OK so on MYrago, we have experiences in Japan and when you have experiences in Japan you can’t help but have an experience with Miso in it since it’s an integral part of the Japan culture. So my business partner and I worked hard, got some a experience on-boarded but I for one being of the more scientific and technical mindset REALLY wanted to understand the science behind Miso making. Like seriously, what’s going on there?
OK so I started my research and I’m absolutely blown away! Why? Well, who the F@#$ figured out how to make Miso? Like seriously, it’s a complex phenomenon and someone figured out how to do this thousands of years ago, when it was first practiced….and what am I doing in life….ahhhemmm….moving on….
OK so lets first start off with the fact that people have figured out how to use organisms (really tiny ones) to break down food in ways that make it extremely tasty and, surprisingly to me, more nutritious. Can you think of anything you guys are familiar with that’s gone through this process? Well — that would be cheese, bread, wine, etc. all of which actually go really well together…
ANYWAY — snapping myself out of the needless fascination to go out and get some wine, lets now talk about MISO MAKING. (credit for providing this following awesome piece of information goes to Lucky Peach: do check out their article here)
So here’s the overview of it:
All miso starts with koji, which is rice that has been colonized by a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. When you cook that rice and leave it sitting at a certain temperature and humidity, the fungus comes to life and does its work. Koji, essentially, is moldy rice, and it makes up a significant percentage of miso.
Koji provides a great solution to a “problem” with rice. Rice is a great source of starch, but it doesn’t come naturally equipped with the enzymes needed to break down that starch into sugars. Barley presents a similar obstacle, and people have learned to malt it to create the enzymes that break down its starch. That’s what one does for things like baking, brewing, and distilling.
The brilliance of the people who discovered koji is that they found that you can use microbes to do that work for you. (Part of the art of making miso is in selecting what kind of koji you’re going to use to do this; different strains have different properties. Sake producers select particular kojis to alter the flavors of their sakes, and miso producers do the same.) The Aspergillus is like an enzyme factory: it produces so many enzymes that they literally ooze out of the hyphae. (Those are the filaments that cover the fungus.)
One of those enzymes is called amylase. Amylase can break down long chains of starch, chopping them into little pieces that are sweet-tasting. These add sweetness to the finished product, but they’re also helpful for feeding other organisms at different stages in the miso-making process.
The other enzyme that koji produces in large quantities is called a protease. (That name refers to any enzyme that can break down proteins in a certain way.) This isn’t necessarily useful in the first stage, when the rice is being broken down, but it really kicks in and helps produce the flavors in the second stage of miso fermentation, when the soybeans go in.
The soybeans bring some important naturally occurring microbes of their own. One is a yeast called Zygosaccharomyces; the other is a bacterium called Tetragenococcus. These are both salt-tolerant, so they thrive in the salty soybean mixture. Tetragenococcus is a type of lactic-acid bacteria—it’s the “live active cultures” in yogurt and the cloudy stuff in a jar of pickles, and ubiquitous in other fermented foods. Tetragenococcus is a really wonderful bacterium, and it produces a lot of the acids that contribute to the flavor of miso.
Zygosaccharomyces, on the other hand, is not the most glamorous microbe known to man—it produces small colonies, and it’s plain-looking. But it smells sweet like sake. The proteases produced by Zygosaccharomyces, in cooperation with the proteases from the koji, break down the proteins in the soybeans—there’s a ton of protein is soybeans — into peptides and amino acids. This process is what gives miso its robust, almost meaty umami quality. It produces glutamic acid, which yields the flavor of umami, and accounts for the rich and savory aspect of miso.
OK so that is the basic science of miso-making — fascinating stuff and definitely something that if you understand and remember then DEFINITELY talk/discuss with your MISO MASTER Ambassador when you’re on the following MYrago experience: #Sagamihara: Home Cooking Class With A Miso Master