A fermented paste made from soya beans and rice, barley or rye, miso is used extensively in Japanese and South East Asian cookery. It imparts a deeply savoury, rich intensity to classic miso soup, salad dressings, marinades for grilled fish, poultry and vegetables and is also a central ingredient to pouring sauces and flavouring pickles.
Miso is fermented in two stages - initially a mould is grown on steamed grain - most commonly rice - to make koji, the starter culture for the mixture. Steamed and chopped soya beans are mixed into the koji with salt, water and yeast culture for flavour and the mix is left to ripen. When the fermentation is complete the beans still retain their original shape so must be ground to make the paste. Home-made miso is ground every day by hand with a pestle and mortar but most people buy it ready made.