By Micah Cheek
Miso, the salty, umami-rich soybean paste, is getting attention as an ingredient in premade sauces. Yurika Masukawa, Vice President of Hikari Miso, suggests that miso sauces are gaining popularity in the American market due to America’s renewed interest in fermented foods. “The American market has had kind of a boom in fermented products,” she adds. Miso, made by inoculating ground soybeans and grains with microbial cultures, can be aged for years before use, yielding a fermented funk and umami meatiness. These flavors make miso a complex addition to sauces. Mary O’Donnell, owner of Terrapin Ridge Farms, who makes Ginger Miso and Honey Dressing, says, “The miso adds a nice richness to the flavor profile. It’s really well balanced.”
In its pure state, miso is a probiotic food, but it should be noted that while premade miso sauces carry the flavor and enzymes of the fermentation process, many are pasteurized for shelf stability and do not contain active cultures. One exception to this is So Good Food’s Miso Mayo, which still contains living cultures. Due to the active fermentation process, Miso Mayo can be left at room temperature for up to a week without spoiling.
The rising attention on miso has been apparent at Hikari Miso, where business has been increasing. Masukawa attributes this to the greater interest in the United States and Europe. This growing enthusiasm has made Ginger Miso and Honey Dressing one of Terrapin Ridge’s best sellers. O’Donnell has seen more miso sauces like hers appearing on store shelves recently as well. Smith has noticed that her Miso Mayo has better sales in stores where miso products are already sold. “If you’re someone who regularly eats natural food, or you’re a gourmand, you already know what miso is.” Smith adds that customer awareness is still an issue when selling miso products. “I’d say only right now the public is catching up with it.”
Many miso sauces come with long lists of suggested uses. ”You can dip it, toss it, drizzle it, anything you might use a spread, dip or marinade for. This is a great flavor enhancer,” says Janet Smith, founder of So Good Foods, about Miso Mayo. Meat marinades are a commonly suggested use. The salty and savory elements of miso sauces give a boost of flavor to chicken and fish, and vegetables can be tossed in it to create a light glaze. O’Donnell suggests Ginger Miso and Honey Dressing as a finishing sauce for steamed vegetables like green beans. “It also is terrific if you want to do an Asian slaw,” she adds. Miso also mixes well with spicy flavors. The blend of miso with roasted jalapenos and ginger earned So Good Foods’ Spicy Red Pepper Miso Mayo second place in the Hot Pepper Awards’ Mayo category in 2014.