is abundant in beneficial microorganisms and enzymes that aid digestion, reduce food allergies, destroy pathogenic bacteria and toxins, and aids in food assimilation.
Miso is simple to use and can enhance every course from hors d'oeuvres to desserts, from basic macrobiotic cooking to gourmet fare. Each type of miso has its own use in terms of both health maintenance and cooking. While dark miso is excellent for hearty dishes, sweet white is great in summer soups, dips, sauces, and salad dressings.
In terms of health or food value, light, sweet miso is high in simple sugars and contains more lactic bacteria and about twice as much niacin than dark, saltier varieties. Dark miso is higher in protein and, because of its greater proportion of soybeans, contains more saponin, lecithin, fatty acids, and isoflavones –
all of which have important health benefits.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A HEALTHY DOSE
If you want to experience miso’s health benefits, it is essential that you eat it often. Population studies documenting the benefits of miso were done in Japan, where miso was historically eaten every day. Moreover, many of these studies were done decades ago when miso consumption was higher than it is today. Compared with Japanese, Americans eat very little miso. For healthy adults, one cup of miso soup a day, ideally with shiitake, tofu, wakame of kombu dashi, and two or three vegetables should be enough to promote good health. Although darkm long-aged miso should be used to make miso soup most of the year, in the summer or in warmer climates, sweet and mellow miso can be used with lighter vegetables in miso soup. Those who are suffering from a chronic disease or who have a family history of cancer or heart disease may want to consider – after consulting with a health care professional – eating two bowls of dark miso soup a day. For those in good health, who want to use miso more than once a day, we recommend, in additional to a bowl of soup, enjoying a second serving in a dip, salad dressing, or sauce.
It is not always possible to determine the type of miso your are choosing from the name printed on the label. When shopping for long-aged miso, check the ingredients. If soybeans appear on the ingredient list before rice or barley, you can be sure you are buying long-aged miso.
However, do not let your concern with miso’s medicinal properties eclipse your culinary enjoyment of this truly delicious food. When choosing miso, look for organic, traditionally made, unpasteurized miso, and then let your personal needs and taste by your guide.
Excerpt from The Miso Book by John & Jan Belleme