In our continuing effort to eat healthier and because our CSA
supplies us with a lot of salad requiring ever more ingenious salad dressings, we have added miso to our diet. Looking for new salad dressing recipes I had come upon a number that included miso. We know miso from eating at Japanese restaurants where we have often had a small bowl of miso soup with a few pieces of tofu and some thin slices of green onion, and our first encounter with a miso salad dressing was at Eddie McStiff’s in Moab, Utah. Their house dressing with miso has made us detour through Moab on more than one trip to allow us to pick up more bottles. But, until now we had never made an attempt to make our own miso based dressing or soup.
Our local major grocers do not only not carry miso, but also are quite ignorant about it. Even our healthy organic farmer’s market type stores are short on knowledge or available product. One store has miso, but it sits on the regular un-refrigerated shelf, which suggests to me this is a pasteurized product and hence lacking the real nutritional benefit of miso. I found miso at another store from the organic category, but there it is quite expensive and does not come with information about genetically modified ingredients. The Asian grocery stocks four or five brands featuring different types of miso, including red, white, yellow, and brown. All of them were short on (English) data regarding ingredients, manufacturing, or pasteurization.
Thus I started looking for healthy organic miso on the Internet. Miso is a living fermented food. To a base of soy beans or, as hinted to just above, chickpea, rice, adzuki bean, barley, or wheat, the maker of miso adds a yeast mold known as koji along with a few other ingredients, starting a fermentation process which for some misos can take upwards of three years before its ready for consumption. Koji is created by inoculating rice with the synthesizing bacteria, Aspergillus oryzae. Because this bacteria is high in vitamin B-12 it has often been recommended as a good source of this vitamin for vegetarians, who often do not get enough of it. B-12 is typically found in meat, dairy and egg products.
If that alone wasn’t enough though, researchers have shown miso to be a truly potent medicinal food. During the 1960s, after many years of treating atomic bomb victims in Nagasaki, Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki came to believe that neither he nor his staff suffered from the effects of radiation due to their consumption of miso. In 1972, Dr. Akizuki’s theory was validated by the discovery of dipicolinic acid in miso which is an alkaloid believed to chelate or dissipate heavy metals such as radioactive strontium.
In the late 1980s, medical researchers discovered ethyl ester in miso. This fatty acid is produced during miso’s fermentation and acts like an anti-mutagen. It is known to counter the effects of nicotine and burnt-meat mutagens. Then, in the 1990s, the plant isoflavone called genistein was found in miso. Compared to other soy-based foods also containing genistein, miso contains about 25 times more genistein. Genistein is now believed to be an active anticancer substance. Studies have shown that genistein reduces cancer cells’ ability to form new blood vessels and attacks the cells’ reproduction mechanism. There is much more writing concerning miso and the effectiveness of genistein in fighting cancer readily available on the internet.
Finally, miso acting to alkalize the body helps neutralize acid to bring the body to a healthy ph. Miso is a tremendous source for linoleic acid and lecithin, and if you are eating unpasteurized miso you are also benefiting from miso’s lactobacilli. Miso is believed to be an essential part of a long healthy life, promoting stamina and an all around feeling of well being.
All of this made me more and more excited about finally trying out living miso. Fortunately, I soon found South River Miso which appeared to be the miso maker for us and so an initial order of four different flavors was made. On first taste straight out of the bottle I knew I had to order the other flavors. South River offers Dandelion and Leek, Red Pepper Garlic, Chickpea, Brown Rice, Adzuki Bean, Barley, and a number of other flavors of miso that are all extraordinary.
Buying a healthy living miso today is not that easy since commercial food producers are more interested in cost savings and bulk to satisfy demand than in providing quality. While foods such as miso, which undergo a lacto-fermentation process, have been consumed for centuries, their method of production is less than convenient. A good strong miso as stated above can take upwards of three years before it is ready for consumption.
Using chlorinated water, table salt, or substandard ingredients all have an impact on fermented foods. Some techniques are meant to standardize consistent yields, not deliver consistent healthy benefits. Olives for example should be fermented using the natural lactic-acid fermenting method of sea salt alone, but nowadays, for the sake of expediency, mass-produced olives are treated with lye to remove bitterness before getting packed in salt and sold to the consumer.
Finding healthy and conscientiously produced products is becoming more and more difficult especially as the majority of consumers care more about convenience than flavor and health. Fortunately for those willing to make an effort to find such products, they do exist. Miso from South River Miso in Conway, Massachusetts is an example.
South River is a small operation, taking the time and patiently using skills learned from Naburo Muramoto and his School of Oriental Medicine and Traditional Fermented Foods in California to make a high quality living miso. In a massive masonry stove in the farm’s purpose-built post-and-beam shop a wood fire gets the process underway. Founders Christian and Gaella Elwell work hard to fill over 20 wooden vats with over 150,000 pounds of fermenting miso for those fortunate enough to learn of their precious product.
Our favorite use for any of the flavors of miso from South River so far is this salad dressing:
Miso Happy Salad Dressing
¼ cup Braggs raw cider vinegar or rice vinegar – I prefer seasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp Sweet White Miso or other light variety
2 tsp honey or rice syrup – we enjoy honey most of all
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup fresh basil
Mix all ingredients in blender on high except oil.
With blender on medium speed slowly add oil.
This is a slight variation of their recipe. Regarding vinegar, we tried Sherry and balsamic vinegars but would not recommend it since both tend to overwhelm the subtlety of the flavors in the finished dressing. We have tried other flavors of miso, both light and dark, and all have produced great results. Instead of olive oil, the original recipe calls for sesame or vegetable oil, but we have found that an early harvest olive oil is the most complimentary, due to its much fruitier taste! However, walnut oil does NOT work, the flavor is too strong. In the original recipe, the basil is optional, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be as it perfectly rounds out the dressing.
So, if I got you interested, get to it and order yourself some of the best miso you are likely to find in the United States. Do it soon, before it gets hot, because South River only ships during cool months. I would recommend starting with several different flavors to sample the varieties and different aged products. Consider the Barley or Chickpea Barley misos from their three-year dark miso selection and from the one-year light miso selection try the Sweet White or Adzuki Bean misos. If you’d like a real treat and it’s still available try their unique Dandelion Leek miso!!!
To learn more about South River and order their fabulous products, contact them at www.southrivermiso.com or call 413-369-4057
• www.clearspring.co.uk Miso Medicine – Health Giving Properties of Miso
• www.whfoods.org The Worlds Healthiest Foods – Miso
• www.mercola.com The Incredible Health Benefits to You of Traditionally Fermented Foods