Miso – a Fermented Food from Japan

~ October 2002 No.155 ~

These days our diets are not limited to only the foods that are grown nearby. With modern transportation systems, foods from around the world are finding their way into the grocery store. In most cities it is possible to dine on international cuisine. Vacations in exotic places also give us an opportunity to try new and exciting foods.

In just about every country there are foods that are eaten because they are believed to be good for health. Miso is a fermented food that contains soybean alone or with rice and barley, and has been very popular in Japan for many centuries. Miso fermented soyabean paste smells and tastes like soy sauce. Miso soup that contains seasonal vegetables is usually served at breakfast in Japan.

The starter culture for miso is called koji. Koji is prepared by inoculating steamed rice with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. (in some cases barley replaces rice) The rice koji is then added to steamed soyabeans and allowed to ferment. Miso is naturally fermented and can be left unpasteurized, aging in wooden casks.

The Japanese population is known to have a relatively low rate of many cancers particularly breast cancer. As early as 1981, Japanese health researchers had published epidemiology findings that showed that people who ate miso soup daily suffered significantly less from stomach cancer and heart disease. This has been followed by the finding that miso contains substances that are able to neutralize the effects of some carcinogens.

It is believe that Japanese women have fewer and less severe metabolic/physiologic problems during menopause. These observations have been attributed to the high consumption of soy-based foods in Japan.

One aspect of miso needs to be highlighted. Like many foods from the Orient, it contains a great deal of salt. Whether the salt content and the health problems associated with high salt intake are out weighed by the health benefits of miso will have to be judged by the individual consumer.

Miso Nutritional Information (100 g portion)
Calories192 Kcal
Protein12.2 g
Fat6.0 g
Carbohydrates22.2 g
Sodium4,100 mg
Iron4.0 mg
Water46.0 g

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