What is miso?
Miso is a fermented mixture of soya beans (other grains and beans are used, too) and koji (a safe, edible type of mould that grows on rice). It is salty, funky (in a good way) and delivers an umami punch. There are many types but the most common are sweet white miso, which is lighter in colour and flavour, and red miso, which is fermented for longer to make it saltier, earthier and more intense in colour and flavour.
Use it in salad dressings, marinades and glazes, or mix it with mayonnaise, tahini or cream cheese for an instant hit of flavour. It’s also great in stir-fries and pestos and, of course, soups. And not just plain miso soups – add it to almost any kind of soup or stew at the end of cooking, just as you would season with salt.
Different types of miso
6 tips for cooking with miso
- Miso is quite salty, so take care not to overseason food when using it.
- Never boil miso – this will destroy its flavour. When making a soup or broth, always cook the ingredients in hot vegetable or chicken stock first, without the miso. When ready to serve, turn off the heat and stir in the miso just before serving.
- Wipe off miso marinades before cooking. Because miso is primarily made from soya beans, it doesn’t melt and burns easily. Wipe marinated meat, fish or vegetables with kitchen paper, leaving a thin layer of miso behind. It shouldn’t look like a braai marinade.
- Thin it down first. Miso will be lumpy if you throw it into a jar with other salad dressing ingredients and shake. Thin the miso first by mixing it with one of the liquids in the dressing.
- Miso loves tomatoes because of its umami flavour. It works really well in tomato-based sauces, which are also naturally high in umami. Pizza toppings and pasta sauces are a hundred times better with a little miso in them, and the addition of cheese will send the umami scores off the charts.
- Spice up salad dressings: mix 1 t miso paste, 1 T rice wine vinegar, 1 t sesame oil, 1 t soya sauce and 2 T olive oil, or add it to a caramel sauce instead of salt for a salty miso caramel.