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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Making Homemade Miso- Recipe and Cost Breakdown

My new homemade lentil miso
Growing up, my mother did much of the day to day cooking in our home, introducing me to various dishes and cuisines from around the world, but it was my dad that did the funky stuff. The earliest memory I have of him doing interesting kitchen stuff was making port wine, and us stomping the grapes for it. Around the same time, we started tapping our neighbors' trees (with their permission) with sap to make maple syrup.
At some point later, my father started making sake, miso, beers (mainly stouts, but the occasional pale ale), and meads. He loved biochemistry in school, but became a doctor, and considers this brewing of his kitchen chemistry.
Since moving abroad, my dad hasn't really been making much wine, beer, and meads (I make the wine, and my brother Josh is the beer maker), but he's been on a miso kick, making miso like there's no tomorrow.

Making Homemade Miso- Recipe and Cost Breakdown

Miso, originally from Japan, and most commonly eaten in the US in the form of miso soup, is a fermented salty paste, typically made with soy beans, but able to be made with a variety of other beans, legumes, or grains. I keep on asking my dad for the science behind miso, and he keeps on directing me to The Book of Miso which is where he learned all about how to make it. But in short, you need rice, barley, or wheat that is innocculated with aspergilus mold. This is called koji, and you can buy it ready made or you can make it yourself with bought spores. While you can buy it on Amazon, it is quite expensive there; my father said that the cheapest best version is Cold Mountain koji, which you can buy here- $8 for about 2.5 cups. Once you have your koji, you mix it with cooked legumes, beans, or grains and salt, and then let it ferment for a long time. Lentil and buckwheat miso, for example, takes 6-12 months to ferment, at least, but can be left for a few years, and bean miso, such as black bean, pinto bean, or chickpea miso needs at least 1 year, preferably 2 before you can eat it. During the fermentation process, the aspergillus mold breaks down the ingredients, making them more nutritious and bioavailable, and destroying the anti-nutrients within them. Even those who say that soy beans are bad for you and should be available usually say that soy based miso is good for you, probiotic and nutritious.
Sometimes the miso solids and liquids separate- the liquid that floats to the top is tamari sauce, and can be used in place of soy sauce. Remember my failed homemade soy sauce experiment from a few years ago? Well, now I'll be able to make the real deal, since I'm making it with properly inoculated legumes instead of trying to catch wild spores and hoping for the best.

I am not making miso the traditional way, I'm actually making it the cheapskate way, the way my dad has been making it successfully for years. He makes sake, which also starts off with koji, the aspergilus inoculated rice. When the sake is finished fermenting, the sake sludge (called sake kasu or lees) he strains off is like koji- rice based and filled with aspergillus, and instead of using koji, he uses that to inoculate the legumes in miso making. My dad brought me over some of his sake kasu, with which I just made a batch of miso, according to his instructions.

Assuming you're buying koji instead using the sake kasu/lees, this batch of miso will cost you anywhere from $9-$15 for about 12 1/2 cups of miso, which weighs between 8 and 9 lbs. Depending on how much miso costs in your location, this is amount can cost anywhere from to $50-$120, so incredible savings. If you buy koji starter and make your own koji, you can do a continuous inoculation of koji so that you only need to buy a starter once, and then all future times you only need to pay for the grains and legumes and salt, which is relatively cheap. For me, though, the benefit of making my miso is I can know exactly what ingredients are in it, and I can keep mine gluten free, soy free, and msg free.

Other than ingredient variations in miso, there's also white vs red miso. White miso has a more mild flavor, takes a shorter time to make, and uses more koji and less salt, so it costs more to make as well. White miso can be ready in as short as 6 weeks. Red miso, on the other hand, uses less koji, more salt, and takes much more time. It also has a robust flavor, which means a little bit goes a longer way.

Miso traditionally is made in a stone or ceramic crock that is weighted down with something heavy like another stone, and the miso is also covered with a cloth to keep out bugs. You can purchase such crock. Years ago, my dad made miso in a large food grade bucket, and put another food grade bucket filled with water inside it so that it fit snugly, covered the miso, and weighed it down. Lately, though, my father has just been filling empty plastic soda bottles with miso and letting them ferment/age in there, and that's what I did. He usually keeps it closed, and it turns out fine, but apparently you're supposed to get air into yours, since the fermentation process is not an anaerobic one, so I plan on opening mine and mixing it every few weeks.

Here's the exact recipe I used for my batch of miso, following my dad's instructions:

Ingredients:
3 cups grain or legumes, such as soy beans, millet, barley, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, quinoa, corn, hemp seeds, amaranth, split peas, wheat, or buckwheat. I used red lentils. (This cost me $2.05.)
6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups salt, regular or coarse. (This cost me 60 cents.)
1 20 oz package of koji from Cold Mountain or similar or 4 cups sake sludge/kasu/lees

(My total cost, therefore, was $2.65, for 8.5 lbs of miso.)

Instructions:
1. Mix the grains or legumes with the water, and bring to a boil. Simmer, until all the water is absorbed.

2. Mix with your koji or sake sludge/kasu/lees and salt.

3. Mash up or blend the grains or legumes.Add water as needed so you have a texture like runny mashed potatoes.

4. Put in your fermenting vessel or bottles.

5. Mix periodically if using a closed vessel.

6. Let sit out (not refrigerated) between 6 months (for lentils and grains) or 1 year (for beans) to three years, making sure, at the very least that it ferments over one summer, since it needs the heat of a summer to fully ferment.

7. If liquid rose to the top, pour off the liquid to use as a soy sauce substitute.

8. Before using your miso, you can blend or mash up some more if you want to get it even more smooth.

Enjoy!

Are you a fan of miso? Did you know how it was made? What is your favorite way to use miso in cooking? What type of miso do you generally buy- white or red? And made from what? 
Do you think you'll ever attempt homemade miso? If so, with what ingredients?

3 comments:

  1. Thanks! I'll give this a try -- sure beats driving a couple hours to a store with miso.

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  2. White Miso can be made even faster if heat is applied. Commercial miso makers keep a constant temp of 140 degrees farenheit and the mead is ready in 24-36 hours. I have done the simple variation by placing the miso in my car and parking it in the sun. After a few days, the white miso is ready. Penniless dad

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  3. Interesting! You say it "needs the heat of a summer to fully ferment". We keep our house air conditioned (at about 75F) in the summer. I'm wondering if that is hot enough for the ferment or if I should let the miso sit outside in the summer.

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