Natural food trends come and go—along with their big promises and sensational health claims) but the tried and true health foods will remain popular for a few years, or even decades. But very few can claim superfood status for millenniums…
With a steady stream of new research surfacing on the importance of digestive health and the microbiome, I thought a post on the wonders of one of nature’s original superfoods would be timely.
I’m talking about good old-fashioned miso
Though its origin can’t be confirmed, miso is traditional to Japan and has been around since at least the 7th century.
It is made from fermented soybeans, or soybean/grain combinations. In the United States it is most common in soups, but has a host of other culinary uses we will explore in our recipe section below.
As a nutritionist, I recommend patients be cautious about eating too much soy. Though some forms of soy provide many health benefits, per the USDA, as of 2016 up to 94% of soybeans are genetically modified1; and highly processed soy products—such as soy protein isolate, or soy oils—can wreak havoc on digestive and hormonal health.
Organic fermented, whole soy products such as miso, tempeh, and soy sauce are the exception, and can be enjoyed with a range of health benefits.
What makes organic fermented soy so different?
Soybeans are naturally rich in nutrients, and chemicals called anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients act as the plant’s immune system, protecting it from disease and foraging animals.
All plants contain some anti-nutrients, but soybeans have an especially high concentration including enzyme inhibitors—which explains why most people have trouble digesting them. It’s just the plant’s way of preserving its species.
However, during a long fermentation process—as is traditional in the preparation of miso—the anti-nutrients are broken down, and the super-nutrients, such as isoflavones, are released2. It’s a phenomenal process!
Let’s explore some of the other healing properties of this oldie-but-goodie superfood
- Miso is one of few foods with naturally occurring probiotics and prebiotics.
- Pure, traditionally prepared miso is an excellent source of fiber, protein, and minerals.
- It contains the ever-illusive vitamin K2, essential for maintaining healthy bones, blood, and nervous system function.
- Unpasteurized, traditionally prepared miso is naturally rich in enzymes.
- As a fermented, whole soy product, it has been studied for its hypoallergenic properties in people with soy allergies3.
- In 2003, researchers at Japan’s National Cancer Center released a study confirming frequent consumption of miso soup, and other isoflavones, was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer4.
- Long-term fermented miso (aged at least 180 days), has been proven to reduce tumor size and number of tumors in the lungs of rats5.
Despite its health benefits, not all miso is created equal
For an authentic, health-giving miso experience, I love South River Miso products.
They handcraft their miso in the traditional way with care, love, and meticulous attention to detail. They even make 3-year miso…the hard-to-find gold standard.
Their process, vision, and product are both pristine and inspiring.
But all these cool miso facts are kind of useless unless you know how to incorporate it into your diet, right? We’ve got you covered with three delicious and nutrient-dense miso-licious recipes… enjoy in good health!
Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing with White Miso
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon organic white miso
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon organic, naturally brewed soy sauce or tamari
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- ½ sheet of nori, torn into small pieces
- In a blender, combine garlic, miso, lemon juice, vinegar, Dijon mustard, tamari, and oil. Blend until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into a bowl.
- Add nori and mix thoroughly.
Miso Marinated Tempeh
A natural foods chef taught me the secret to tasty tempeh is to let it simmer in a marinade for 15-30 minutes. This takes out its fermented flavor while infusing it with seasoning and aromatics.
- ½ cup organic apple, or pineapple juice
- 1 tablespoon dark miso paste
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tablespoons organic naturally brewed soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon organic balsamic vinegar
- 1 package organic tempeh, cubed
- Place all ingredients, except the tempeh, in a medium sauté pan over medium/high heat.
- Bring the marinade to a rapid simmer, stirring the miso with a whisk to dissolve.
- Place the tempeh cubes in the marinade and simmer on low for 15-30 minutes, flipping occasionally for even cooking.
- Remove from pan. Combine with stir-fried vegetables (below) or serve over a salad or a bowl of quinoa or rice.
Fast Cooking, Super Healing Miso Soup
Serves: 2 as a main meal or 4 as a side dish
This is the perfect soup to throw together when you’re feeling under the weather. The key to retaining the enzymes is to gently simmer, not boil, the broth.
- 1 quart (4 cups) filtered water or bone broth
- 1 carrot, cut into thin rounds
- ½ cup daikon radish, julienned or matchsicks
- 1-2 cups bok choy, kale, or spinach sliced thin
- ½ package brown rice stick noodles (or any gluten-free, ultra-thin noodle)
- 3-4 tablespoons miso of choice (South River’s Garlic Red Pepper highly recommended)
- Naturally brewed soy sauce or tamari (to taste)
- A drizzle of raw honey (optional)
- Juice of 1 lime
- Sliced scallions and fresh cilantro or basil to garnish
- Place the water, vegetables, and noodles into a medium soup pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and add some simmering water to a small bowl with the miso. Stir to dissolve the miso, and return the whole thing to the pot.
- Simmer everything together for about 10 minutes, or until the noodles and vegetables have reached desired texture.
- Stir in soy sauce or tamari, honey, lime juice, and garnish with scallions and fresh cilantro or basil.