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A Little About Miso

A Little About Miso

Left to right: White, red, black miso

Chris Lehrer |

Here’s the secret: miso is inexpensive, keeps for an amazingly long time, and is very versatile. So just buy some and play with it a little.

The Basics On Miso

There are a hell of a lot of kinds (see the Wikipedia entry if you want a not-entirely-comprehensive list), but the only ones you’re going to get without a big search, probably, are white (which is yellow/amber-colored), red, and black (which is deep brown). These are all basically the same thing in terms of ingredients: fermented soybeans (almost always), salt, and usually some sort of additional grain or other to give it a more specific flavor.

When you buy miso, it generally comes either in a sealed plastic bag or a plastic tub; in my experience, the stuff in the tub is better quality, but I haven’t tried every kind readily available in the US, by a long chalk. I find that the plastic bag does quickly become a hideous mess to deal with (as you can see in this picture!), so if you get it that way, I recommend (but haven’t gotten around to doing it myself with this huge tub!) that you open the bag and squeeze/spoon all the miso into a durable Tupperware that is generously large enough. Press it down thoroughly, trying to expel big air bubbles, but don’t freak out about it: miso’s durable. Cut a piece of the bag the size and shape of the Tupperware (a little extra is better than not enough), and press it right down on the surface of the miso. Then put the lid on the Tupperware. If you buy the stuff in the tub, it comes essentially in its own little Tupperware, with a rectangle of plastic to press on the surface, which makes it all rather easier. Store it in the back of the fridge somewhere. It will keep at least a year, probably two or three.

When you open your refrigerated tub, first glance at the edges to see if there’s any mold or the like. Peel off the plastic and look: is the miso gray or anything like that? If not, and it still smells about right, it’s fine.

If you are new to using straight miso, I’d say buy the red kind [i.e. the kind in the middle in the picture], which is much the most versatile. I suspect most people from the Tokyo region would say to buy the white (amber) kind, but I think it’s too mild: If you don’t get that flavor clearly, you can’t play with it. I don’t recommend starting with the black stuff, which is pretty intense.