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How to Make Your Own Miso (It’s Easier Than You Think)
If you love probiotic, nutrient-rich, and flavorful food, then homemade miso would be a great addition to your homestead pantry! Miso is a very versatile seasoning for a variety of dishes. You can use miso like boullion in soups or like soysauce for dips and dressings or as a marinade for any meat. The flavor is very similar to soy sauce – salty and umami-rich.
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Why Make Miso?
Miso is typically available as a premade paste from a store and I used to buy it on a regular basis, especially in the winter when I’m craving warm, comforting miso soup. Then, a few years ago, I made a foray into making miso with a friend, and got a huge gallon jar of miso that tasted so good, I never bought miso from the store again. It felt so good to cross off a “storebought” item from my shopping list, knowing that this means less money I have to spend, less plastic containers to waste, and more flavors and nourishment for our family. I’m also always on the lookout for Asian dishes made with local ingredients. A bowl of homemade miso soup made from our own miso, garden-grown nettles, and locally harvested seaweed truly satisfies this craving (you can find the recipe for Nettle Miso Soup at the end of this article)!
Like so many of our traditional ferments worldwide, it used to be commonplace for each family to nurture their own pots of miso, among other fermented foods. As modernity and all of its mixed blessings encroached, the practice of making miso at home became less common. However, interest in traditional foods is once again on the rise, as people worldwide recognize the benefits to gut and brain, and reforge the ancient connections between microbes, health, and flavor.Mountain Feed Farm
It was during the Chou Dynasty (1134-246 BC) that soy beans were first designated as the fifth sacred grain, along with barley, wheat, millet and rice, as the Chinese had learned to ferment soy beans to make them edible. Fermentation of cooked beans to make soy sauce, miso, natto and tempeh removes not only the enzyme inhibitors but phytates as well.Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
If you’ve made kraut or kimchi before, you’ll find the process to be very familiar as miso is also a probiotic ferment. The biggest difference is that miso is actually a two-stage fermentation beginning with making koji by inoculating rice with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae (first ferment)and then koji is added as a culture to ferment beans along with naturally occurring bacteria and yeast (second ferment).
In this recipe, I’m covering only the second ferment as I’ve yet to attempt making koji. Although, after reading Sandor Katz’ description of koji, it’s topping my list of winter projects!
Before I started growing koji, I would never have believed it was possible to fall in love with a mold. But I have been seduced by fresh koji’s sweet fragrance…Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation
If you’d like to venture into making your own koji, Sandor Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation, includes detailed instructions. Until then, you can find koji online, including organic brown rice koji.
Once you’ve gotten your koji, next you’ll need to decide on the type of beans you want to ferment. Traditional miso uses soybean, rice, and barley. I’ve experimented with fava beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans and they all turned out delicious. Black bean was my favorite in terms of taste because it had a deep soy sauce flavor, while garbanzo and fava are closer to a traditional yellow miso – light, sweet, versatile. In my last batch, I used what we had a lot of and that happened to be garbanzo beans but as we build our fava bean stock, we’ll be using our own homegrown beans.
- 1 lb beans (soybean is traditional, but you can also use garbanzo, fava, or black beans)
- 1 lb organic brown rice koji
- 4 oz water (to soak the koji)
- 8.5 oz salt (to mix with koji)
- 1 gallon sterilized container (glass jar or crock) to ferment miso
1. Cook the beans until they’re soft. Most beans will need to be soaked overnight, then boiled and simmered for 2-3 hours. We use a pressure cooker to speed up the process (45 minutes). As a rule of thumb, use 3 times the amount of water to bean ratio for cooking.
2. Soak the koji in 4 oz of water for 30 minutes.
3. Drain and rinse the beans. Then blend them in a food processor or using a potato masher.
4. Using clean hands, mix the soaked koji with 8.5 oz salt.
5. In a large bowl, using clean hands, knead the mashed beans with the koji/salt mixture until they’re thoroughly combined.
6. Sterilize your fermentation vessel by rinsing it in boiling water and drying it thoroughly. You can also wipe the inside of the container, the rim, and lid with rubbing alcohol.
7. Transfer the paste to your container by rolling the paste in your hands into several tennis-sized balls, squeezing them tightly so there are no air pockets in the balls. Then firmly throw the balls into your crock. If your container is too narrow to throw balls into, you can layer the balls into the container and press to flatten them. Repeat until the paste is entirely in the container and pushed down, with no air bubbles.
8. Add a layer of waxed paper to the top of the paste, covering it completely and pressing firmly so no air is in between. Then, wipe the rim of the jar and exposed surfaces clean. Place a weight on top (I use dried beans in a ziplock bag, but you can also use glass weights).
9. Cover the jar with a pillowcase (especially glass jars so that no light gets in).
10. Place the container in a cool, dark place and mark your calendar for 3 months later. Until then, it’s best to leave it and forget it.
Miso is a slow ferment. It takes about 3 months to mature, but you can leave it up to 2 years to deepen. The longer the ferment, the stronger the flavor. After 3 months, I open the crock to taste it and then decide if I want to keep it going or stop the fermentation by taking it out of the crock and storing it in the fridge.
This recipe will yield about 4.5 lbs of miso, enough for us to eat for a whole year, so I make miso only once per year. It couldn’t get any easier!
Fermentation is an amazing example of how we can collaborate and co-create with multitudes of microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria and fungi in the simple, daily act of nourishing ourselves.
Fun fact: Koji is also used to make soy sauce and mirin and alcoholic drinks like sake and shōchū. It’s the gateway mold into the delicious world of Asian cuisine!
As I delve more into fermentation, I see a lot of similarities between sourdough and miso, though they come from totally different parts of the world. Both have longstanding traditions of working with salt-tolerant yeast, lactic acid bacteria, and fungi to ferment grains, thereby making them more digestible, nutritious, and delicious. I’m not the first to make this connection and in fact, Sandor Katz puts it in more eloquent terms:
One word that repeatedly comes to the fore in my exploration and thinking about fermentation is culture. Fermentation relates to culture in many different ways, corresponding with the many layers of meaning embedded in this important word, from its literal and specific meanings to the context of microbiology to its broadest connotations…
In fact, the word culture comes from Latin cultura, a form of colere, “to cultivate.” Our cultivation of land and its creatures – plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria – is essential to culture. Reclaiming our food and our participation in cultivation is a means of cultural revival, taking action to break out of the confining and infantilizing dependency of the role of the consumer (user) and taking back our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators.Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation
Nettle Miso Soup
Our favorite way to eat Stinging Nettle is with miso! We make this recipe very often throughout the year and it’s one of those easy, complete, nutritious meals that you can whip up in minutes. Sometimes, we’ll add a boiled egg for additional protein, but mostly we keep it simple with just three ingredients:
- Nettles (fresh or frozen)
- Seaweed (kombu is traditionally used, but we use dried sea palm because we have a lot)
- Optional: boiled egg, mushroom, green onions
Boil a handful of seaweed in a medium pot filled 3/4 full with water until it softens. Add nettle leaves (the more the better) and continue simmering until it’s tender. Turn off heat. Ladle out a couple spoonfuls of broth into a bowl and scoop in a tablespoon of miso. Mix to dissolve the miso lump. Then ladle the soup into your bowl until it’s full. Add more miso if desired.