It is generally believed in Japan that miso or bean--paste is responsible in a great measure for the generally sound physical health of the Japanese. The word "miso" is of obscure derivation, but it is usually taken to mean "immature bean-soy." People often attribute it to the invention of Priest Kanshin, a Chinese Buddhist, who was naturalised in Japan during the Nara days. Priest Ingen, who introduced the Wobaku sect of Buddhism to Japan, and after whom the haircot beans are named "ingen," was such a great admirer of bean-paste that, it is said, he took its soup every day instead of a certain Chinese medicicine that he had used for many hears.
To Western ears fermented bean paste doesn't sound very tasty, but this is what miso is. In Japan it is a fundamental part of their diet. It is used as a preservative, a sauce, a dip for raw vegetables and in mioshiru, which is a soup made of seaweed, fish, vegetables or shellfish.
The paste is made from boiled and mashed soy beans to which is added salt and malted rice, wheat or barley; it then is allowed to ferment from a week to a year. The soy bean was brought to Japan from China about 2,300 years ago and there is reference to hishio, which is the ancestor of modern miso, some 1,300 years ago. In today's Japan, however, miso is made in highly automated factories in addition to people's own homes.
A very basic Japanese meal would consist of a single bowl of misoshiru, a single side dish of vegetables or fish, plus a bowl of rice and pickled vegetables. The meal is called ichijuu-issai.
A health food, miso is rich in protein, lecithin, glutamic acid, B vitamins and various microorganisms that aid in digestion.It is believed that it helps break down cholerterol, helps neutralize the effects of pollution, smoking and radiation, nad aids digestion.
The appearance of miso varies considerably. In color it can range from yellowish white to nearly black; the texture may be fine or gainy; the aroma mild or pungent, and the flavor salty, sweet or in between those two.The lighter-colored miso is slightly sweet, milder and less salty than dark-colored miso. Barley miso is the most popular and is available in an amber color (9% salt) and a deep brown color (12% salt).
One particular kind of miso is Hatcho Miso which is still made in the traditional way. Only soybeans and salt are used with the material being fermented in vats for over two years.
Some types of Miso
Edo Miso (Tokyo): red, mildly sweetish
Shinshu miso There is also Edo miso (from Tokyo), red and mildly sweetish
Sendai miso (northeastern Honshu): red, strong, also contains barley.