The History of Miso

The History of Miso

Many distinctive foods in Asian cuisine are produced by fermentation processes, such as nam pla  in Southwest Asia, chilli sauce and black bean sauce in China, and gochujang in Korea. In Japan, we make unique miso using grain and cereal.

It is said that miso may have originated with 'Hishio', which came to Japan from ancient China through the Korean Peninsula. It has also been discovered that there was a kind of miso made from acorns in the Jomon period.

There are two types of hishio, one made from animal-based ingredients such as meat or fish, the other from plant-based ingredients such as cereals or grains.

Whilst miso is nowadays regarded as a seasoning, it was formerly an important and valuable source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and valued as an easily preservable food. At one time, it was regarded as a luxury food, only affordable to the nobility and to buddhist monks.

During the Sengoku era, the samurai found miso very useful and making miso became an important economic policy. The first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was a man greatly concerned with his health. Accordingly, he devised a simple diet for himself, including miso soup with seasonal vegetables, and rice cooked with barley. Whereas the average life-span during the Edo period is said to have been 38 years, Ieyasu lived to the age of 75. It is widely acknowledged that miso has been used by Japanese people as a seasoning from this period onwards.

Miso is enshrined in Japanese culture  - throughout its long history, it has been passed from generation to generation as a staple part of the traditional Japanese diet, continuing up the present day. There are many regional varieties of miso, their production depending on the local climate and available crops.

In recent times, mugi miso has also been promoted as a part of a  healthy and well balanced diet by the slow food and macrobiotic food movements. In April 1995, miso soup was selected for the first time as one of the foods served at the athletes village during the Atlanta Olympics. Hospitals and nutrition clinics in Western countries have become interested in the beneficial effects of miso, and the Japanese diet is widely accepted as promoting a disease and obesity free lifestyle.