Why is Miso so good for you?

Why is Miso so good for you?

Miso has been a staple part of Japanese cuisine since the eighth century or perhaps even earlier. It’s a fermented soybean paste which imparts a salty umami flavour to Japanese dishes. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with koji, an ingredient made from either fermented rice, barley or other grains. It forms the base of miso soup, another staple and is not meant to be had on its own.

This protein-rich paste is quite similar in texture to peanut butter but there are different varieties available these days and its texture can be smooth or chunky. It is generally fermented anywhere between few weeks to few years as well. While miso generally tastes salty, the lighter coloured varieties can be sweet in taste.

Miso has a Umami taste, which is the last taste perception to be discovered, and is one of the five basic tastes or flavours along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is often described as savoury or meaty and is naturally found in food like seaweed, kimchi, soy sauce, oyster sauce, dried shiitake mushrooms and parmesan cheese. This savoury taste of glutamic acid is also naturally found in vegetables, dairy and even green tea. Food rich in umami flavour makes you crave them more.

Historically, the umami flavour has been around for quite a while. In India, we get the umami flavour from green peas, raw jackfruit, sweet potatoes, lotus root, poppy seeds, and ginger and coriander seeds. The other source of umami is through fermentation like kanji. In fact, North East cuisine with its fermented dishes is replete with umami. So even though Japanese cuisine has made umami fashionable, it is not something that is alien to us in India.

Health benefits of Miso

Miso is rich in nutrients. It contains many vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, manganese, zinc, protein and calcium, which support the bones and nervous system. Since it is high in probiotics, it also helps to improve digestion and gut health.

It is also known to promote heart health. Studies have shown that miso can help reduce bad cholesterol in the blood. It is believed to have an impact on blood pressure as well. Some studies have even spoken about how miso can delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

In fact, daily consumption of miso soup can also help improve skin moisture and health as it can increase ceramides in the outermost layer of the epidermis.

1. Gut health - The fermentation process involved in producing miso promotes the production of beneficial bacteria or probiotics and enzymes in the gut, thus helping in digestion and gut health.

2. Reduces risk of cancer - The isoflavone content in the paste is believed to reduce the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. It is both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in nature.

3. Enhances immunity - Since miso is rich in probiotics, it is also known to improve the body’s immunity and help fight infections.

4. Helps in brain health - According to studies, fermented food has a positive impact on brain health by helping improve memory. It is also known to help in reducing symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, autism and OCD.

5. May help in raising vitamin levels - Again, according to studies, the good bacteria in the gut created by fermentation, can manufacture vitamins, especially vitamin K and B12. Fermentation is also believed to reduce toxins and anti-nutrients like phytic acid present in soybeans.

How can you use miso?

Miso is very versatile and can be used in soups, broths, salad dressings, stews, chutneys and marinades. It may be best to use miso in cold dishes as high temperatures could kill the probiotics present in it.

When we talk of the different varieties of miso, the most common type is made from only soybeans. But some varieties are made from rice, cultured wheat, rye, buckwheat and hemp seed or a combination of grains and other types of beans and peas.

Its flavour, which ranges from sweet and mild to rich and salty, is determined by the length of fermentation as well as the ingredients used. For example, miso made from wholegrain is salty, while mugi or barley miso is mild and sweet in taste.

Based on the grains used and the length of fermentation, you can have white miso, yellow miso and red miso. White miso or shiro as it is known in Japanese, is made from soybeans and rice fermented for around two months and is mild in taste. Yellow miso or shinsu is fermented for a slightly longer period and is also mild in taste. Aka or red miso is dark in colour and is fermented for about three years, giving it a really strong flavour. Colour also is an indicator of flavour with darker coloured miso being stronger and saltier in taste.

Miso has a lot going for it. This versatile condiment is rich in nutrients, boosts digestion and enhances immunity. No wonder most Japanese consume miso soup at least once a day.

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