Miso is Japan’s most traditional seasoning. For centuries Japanese craftsmen, using natural fermentation methods have transformed soybeans and other grains into a delicious and versatile staple foods. A rich and savory paste, miso adds a harmonizing flavor to a wide variety of dishes. There are many different types of miso made throughout Japan and each has a distinct flavor, colour and aroma.

Miso is an extraordinary source of concentrated nutrition. Known to be high in protein, essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. It is low in calories and fat, and is a good source of fiber. Considered an important medicinal food, its daily use is credited with numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and alkalinizing the blood. Being a good source of magnesium and potassium it serves as an effective counter to high sodium intake and like yogurt, unpasteurized miso is also abundant in lactic acid bacteria and enzymes which aid digestion.

Although there are hundreds of different types of miso, usually named after their main ingredient, colour or location of production, miso can be classified into two main groups; Red ‘akamiso’ or White ‘shiromiso’.

Hatcho Miso

Hatcho Miso is the name given to the original and most authentic type of dark/red miso. In central Japan’s Aichi Province, in the town of Okazaki, on Hatcho (8th) Street, is a set of old tile-roof buildings. It is the home of the Hatcho Miso Company, makers for five centuries of one of Japan’s true living national treasures and probably the most famous miso in all Japan.

Inside the shop stand rows of huge ancient cedar casks, held together with hoops of braided bamboo and topped with a mountain of stones, skillfully arranged so that they never collapse, even during earthquakes. In each vat, under the great pressure of three tons of river rocks, 12,000 pounds of Hatcho miso slowly and naturally ferments through the hot and humid summers and mild Aichi winters.

Following 24 to 30 months of pressing and fermenting, under the direction of 18th generation president Kyuemon Hayakawa, the workers remove the stones and pressing lid exposing the rich fragrant miso that has long been treasured by Emperors and peasants alike. The Hatcho Miso Company has the prestigious honor of supplying their miso to the Imperial Household.

Although modern machines now do some of the work, the basic method used at the Hatcho Miso Company has changed little in the last 300 years.

Firstly, premium grade soybeans are washed and soaked in water for l hour. The beans are then transferred to a 2000 pound capacity cooker, steamed for 2 hours and then left in the closed cooker overnight. This unusual cooking process gives Hatcho miso its deep, cocoa brown color and characteristic smoky flavor.

The following morning the soft, dark beans are crushed in a special machine that shapes them into 2-inch crosses, allowing a greater surface area for the growth of micro-organisms. Next the crosses are lightly dusted with a mixture of aspergillus spores and toasted barley flour and incubated for 72 hours. As the ‘hatcho crosses’, now called koji, emerge from the incubation room covered with a fragrant bloom of pale yellow mold and loaded with powerful digestive enzymes, the koji is mixed with sea salt and a small amount of water and transferred to 7 foot tall cedar vats.

After being covered with a thick cotton cloth and heavy wooden pressing lid a 3 ton pyramid of stones is arranged on top of the lid and the process of natural aging begins. Over the following 8 to 10 seasons the enzymes generated by the aspergillus bacteria slowly mellow the mixture transforming the complex protein, carbohydrates, and fats of the beans into dark, rich, flavorful amino fatty acids and sweet simple sugars. Finally, after a minimum of 2 full years, the mature miso is scooped out and packaged without pasteurization.

Although some people use the name ‘Hatcho’ to describe any dark miso, only the miso made since the 1300’s on 8th Street in the small town of Okazaki is the true Hatcho miso. It is not just the exacting traditional process that sets it apart as over the centuries a particular strain of aspergillus mold has developed in the cracks and crevices of the old seasoned vats and throughout the fermentation rooms which helps to give this authentic Hatcho miso a unique flavor that is impossible to duplicate.

At Cook Tokyo the only dark/red miso that we stock is authentic Hatcho miso made by the Hatcho Miso Company Ltd.

White Miso

White Miso is the most widely produced miso in Japan. It can be made from bends of various different ingredients such as barley, rice, buck wheat, millet, rye, azuki beans, wheat, hemp, corn and even chick peas. Although each region may have their own particular style the most commonly used ingredients are rice, barley, and a small quantity of soybeans. If a greater quantity of soybeans were added, the miso would be red or brown.

Compared with red miso, white miso has a very short fermentation time. The taste is sweet, and the umami is soft or light. So while being less authentic than traditionally made red miso, white miso is generally considered to be more versatile in its uses and has a much wider range of application in different styles of cooking.

Because of its shorter fermentation white miso is less well preserved than red miso and so often contains small quantities of added alcohol. Some of the more industrially manufactured miso contain artificial stablisers and preservatives, so at Cook Tokyo we take care to source only those miso which are made in an authentic way by small independent artisan producers.

Please view the items in our Cook Tokyo Shop for a more detailed explanation of each individual product.