Food product review: Hatcho miso soy bean fermented Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Hatcho Miso
Food glossary

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Miso is one of the most widely used food products in Japan (after rice, obviously). It is made by fermenting soy beans. But like wine and whisky, the product is a combination of many factors including the quality of the source material, the techniques used, the environment, the equipment and the ageing process.
High in protein and low in salt, hatcho miso provides amino acids, vitamins and fibre without adding fat to the diet. It is claimed to have anti-cancer properties.
It is to the town of Okazaki in the province of Aichi that we look for the finest miso. Unfortunately, hatcho is not named after a mythical god or a rare plant or a beautiful stream - it is named after the street where this miso has been painstakingly prepared for the past five hundred years.
The process starts when the finest Hokkaido soy beans are washed and then soaked for a short time. Then comes the crucial phase. The beans are steamed for two hours and then left in the container overnight. This develops the rich, dark colour that is characteristic of hatcho miso.
The crushed beans are then treated with the enzyme Aspergillus and incubated. (It is said that the variety of Aspergillus that now infests the entire building and the cracks in the vats is a key factor in the unique flavour of this miso.) The result is a mash called koji which is then loaded into huge cedar vats along with lots of sea salt (which has the effect of slowing down the fermentation process). A sturdy lid is then placed on the vat and the lid is then weighted down with a large pile of rocks.
It is then left to ferment for at least two years and possible up to three. At the end of this time the rocks are removed and the dark paste is scooped out and packaged without pasteurisation.
This miso has many uses, but the most common is as the base for the ubiquitous miso soup. This is very simple to make. Simply take some wakame (dried seaweed available at health shops) and some sliced scallions (spring onions) and simmer them for about fifteen minutes in two or three cups of water. Take a little of the broth out and mix in a couple of teaspoons of the miso. Put this back into the stock and stir it around. (If using unpasteurised miso, don't let it boil.) Taste and add more miso if required. Pour into a bowl, top with a few slivers of fresh ginger and enjoy!
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