Discovering the Age-old Benefits of Fermentation: The History and Science Behind Organic Miso

Discovering the Age-old Benefits of Fermentation: The History and Science Behind Organic Miso

Miso is one of the oldest fermented foods known to man. Rich in both history and flavor, this unique and versatile condiment has been a staple of the Japanese diet for more than a thousand years.

Miso is said to have originated in China and was introduced in Japan in the 7th century by Buddhist monks. [1] Known for its savory flavor and rich nutrient content, miso was considered a valuable commodity at the time and was reserved only for the enjoyment of the Japanese nobility. In fact, historical records suggest that miso was used to pay the salaries of the elite.

Miso was first mentioned in writing during the Heian period, which lasted from 794 to 1185. Back then, fermentation was already a common food preservation method, and during warmer months, people would use a fermented mixture of salt, grains and soybeans to extend the shelf life of different kinds of food. This practice eventually led to the development of two of the most widely used condiments today: miso and soy sauce. [2]

Unlike how it is commonly used today, the Japanese during the Heian period incorporated miso into their meals by spreading the paste directly on their food. [3] The idea of boiling miso in a broth to make soup only came about during the Kamakura period (1192 to 1333), when feudalism began to flourish in Japan.

Miso was not always the smooth, thick paste that we know today. But thanks to the Buddhist monks, who also introduced the suribachi (mortar) in Japan, it became possible to grind the grains used to make miso so that it can easily be dissolved in water. [4] This allowed the early Japanese to make miso soup. Because miso was found to have energy-supporting properties, the samurai warriors adopted miso soup as part of their regular diet.

As miso’s popularity spread throughout Japan, the common people, particularly the farmers, began making their own version of miso. But because they were not allowed to use the rice they harvested, they made do with substitute grains like millet and barley, which took longer than rice to ferment. The resulting miso, sometimes called “poor man’s miso” or “country miso,” was darker in color and chunkier in texture than rice miso, and was also not as sweet. [5]

Barley miso is still made today and is preferred over rice miso in the southern parts of Japan. Barley and rice miso are just two of the many varieties of miso you can find on the market, with rice miso having several variations of its own. Different types of miso can be made by changing the type of grain used, adjusting the organic soybean-grain-salt ratio or by varying the length of fermentation. 

What makes Miso so healthy?

One of things that makes miso a healthy food is the fermentation process it undergoes. Fermentation is an age-old technique that makes use of microorganisms, such as bacteria, molds or yeasts, to transform easy-to-spoil foods into more flavorful and more nutritious, shelf-stable products. Fermentation was our ancestors’ solution to food spoilage before modern conveniences like refrigerators and freezers were invented.

During fermentation, microorganisms break down certain food components, such as sugars and starches, to produce energy. Simultaneously, they release beneficial byproducts like acids, alcohol and flavor compounds that protect the food from food-spoiling bacteria and give it a unique, often pleasantly tangy, flavor. [6] Microbes that cause food to spoil cannot thrive in acidic environments or in the presence of high concentrations of alcohol, which is why fermented foods last long even without refrigeration.

Another great thing about fermentation is that it can get rid of natural toxins that may be present in edible plants. Plants produce a wide range of chemicals as part of their defense mechanism, and some of these chemicals may not be as helpful to us as they are to them. [7] Research shows that the useful byproducts of fermentation, along with the enzymes naturally produced by fermentative microbes, are often enough to destroy some of the natural toxins in food. [8]

In addition to making food shelf-stable and safer to eat, fermentation also improves their digestibility. Some vegetables, like legumes, are notoriously difficult for the human body to digest, thanks to the presence of non-nutritive compounds that disrupt the activity of digestive enzymes. Just like natural plant toxins, fermentation can help get rid of these unwanted components, making food much easier for your intestine to process. [9]

But the greatest benefit of fermentation lies in how it affects the bioavailability of nutrients in food. Research shows that the organic acids produced by fermentative microbes can bind to nutrients like protein and minerals to form more soluble, easy-to-absorb complexes. Fermentative microbes also produce enzymes that can break down phytate, an antinutrient commonly found in seeds, grains and legumes. [10] Phytate can block the absorption of nutrients in your intestine by forming insoluble complexes with them. [11]

Because fermentation frees up more nutrients for your body to absorb, fermented foods are considerably more nutritious than their original forms. Miso, in particular, gains an extra nutrient from the fermentation process. Research shows that fermented soy products like miso contain decent amounts of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient you normally wouldn’t find in plant-based foods. [12][13] This means that miso can be a source of vitamin B12 for vegans and vegetarians, who do not consume typical sources of the vitamin (e.g., eggs, salmon, beef, milk and other dairy products). The mold Aspergillus oryzae, which is commonly used to make miso, is also well-equipped to produce vitamin B1 on its own. [14]

Among the many miso varieties, rice miso is the most widely consumed in Japan. The process of making rice miso starts with the fermentation of steamed rice by a mold, usually A. oryzae, to produce what the Japanese call koji. Making koji typically takes around 42 to 48 hours of fermentation. [15] Koji is then used to ferment steamed or boiled soybeans in the presence of water and salt. The sweetness of the resulting miso is determined by the koji-to-soybean ratio: The higher the proportion of koji, the sweeter the product. The opposite results in a saltier miso. [16]

The color of rice miso varies depending on the length of fermentation and the type of rice used. The longer it is fermented, the darker the color of the miso produced and the richer it tastes. [17] Fermenting soybeans and rice koji for one to four weeks produces a light-colored paste called shiro miso, or white miso. Extending the fermentation time between three to six months results in a yellow-colored paste called shinshu miso. Fermenting soybeans and rice koji for six to 12 months produces a reddish-brown paste called aka miso, or red miso. [18]

White and yellow miso are less salty than red miso. White miso is great for salads and sauteed vegetables, while yellow miso is a great complement to soups, marinades and glazes. [19] The saltier red miso, on the other hand, is best used for hearty dishes like stews and tomato sauces. Because it has an overpowering umami flavor, take care to use red miso sparingly in light dishes.  

The remarkable health benefits of Organic Miso 

Miso offers plenty of health benefits, beginning with its abundance of bioavailable nutrients. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you can get the following nutrients from a 100-gram (g) serving of organic miso: [20]

  • Protein, 26% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Dietary fiber, 19% of the DV
  • Choline, 13% of the DV
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B12), 3% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9), 5% of the DV
  • Niacin (vitamin B3), 6% of the DV
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), 7% of the DV
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6), 12% of the DV
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2), 18% of the DV
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1), 8% of the DV
  • Vitamin K, 24% of the DV
  • Calcium, 4% of the DV
  • Copper, 47% of the DV
  • Iron, 14% of the DV
  • Magnesium, 11% of the DV
  • Manganese, 37% of the DV
  • Phosphorus, 13% of the DV
  • Potassium, 4% of the DV
  • Selenium, 13% of the DV
  • Zinc, 23% of the DV

Adding miso to your diet can greatly benefit your digestive system. Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, some of which produce beneficial products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs not only provide nourishment for the cells of your colon, they also play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat from food. [21] This means these metabolites naturally support healthy digestion.

According to a study published in the journal Fermentation, the dietary fiber in fermented products like miso serve as food (prebiotics) for the beneficial microorganisms in your gut, particularly those that produce SCFAs. [22] These gut microbes also release other metabolites that help support your gut’s protective barrier. And because these good microbes help keep the bad ones living in your gut in check, helping them thrive by eating prebiotic foods like miso can help you maintain a healthy digestive system.

A diverse composition of gut microbes is also important for the healthy functions of your immune system. After all, about 70 to 80% of your immune cells reside in your gut. [23] Exposure to different microbes helps train your immune cells on how best to fight off specific threats, which is why experts consider a balanced and diverse gut microflora to be the key to a stronger immune system. [24]

As a product of fermentation, miso contains a variety of microorganisms, including different bacteria and yeast, that start colonizing it early in the fermentation process alongside the original mold. [25] Introducing these good microbes (probiotics) to your gut is not only great for maintaining microbial diversity, it also helps support the optimal functions of your immune system.

Despite its sodium content, miso is a perfectly heart-healthy superfood. A study published in the journal Internal Medicine looked at the dietary habits of 527 middle-aged adults and elderly Japanese and found that regular consumption of miso did not negatively affect their blood pressure. [26] This may be due to the presence of choline in miso which, according to a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Therapeutics, can support healthy blood pressure levels that are already within the normal range. [27]

Aside from your cardiovascular system, choline also support healthy brain, nervous system and mental health. This important nutrient is converted inside your body into acetylcholine, one of the main chemical messengers used by your brain and motor neurons. Not only is acetylcholine involved in your mood and automatic bodily functions (e.g., breathing and heart rate), but it also plays a role in supporting healthy cognitive functions, such as attention, learning and memory. [28][29][30]

Meanwhile, the B vitamins in miso, together with choline, can support the optimal functions of your nerve cells. Vitamin B1 is needed for the normal production of acetylcholine, while vitamins B6 and B12 help maintain healthy nerves. [31][32][33] Vitamin B2, on the other hand, has been shown to have antioxidant properties and is said to protect nerve cells from oxidative damage. [34][35]

Nutritious miso is a great food for supporting sensible weight management plans when partnering with diet and exercise. Miso contains protein and fiber, two nutrients that support healthy digestion and satiety. This means that miso can help make you feel full for longer, which is a good thing if you’re looking to reduce your food intake. Combined with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, organic miso can help you achieve reasonable weight management goals.

To recap, here are the 8 health benefits of Organic Miso:

  • Great source of bioavailable nutrients
  • Supports a healthy digestive system
  • Supports optimal immune function
  • Supports a healthy cardiovascular system
  • Supports optimal brain function
  • Supports a healthy nervous system
  • Supports reasonable weight management plans
  • Supports a positive mood 

Where to find clean, lab-verified Freeze-dried Organic Miso Powder 

Some people may have qualms about consuming soy products because they contain plant-based estrogen. While miso is made with soybeans, fermentation radically alters their chemical composition such that the resulting product becomes anti-estrogenic. Fermentation also improves the digestibility of organic soybeans and the bioavailability of their nutrients, making miso an exceptional superfood worthy of being added to a healthy diet.

To let you experience the health-supporting properties of this fermented food, the Health Ranger Store is offering Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Yellow Miso Powder 100g and Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Red Miso Powder 100g. Add our premium organic miso powders to your dishes to boost their flavor and nutritional benefits, or mix them with hot water or broth for a quick and delicious bowl of miso soup.

Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Yellow Miso Powder 100g is made from high-quality organic soybeans fermented with a small amount of organic rice. Because of its shorter fermentation time, our yellow miso powder has a mildly sweet and less overpowering taste than our red miso. Its mild, earthy flavor is perfect for broths, condiments, soups, marinades, dressings and glazes. Our freeze-dried organic yellow miso powder is also available in long-term storable #10 cans.

Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Red Miso Powder 100g is made by allowing Aspergillus oryzae to ferment only the highest-quality ingredients, which include lab-verified organic soybeans, organic rice and sea salt. Our red miso is then freeze-dried to preserve its freshness and nutrient content, and turned into powder for storability and convenience. Use it to flavor meaty vegetables like eggplants and mushrooms, or to make hearty soups and dishes. Our freeze-dried organic red miso powder is also available in long-term storable #10 cans.

Both our red and yellow miso powders contain no gluten or wheat and are packaged in a USDA Certified Organic Facility. They are vegan, non-GMO, non-China and certified Kosher and organic. Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Yellow Miso Powder 100g and Health Ranger Select Freeze-dried Organic Red Miso Powder 100g are also extensively lab tested for glyphosate, heavy metals and microbiology. Supplies are always limited for these products, so stock up now while inventory lasts.

Incorporate fermented foods like miso into your meals and experience their incredible health benefits! 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any diseases.