I have joined the miso elite…


I just made about 10 kg (22 lb) of miso. That’s Japanese soybean paste, the base for miso soup and countless other excellent dishes. It is an achievement for me, and is immensely satisfying. I have made experimental small batches before, but this is my first real batch!

It was a long process, maybe 6 months of learning curve. First I learned to grow  koji mold (aspergillus oryzae) on steamed white rice to make rice koji. Trial and error, working from information available on the Internet, this alone took me about a dozen tries until I was able to do it well and reliably in my kitchen. It was fun, but it was slow.

Next came trying to do the same on steamed sprouted brown rice.

Then adding soybeans to put it together in the form of miso.

The thing about miso making is that it matters much less what I do than what the mold and the enzymes do to produce the wonderfully complex flavors. Fermentation is cooking done by other creatures, not me. Doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but there’s only so much one can do to control the end result in a home kitchen.

The good news is that in most cases the microorganisms will do an excellent job. All my experimental jars have turned out nicely, despite my being a complete novice and  having no idea what to do.

If you want to learn more about koji rice, this page is a great starter resource in English.

For those of you who aren’t Japanese, I guess this is like what people might do at the end of summer, canning tomatoes from the yard to use through the winter months. Or people curing their own meat. Or making cheese at home. It’s fundamentally not difficult, but it takes care and some time.

The miso paste that is resting in the 10 quart pot in the photo will be opened at the end of the year. It really is a slow process. A friend likened it to making a baby. It does take 10 months, but the part that I have done is only the sexual intercourse, of putting soy beans, rice koji and salt together. The actual long process of transformation is done by time and the microorganisms in the pot.

Not all Japanese households make their own miso. Like everyone else, I grew up eating mostly mass-produced varieties. I gradually learned that there are much better small-batch commercial miso out there, then later understood that people who make their own are the ones who are eating the best.

So now I have joined the miso elite.