Welcome to the first Ingredient of the Week post! Every Tuesday, I’ll be featuring a different item.

This week I want to talk about miso paste, which has become one of my kitchen staples. An important part of traditional and modern Japanese cooking, it has gained some popularity in the States and can be found in specialty markets and even in larger stores like Whole Foods.

Most miso paste is made from soy, but it can also be made from barley, rice or wheat. It’s often used in soups, sauces, marinades, and for pickling vegetables or meat. Its general flavor is salty, but certain varieties may lean towards savory, sweet, or even fruity.

Because miso is a fermented food, it is often recommended for its probiotic content (Lactobacillus acidophilus). It also contains a fair amount of protein (around 2 grams per servings), fiber, and trace minerals such as zinc, manganese, and copper. With about 20 calories per serving, it’s a great way to add flavor without a lot of extra calories.

You can read more about miso and its reported health benefits here.

There are many kinds of miso. A few examples:

  • hatcho miso (made from soybeans)
  • kome miso (made from white rice and soybeans)
  • mugi miso (made from barley and soybeans)
  • soba miso (made from buckwheat and soybeans)
  • genmai miso (made from brown rice and soybeans)
  • natto miso (made from ginger and soybeans)
Most of the miso paste varieties I’ve seen in stores in NYC have been made from soy beans. The ones I have tried in my own kitchen are the mellow white and red miso flavors, but I’m also curious to give the yellow a spin and see what else I can find. 
I love white miso in sauces such as my favorite miso-tahini dressing, and it’s also fantastic as a base for stir-fry.
The red miso is fantastic as a base for a marinade. Chris says that in context, its taste reminds him of Boston Market’s chicken—neither of us is sure if this is good or bad exactly, but it definitely lends a rich, meaty flavor to whatever you’re using it on. Most recently, he added some to a sesame seitan log. Good times. I used to make fun of people who kept things like vital wheat gluten and miso paste on hand, but hey, things change. Sometimes being a hypocrite tastes pretty DAMN good. 

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