For the Japanese, miso soup is a culinary staple. Miso is a paste made from a mixture of soybeans, a starch such as rice or barley, salt, a touch of water, and yeast. This mixture is placed into wooden barrels and aged for as long as three years. As early as the seventh century, Buddhist monks began creating this unique product, mixing it with stock to make a soup. Rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, the soup was used regularly by Samurai warriors for its nutritional content.
Many health experts believe miso soup helps prevent breast cancer. This is because it's rich in isoflavones, which are believed to help block out cells that can become cancerous. According to health experts, women should drink two or three bowls per week in order to gain these benefits.
Miso comes in four forms: red, white, barley, and soybean. Red miso is made from equal portions of white rice, soybeans, and barley. The end result is a reddish brown product with a high protein count. White miso also blends a mixture of white rice and soybeans, but a higher concentration of white rice is used. This type of miso is typically lighter in color and has a shorter shelf life than red miso.
Barley miso is made from a blend of barley and soybeans. It's the cheapest miso to make, and consequently quite popular. Soybean miso is made solely from soybeans, yeast, and salt. This type of miso has a very long fermentation process and contains lots of protein and few carbohydrates.
Miso can be made at home, though it is time consuming. To make white miso, cooks can soak 2 pounds (about 907 grams) of dried soybeans in 1 gallon (3.78 l) of water overnight. The soybeans should then be rinsed and placed in a large cooking pot. The cook should cover the soybeans with another gallon (3.78 l) of water and simmer them for two hours.
The soybeans should be simmered until they are soft, which should take about two hours. The beans should then be drained and cooled, after which the cook will mash them in a food processor or with a potato masher. The mashed soybeans should then be placed into a vessel that can be tightly covered.
Next, the chef adds 1 pound (about 454 grams) of salt and 2 pounds (about 907 grams) of koji, or fermented rice. A small amount of water is also added if the mixture is too hard, and then the mash is formed into a ball and wrapped with cheesecloth. The chef should place the ball in the airtight vessel and allow it to ferment for at least one year.
Once the miso has fermented, it can be used in stir-fries or rice dishes, spread on toast, or made into soup. Miso soup is typically a mixture of miso paste, carrots, onions, seaweed, and water or broth. One pint of water, one cubed carrot, one diced onion, and one sheet of seaweed are simmered for fifteen minutes. Next, the cook should remove the soup from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons (34.38 g) of miso paste. He should be sure to dissolve the paste in an equal amount of water before adding it to the soup. The soup should be served immediately for the best flavor.