Miso paste remains a mystery for many people. Cooking with fermented soy beans can look a bit strange at first sight. It really shouldn’t be, so go ahead and experiment!
Miso is a Japanese condiment made from fermented soybean paste. To prepare it, “koji” is first made: a cereal (barley or rice most often) is cooked and seeded with a microscopic fungus (Aspergillus oryzae). Koji is then salted and mixed with cooked and crushed soybeans, which will be fermented for several days or weeks to several years, depending on the kind of miso to be produced. In general, the more fermented a miso, the stronger its texture, the darker its color and the more pronounced its flavour.
Hatcho miso (pure soybean miso – no grains are added) is a dark, dense and full-bodied pure soy bean miso. It is the result of a long fermentation and is chocolate-colored, almost ebony black, less salty, firmer and dryer than the others, with a very typical and concentrated flavour.
Shiro miso (white miso), actually light yellow in color, is made with fermented soy beans and rice. Fermentation is short, which which gives it a mild and sweet flavour. This is the most versatile miso and probably the best choice if you buy only one miso.
Shinshu miso (yellow miso) is made with fermented soy beans and barley. It is slightly stronger than white miso and works well in dressings, soups, marinades and glazes.
Aka miso (red miso) is the saltiest and most pungent variety of miso. It is made with fermented soybeans and barley or another grain, ranges from dark brown to red in color and can be used in marinades and glazes for heartier dishes, like meats and certain vegetables, such as eggplant.