Soybeans have been fermented in China for 200 years before the beginning of the modern era to obtain the precious soy sauces. Hundreds of years later, Buddhist monks exported it to Japan and it acquired the new name of miso.
This ingredient of oriental cuisine has many functions. But it is also valued for its possible health-related properties. In the following article we explain what is known so far.
Just like tofu, natto, tempeh or tamari, miso is a product derived from soya and the result of the fermentation of the cooked beans of this plant.
Sometimes a small amount of some cereal, such as rice or barley, is added to them to obtain different shades and characteristics. Closed in barrels, the elaboration can last between months and years.
It is presented as a compact and dense paste. It has a very variable flavor, according to the different types and the time of fermentation. Prepared in the traditional way, it stands out for being deep, intense, with shades between sweet and toasted.
The main types of miso
There are a large number of varieties of miso, especially in Japan and other countries, where its use is much more widespread. They differ according to the cereal, the amount of salt or the koji (starter) used. The most common are the following.
Hatcho miso or soybean miso
This is the only one of all that is prepared with soybean without any other added cereal. The traditional one ages for a minimum of 16 months. It has a thicker texture and a slightly sweet aroma. It is perfect for making soups and accompanying meats.
Shiro miso or white miso
It has a color between pale yellow and beige. It is made with white rice and is the type that has a shorter fermentation period. Perhaps that is why it is one of the ones with the softest and sweetest flavor.
Its texture is creamy and delicate. It combines very well with white fish, tofu, salad dressings or soft marinades.
Aka miso or red
It is one of the ones with the most marked taste. A small amount is enough to give an umami touch to any dish. Its preparation is long. It usually ferments for more than a year and can contain barley (mugi miso) or brown rice (genmai miso).
It has a red or dark brown color. The longer the time of fermentation, the darker it is. This also reveals a taste of greater intensity.
The nutritional properties of miso
This fermented soybean paste is a product that is used as a condiment in small quantities. However, given its concentration, in a small portion of 25 grams the following contributions stand out:
- 3.4 grams of proteins of high biological value. This means that it contains all the amino acids that the body needs.
- 1.35 grams of fiber.
- Vitamin K: 10% of the recommended daily needs and some of the B group.
- Minerals: manganese, copper and zinc.
The fact that it is a fermented product makes it an excellent probiotic food. Its consumption results in an increase of bacilli and bifidobacteria and less presence of enterobacteria and clostridia in the intestine.
In addition, in the kitchen it has the ability to enhance the flavor of the rest of the ingredients in a recipe. This can reduce the consumption of added salt and other not so healthy condiments, such as monosodium glutamate.
What are the benefits of miso?
The main positive health effects of miso are due to its consideration as a probiotic food. In this sense, it is a product similar to yogurt, quefir or kombucha.
Benefits for the intestinal tract
There is sufficient scientific evidence linking their presence in the diet to the following achievements in the health of the gastrointestinal tract:
Protection against traveler’s diarrhea and diarrhea associated with antibiotics.
Improvement of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Provides digestive enzymes that help break down major food molecules, thus improving digestion. This is why its intake is positive in people who suffer from dyspepsia and before making heavy meals.
Improvement of the immune system
In recent years, the relationship between the good condition of the microbiota and the functioning of the immune system has been thoroughly analyzed. Studies show that the presence of probiotics allows the regulation of the functions of this type of cell. For this reason they represent a therapeutic potential against common health problems, such as allergies or eczema.
This is another positive aspect of the miso that is being studied today. It has been observed that it is capable of counteracting the presence of free radicals and avoiding the damage they produce in the cells.
In the last decades the focus has been on these molecules. According to a study shared by the World Health Organization, oxidations by free radicals may be related to atherosclerosis and degenerative diseases.
The miso and the risk of cancer
A change in the incidence of different types of cancer has been observed in Japan. In particular, the cases of lung, colon and prostate are increasing ahead of the stomach, which used to be the most common.
Studies suggest a possible protective effect of miso as an integral part of this country’s traditional diet, although more research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms.
In addition, the American Cancer Society points out that eating soy-based foods may limit the risk of breast cancer, although it is believed that this effect may already be limited to Asian women.
Are there any contraindications to soy intake?
Miso consumption can be considered safe for most people. However, it contains a high amount of salt, so those who have to limit this ingredient in their diet should be cautious.
There are doubts about the suitability of soy in patients suffering from thyroid problems. This is due to the presence of goitrogens that can interfere with normal hormonal activity and absorption of the medication.
However, some analyses present doubts about these beliefs. So it is advisable to consult your doctor and separate your medication from any soy-derived foods.
In addition, it is preferable that all those people who take anticoagulant medication also consult with their specialist before adding it to their diet, because of the presence of vitamin K.
Miso: an Asian seasoning that brings a lot of flavor
Miso is used as a base ingredient for making soups, but also as a flavoring for other dishes. It can be added to any recipe or sauce always at the last moment and avoiding exposure to high temperatures.
But not only does it have effects on the taste, it also provides a good amount of nutrients and has benefits on the digestive, immune and cardiovascular systems.
Made in the traditional way it only consists of three or four ingredients, all of them gluten free. It must be taken into account that mugi miso prepared with barley is not suitable for coeliacs. It is recommended to introduce it in a slow way in the diet, because it is convenient to adapt gradually to the presence of probiotics.
It should be kept at room temperature and in a dry, dark place. Although once opened it is necessary to keep it in the refrigerator, in a well covered container and to respect the date of preferential consumption.