Red Miso: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What is red miso?

Red miso — also called aka miso — is from Japan’s northern island known as Hokkaido and is one of the three main varieties of miso used in Japanese cuisine. Miso had its beginnings in China, despite its present status as one of Japan’s best-known foundation foods. Historians believe miso was introduced to the Japanese by a set of Chinese monks in the 6th or 7th centuries AD.

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The earliest version of miso was either eaten on its own or spread onto other foods. Later on, it was used as the main ingredient in soup by samurais, who found it to be a source of nutrition that was easy to prepare when in the field. Miso would eventually make its way to regular Japanese people and become the staple ingredient that it is today.

Red miso is made from a combination of basic ingredients: white rice or barley, along with soybeans and salt. The grain is fermented with a kind of mold called koji — a fermentation starter from rice; red miso uses very little koji if any compared to other miso varieties and is more likely to contain more soybeans. The limited koji use is why it has a longer fermentation time than other misos. The koji speeds up fermentation.

The grain for making red miso is soaked for longer than when making the other kinds, and it is steamed rather than boiled. The long fermentation time is what gives the miso its reddish-brown color, as well as the higher proportion of soybeans. Red miso can take as long as three years to ferment compared to a few months for white miso.

Flavor profile of red miso

Because it has been fermented for longer than other kinds of miso, red miso has a more pungently earthy flavor profile. Red miso is also the saltiest miso and has a more intense umami character.

Health benefits

The fermentation process as well as ingredients like soybeans imbue red miso with numerous health-enhancing properties from:

  • Vitamins: Red miso is a good source of vitamins B12 and K.
  • Minerals: Miso provides modest amounts of minerals like iron and zinc.
  • Protein: Red miso is higher in protein than other kinds of miso, while also being low in calories.
  • Beneficial bacteria: The fermentation process results in miso being packed with good bacteria.
  • Isoflavones: Soybeans and other bean types used to make red miso provide isoflavones, which are valuable phytoestrogens.

The beneficial compounds above make red miso good at treating and preventing health problems like:

  • Poor gut health: The beneficial bacteria can promote good bacteria — flora — in your gut. Flourishing gut flora improves digestion, and their positive effects are believed to extend to many other areas of health.
  • Poor immune function: The beneficial bacteria in red miso can make your immune system more robust and better at fighting infection.
  • Cancer: The isoflavones from soybeans may help to prevent cancer.

Health concerns

Red miso contains a lot of salt; a single serving contains about 25 percent of the sodium an adult needs in a day. Excessive sodium contributes to high blood pressure and its associated health problems, including heart disease.

Common uses

Red miso is considered the best miso for soups. The standard red miso soup consists of the miso combined with dashi, which is a stock made from ingredients including dried fish and seaweed. Red miso’s pungency complements marinades, glazes, and braised dishes.