There’s remarkable variety and depth to be found in a spoonful of fermented bean paste.
Oh, miso paste! Salty, sweet, mellow, earthy, fruity, deeply umami and wonderfully aromatic. A tub of miso paste is a flavour essential, always stashed in my fridge, ready to be dug into with a spoon to elevate a sauce, broth or marinade.
Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient, made by fermenting soybeans or other grains with kōji, salt, and sometimes seaweed. For those who don’t know (including myself, 10 minutes ago), kōji is a starter culture from the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, which is also used in the making of soy sauce, sake, shōchū, and rice vinegars. First, the kōji is created, and then it’s mixed with the other ingredients to be broken down, fermented and aged.
There are almost endless varieties and flavours of miso paste, depending on the base ingredients (as well as soybeans, traditional miso uses barley, rice, rye, hemp seed, buckwheat, millet) and the fermentation time, which varies between a handful of days and several years.
A quick tangent about soybeans, because what a legume! What a site of culinary innovation! Not only are immature soybeans, kept snug in their green shells, possibly the best bean in existence (the edamame), and not only do fermented soybeans produce miso paste, soy sauce, and tempeh, but unfermented, they’re transformed into soy milk and tofu.
This is to say, you could have an entire soybean meal – a glass of soy milk, a bowl of miso soup and a plate of soy sauce-seasoned tofu and edamame – and not even realise you’re only eating one bean because their uses are so multidimensional.
Where to find miso paste
Considering a tub of miso is glorious and can last two dozen meals and a year in the fridge, it’s quite reasonably priced. Of course, Asian supermarkets will have the best range (and often the best prices), but you can also find miso paste in the international section of your local supermarket.
For a fair price comparison, I decided to look at a single brand of miso paste, Mama San, which comes in 650g tubs and is typically the best value option. At New World, Mama San’s miso paste is $6.49, while Pak’nSave sells the same for $5.99. The clear winner, however, is Supie, where the same product is just $5.
Countdown ruined my fair comparison plan by not stocking Mama San miso paste at all. Their closest option was the 500g Fukuyama miso paste tub for $8 (which New World sells for $7.49, and Pak’nSave sells for $6.89). Either way, Supie clearly has it, whereas Countdown…clearly doesn’t.
How to make miso paste terrible
No one likes a big salty lump in their soup, even if it is a lump of lovely miso. Miso paste isn’t as easily dissolvable as it looks, so to avoid lumps, whisk the miso paste into a few spoonfuls of hot water to loosen it up before stirring it into your broth or sauce.
OK, that’s all I have for you; as something wonderful, miso paste is pretty immune to the terrible.
How to make miso paste amazing
You may know miso as the soup that starts every great Japanese meal, but it’s also the base for sauces, soups, pickling liquids, spreads and marinades.
Two of my favourite Japanese dishes are miso glazed salmon and miso and cheddar grilled eggplant, both of which are incredibly simple and delicious. The gist – spread your salmon or halved eggplant with a sweet, salty, sticky miso glaze, and then roast until tender and caramelised. To make enough miso glaze for two servings, combine a tablespoon each of miso paste, mirin and brown sugar, along with a teaspoon of soy sauce. Perfection.
I’ve also used miso as the base for marinating spicy chicken and veggie skewers, to bring depth and umami to dumpling soup broths and as the binding sauce for honey-glazed chicken mince meatballs. Miso-spiked caramel has also become a bit of a thing, and I’m not opposed in the slightest.
My most frequently made recipe featuring miso, however, is this creamy miso and peanut butter soba noodle dish, which is full of mushrooms, broccoli and bok choy, all coated in a rich, salty, creamy, slightly sweet sauce, and brightened with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice, sliced spring onion, and a sprinkle of chilli flakes. Easy, quick, and bloody good.
Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, and runs a weekly meal plan that connects to online supermarket shopping.