Maybe you’ve heard of miso and its health benefits by now, or maybe like me and the trendy new food has slipped under your radar. It’s an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking and is becoming more popular across the United States, and for good reason, since miso is packed with nutrition that can help keep us healthy and fight off the flu. (Fighting a cold? These foods could help!)
What is Miso
Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans, sea salt, and koji (Aspergillus oryzae). It can also be made from barley, rice, and other grains. Fermentation can take between six months to three years; the longer the time the more powerful the paste will be. The flavor is described as both tangy and salty, so it’s commonly used to flavor soups. In Japan, for example, many people begin their day with a warm bowl of miso soup, unlike the typical American breakfast of sugar cereal or high-fat bacon and eggs.
Why it’s Healthy
Miso supplies us with several B vitamins, as well as vitamin E, both of which necessary for a strong immune response to viruses and bacteria, including those that cause influenza. It’s also rich in antioxidants that help protect cells against damage from free radicals, bolstering our immune system.
As is true with many fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut for example, miso provides probiotics that aid in digestion and help restore intestinal flora in the digestive system. (Learn more about fermentation and probiotics.) In addition to its GI tract benefits, miso can help lower LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) and is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. At least one study shows that it can even protect against radiation and heavy metal poisoning!
How to Use Miso
If you want to utilize its probiotic benefits, look for unpasteurized miso. Keep in mind that high heat (including boiling) will destroy the beneficial bacteria in this fermented product. So if you’re adding it to hot dishes like soup, stir it in after removing the pot from the heat. Unpasteurized miso may be used as a marinade to help tenderize animal protein and break down vegetable fiber. Light miso can be mixed with peanut butter and apple juice to make a nutritious spread. Dark miso is excellent added to cooked bean dishes and your meatless Monday favorites to add extra protein. Be careful not to get too enthusiastic about this wonder food though! It’s high in sodium at about 700mg per tablespoon. As always, if you have any health conditions that could be affected by adding a new food to your diet, please consult your physician for advice.
Miso has been consumed by people for thousands of years, providing both good taste and health benefits to its users. It appears to be a great new addition to the diet of anyone looking to boost their immune system, gain benefits from probiotics or just add something new to their daily menu.
Add another superfood to your diet: spinach!