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What’s the deal with miso paste?

Most of us think of the soothing miso broth, but this sweet-salty paste brings flavour to any dish.

What is it?

A traditional Japanese seasoning, miso is all about umami, the unique, savoury ‘fifth flavour’ associated with fermented foods. Miso is made by fermenting soy beans with salt and the koiji fungus. Rice, barley or buckwheat are often added to vary the colour and flavour.

How is it used?

Miso isn’t just for soup — it’s so versatile and helps amp up the flavour in food. You can use the paste in stews, salad dressings and marinades, often with a touch of mirin or sake, sugar or oil. Once opened, store in the fridge. Try these recipes using miso.

The nutrition verdict

It’s high in protein, iron and antioxidants but, as you use only a small amount, it won’t greatly affect your intake. The fermentation process creates enzymes beneficial to digestion, but pasteurisation and heat can destroy them. Just one tablespoon of miso paste contains around a third of your daily intake of sodium — so go easy! Miso may contain gluten if it has been fermented with wheat, barley or rye.

Which colour?

  • For marinades and salad dressings, white miso (‘shiro’) has the shortest fermentation time, tasting light and sweet.
  • For seasoning veges, yellow miso gives an earthy flavour.
  • For stews and broth, use brown rice miso (‘genmai’) or red (‘aka’) for a deeper flavour.
  • For traditional miso soup, use dashi miso (miso paste with added dashi stock).

You can find miso paste in the international section of supermarkets, or health food stores.