F all is the season for eating, or so the Japanese saying goes. There are so many good Japanese autumn foods: Pumpkin (not quite the same as in America, but similar), sweet potato, nabe. I’m going to talk about one that is more of a daily food, but also considered a autumn food traditionally. It’s one of my favorites, and I hope you like it too.
Miso is a traditional Japanese food, usually used in soup, often eaten for breakfast everyday. Have you heard of it? Let’s take a look at miso, and specifically the type Okazaki is famous for, Hatcho miso (the prefered miso of the Emperor).
(Photo by Jeremy Keith; edited by me)
Miso production traditionally started in autumn, and although it is often eaten daily, it is considered a autumn food by traditional Chinese (and Japanese) medicine. We won’t go too much into this, but basically Chinese medicine considers autumn a time for sharp foods to clense the body with as you prepare it for winter and supposely miso helps do this.
Miso: Miracle Food
Miso has received a lot of press these past several years for all the health benefits it supposely possesses. It is rich in protein, vitmins, and minrals, and is even claimed to protect against the harmful effects of radiation and help fight radiation sickness. This effect is even stronger in Hatcho miso. After the Chernoyl disaster, Japan sent Hatcho miso to Russia to help the victims; Russia thought it helped so much that they ordered more.
Among the claimed health benefits of miso are:
- Cancer Prevention
- Easing Radiation sickness (as stated above)
- Aids digestion
- hangover relef
- negating the harmful effects of smoking
- control of blood pressure
- And the list goes on and on….
I won’t cover these claims. You can find believe them or not & find evidence to show either side easily enough. It’s enough to know about them and know Japanese people are likely to mention them to you when talking about miso.
So… what is miso?
Kind of a nasty looking paste.
(Photo by Peter Jan Jaas; edited by me)
It tastes much better than it looks, I assure you.
Miso can be made from a varaiaty of things including wheat, rice, and soybeans. It can be classified in two different ways.
- By color: Red (aka) and White (shiro) miso. Sometimes you may see a third type in this classification, naka (blend, or middle) miso, which is a combination of red and white.
- By ingrediant: wheat (mugi), rice (kome), and soybean (mame) miso.
Kome miso is the most popular kind of miso in Japan today, with approxmantly 85% of the market. mugi miso has about 3%, and mame about 12%.
Hatcho (haht-cho) miso is made from soybeans so it is mame miso. It was a favorite of Ieyasu and Emperer Meiji, and remains the prefered miso for the Emperor today. One of the two hatcho miso factories (the only two remaining) has the contract for supplying the Imperial Palace with its miso. They are very proud of that, by the way, and only mention it even few minutes if you go on a tour.
Hatcho Miso has less salt than other types, fewer carbs, and lasts longer. It is the miso the Japanese bring with them on expeditions to the South Pole.
How is it made
Well, like so:
Ok, there is more to it than that, but the general details would make this article much longer. Basically, what you need to know is the beans are crushed up, the koji fungus is added along with lots of salt, and the whole mix is left to ferment for months to years, depending on the kind of miso and the exact process used. Oh yeah, and huge stones are piled on it all. Huge and heavy.
Each vat contains about 6 tonnes of miso. The stack of stones weighs about 3 tonnes.
I was told by the president of the company that stacking the stones is the single most important job and that people have to apprentence under a master for ten years before being allowed to do it. Evidently the stones have to be balanced exactly right so pressure is on the center of the miso. The same stacking methoid used here is the one used at one time for building the walls of Japanese castles and it’s claimed it can withstand an earthquake of 4 or below.
Why isn’t Hatcho more popular?
Hatcho Miso was at one time the prefered miso in Japan. As mentioned, Ieyasu prefered it, and so had plenty of it sent to Edo when he set up his capital there. Because every Daimyo (regional lord) was required to live in Edo every other year, Hatcho Miso quickly spread throughout Japan.
It remained this way untill the Tokyo earthquake in 1923. Kome miso was brought in to aid survivors, and the same happened later after WW2. I can’t find the exact reason for this… maybe it is cheaper to make. Either way, both of these events nearly killed the Hatcho Miso market.
There are only 2 Hatcho Miso companies left in Okazaki. I’ve visited both. They are both fanatical about only using traditional methods. It is left fermenting for up to 3 years, and so you can imagine they have a lot of these giant vats. Most are from the Taisho Era or eariler.
Hatcho means 8 cho, by the way. A cho is an old unit of measurement, roughly equal to 100 meters. Hatcho miso was so named because it originated 8 cho away from Okazaki Castle. 8 can be pronounced ha, so thus hatcho.
More on Miso
Other Matsuri Posts
Now that you are wise in the ways of miso. I recommend running out and buying some. Make it Hatcho Miso and Ieyasu will be happy. And be sure to head back to the main matsuri page here for other entries in the November J-Blog Matsuri. Lots of good ones.