Written and illustrated by Misa Ono
I believe that none of other soups can be better than miso soup when you have a hangover in the morning. Miso soup warms you up and its nutrition circulates in your body, getting rid of alcohol from your body. And you feel refresh and alive again. It’s generally said that Japanese food culture has recently been Europeanized. However, rice and miso soup never fade away. They are essential food in Japanese cuisine.
Miso has a long history but its origin is not completely clear. Some say that miso originated in China or Korean peninsula while others say that it started in Japan as people were eating miso made from acorns. Either way, Japanese people started making miso long time ago. Miso was a luxury food in the 800s-1,100s and finally became affordable for normal people after around 1100s.
After 1,600s, there was a saying that “people who buy miso won’t have their own house” that means buying miso makes you poor. People at the time commonly made their own miso and had miso soup in daily meals. Japanese people love miso soup in any age.
Miso is made of koji (malt), soybeans and salt. Most miso in Japan is “Kome miso (rice miso)” made of rice koji. While rice miso has a standard taste, “Mugi miso (barley miso)” made of barley koji is less sweet and has a light taste. Barley grain usually remain without becoming complete paste. “Awase miso (combination miso)” of rice and barley miso is also popular.
“Mame miso (soybean miso)” made of soybeans, salt and koji mold requires a much longer time in the maturing process, comparing to other types of miso. The color is blackish dark brown and the taste is strong too. It’s also called ama miso (sweet miso) or hatcho miso. “Shiro miso (white miso) is made of more rice koji than soybeans, and less salt. Shiro miso takes a short fermentation term. The color is whitish and the taste is very sweet.
The taste of miso varies depending on type of koji, amount of salt, potion of koji and soybeans, maturing process term, etc. People’s favorite miso differs too. In the old days when people used to make their own miso, they bragged about their home-made miso to each other. From that, a saying “Temae miso (oneself miso)” came, meaning “self-praise”. Although Japanese widely-known character is humble, miso makers somehow may have high pride in their miso.