Miso is a very unique food that has a special place for those eating a grain, bean and vegetable-based diet. It has one of the most interesting stories of all probiotic foods. Many people do not realize this, but miso is a fermentation and is also a pickle!
However, it is different from other pickles such as sauerkraut (which is a pickled vegetable) or umeboshi plum and olives (which are pickled fruits) in that it is a combination of pickled grain and bean (or just bean).
The Benefits of Miso
Miso helps aid strong digestion and also maximizes the benefits of a plant-based diet and can substantially support gut and cardiovascular health. In macrobiotics, we use well-aged miso. Generally, that means 2-year miso (while sometimes fresh miso is also used). The most common place that miso is found in a macrobiotic diet is in the form of miso soup made with wakame and vegetables, often with shitake and tofu as well. Take a look at our healthy miso soup recipe for step-by-step instructions.
Miso is also good for the cardiovascular system by making the blood vessels more flexible. It also calms anxiety by strengthening and nourishing the kidneys, intestines, and nervous system. Plus, it has the ability to neutralize and protect the body from both electromagnetic fields and heavy metal toxins. It has also been reported that it has helped people to recover after the Atomic bombings in Japan. In essence, it is nourishing, strengthening (physically and mentally), and also provides protection against environmental toxins that we are all exposed to on a daily basis.
Types of Miso
Barley miso is made from barley and soybeans. This is the most strengthening and overall nourishing miso for soups. If you are only going to eat one miso – this is the one! It has an extremely efficient way of balancing out many types of food and environmental toxification. If you are weak or anemic, this the best possible food you can ingest.
Brown Rice Miso
Brown rice miso is made from brown rice and soybeans. It is more mild than barley miso and is similar to it, but may be more suitable for people who have eaten more meat and cheese. This is because it is a bit more balanced between yin and yang to balance out the meat and cheese that has been consumed. However, it is a different taste and feeling for vegetarians as well and can provide a good variety from barley miso.
Sweet Rice Miso
Sweet rice miso is a very fresh, young miso made from white rice. So, it has a very light, uplifting feeling when eating it and can also have a significant impact for those who recently, or even over a longer time period, consumed meat or cheese. It lightens, rather than strengthens the digestion. A common practice is to blend sweet rice miso with a brown rice or barley miso. This helps to lighten the dish while maintaining the deep nourishment benefits of the barley or brown rice.
Quality of Miso
Miso should be purchased from a natural food company in order to ensure its quality. Some options for healthy miso are Natural Import Company, Eden Foods, or Gold Mine. These companies may also include Mitoku, Ohsawa, or local domestic miso from South River or Miso Master brands that can be purchased from natural health food stores, their websites or even Amazon. There are certainly other options as well depending upon preference.
Commercial miso is a chemically controlled fermentation, which is also dyed and flavored. It is NOT a natural fermentation. So, there is nothing healthy about it! It is very difficult to spot these types of miso and there is often nothing on the label that would indicate whether it was fermented naturally or not in many cases. So, it’s important to review the miso producer rather than the label and may seem a bit of a daunting task, but generally, it is more important to know that the company is reputable for making or selling high-quality food.
Preparation of Miso
Miso is most commonly used in the form of soup. However, it can also be used in tomato sauce or other sauces as well. It is not recommended straight – or on toast. To bring out the real value of miso, we recommend that it is simmered for 3-4 minutes to activate the bacteria and enzymes. Some people say never to boil miso, but if you are trying to create deeply strengthening dishes or warming dishes, it can in fact be boiled.
When preparing miso properly with high-quality ingredients, it can actually be consumed anywhere from 1-2 times per week, all the way to a daily cup! So, it may be fun to try different types we listed above.
Does Miso Have Too Much Sodium?
Miso is certainly a high-sodium food. However, the effect of the sodium is mitigated by aging the miso. It is for this reason; we strongly recommend 2-year aged miso. However, we also only recommend one-half to one-level teaspoon per cup of soup. So, this may be significantly less than some may prepare it with. The salt in miso is gently absorbed and can strengthen vitality and immunity, as well as add resistance to illnesses or disease. This makes miso a very unique food product!
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