Miso, is it really that healthy?

Miso, is it really that healthy?

What is Miso, how do we use it and what are its benefits?

Miso usually comes in a form of paste, which is mainly used as a seasoning. It can enhance flavor of all kinds of dishes, but especially soups and sauces.

A steaming bowl of miso soup is thought to be very healing and it’s a very good ‘pick me up’ sort of meal. Sometimes you can buy an instant version of this, such as Instant miso soup, but the health benefits of it are very much lessened.


So what is Miso?

Miso is a fermented soy product. But what does fermented actually mean? Let me explain. Fermentation is a natural process of preserving foods and drinks, that’s been around for thousands of years. So it’s nothing new.

And what happens during the fermentation? Well, the microorganisms in the food are quite busy and start converting sugars and starches into alcohol or acids, which basically preserves the food, naturally.

In the process, this enhances the friendly bacteria within the food. These bacteria, which normally live in our intestines are also known as probiotics, and are usually associated with better digestion as they help us to absorb nutrients from the food and use them where needed. They are also very good with boosting and strengthening our immune system.

Miso’s anti-viral properties means that it can also help us to fight viral infections. Hence the ‘healing bowl’ of miso soup, when you’re feeling under the weather.


The Benefits

So I’m sure it comes to you as no surprise, that Miso has been prized for its many health benefits by Chinese and Japanese alike, for centuries.

 One of these health benefits (aside from the probiotic profile and immunity boosting properties mentioned above) include longevity. As it is very high in antioxidants, it slows down the signs of aging by fighting the “free radicals” (the environmental toxins) that we face on daily basis, thus making us look younger! Miso is one of the reasons, why the Chinese and Japanese people seem to live that much longer than their western counterparts.
Many studies have also shown, that it may reduce the risk of breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer.

Are there any vitamins in Miso?

Truly, Miso is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s full of vitamins: B2, B12, E, K, choline and tryptophan, high in protein and dietary fiber.
It also contains lecithin and linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid which is important to keep our skin soft and supple.
The soy lecithin helps us to break down fats and increase the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, as well as protecting cells and arteries, repairing liver damage and aiding memory.

Where does Miso come from?

It originated from China, but it has been also used in cooking in Japan, where they’ve been perfecting the art of making it, since the 7th century until today.

Miso is usually made of soy beans and koji, which is a culture starter. The koji is a mixture of yeast, beneficial molds and lactic acid bacteria. If I can recommend, choose the raw unpasteurized form, which  is the best one. It keeps all the beneficial bacteria as it’s not heat treated. And as we know the heat can destroy the microbes.


The different types of Miso

There are many different types of miso so it could be difficult to decide which one to choose. The pure soy beans and soy koji is called Hatcho or Mame and it’s the most popular. Another type is soy with barley – Mugi. There is also a brown rice one – Genmai. And white rice one – Shiro or Shinshu. You might come across red rice also – Aka. In Kyoto there is a special one, called Saykio, which is whitish yellow in color and quite sweet.

The light types of miso are usually used for desserts and puddings, sometimes sauces. It tends to have lighter and sweeter taste as opposed to the dark types. Those are generally used for adding to soups, for its lovely saltiness.