Cheryl Paswater, Chief Fermentationist and CEO of Contraband Ferments, came to the Charles B. Wang Center on Oct. 4 to host the workshop “How to Make Homemade Miso.” Miso, a traditional Japanese product, is created through fermentation, a process that alters the microbial makeup of the food and offers unique health benefits.
Anthony Porras, a junior majoring in economics and applied math and statistics, said he came to the workshop “not only because [he enjoys] cooking, but also because other culture’s cooking style is art.”
Freshman English major Matthew Lundy said he was attracted to the workshop because “[he likes] Japanese culture and [he likes] miso soup, so it ended up being a nice combination.”
With a cup of homemade chickpea miso soup at each table setting, Paswater began the event with the question, “How many of you are currently fermenting things?” and went on to say the process originated in China over 10,000 years ago with kimchi — now a staple in Korean cuisine. As time passed, more places such as Japan were introduced to the process of fermentation, and fermented food like miso became a traditional Japanese product. According to Paswater, the goal of fermentation as a preservation technique, is “to grow microorganisms using fungi.”
Paswater says there are four parts to making miso: beans; koji or “moldy rice,” a rice that has been inoculated with the mold Aspergillus oryzae; salt and a vessel. Dried beans are highly recommended instead of canned beans, and after cooking they are mashed into a paste. Mix the koji, beans and bean juice together, and add salt and optional garlic. Coat the vessel — glass is preferable and metal is not recommended — with the bean juice. Roll the koji and beans into balls and drop them into the jar. Push the balls down to remove any air pockets, wipe the lid, label the jar and store it in a cool, dark place.
Then Paswater says to “let it hang out.” Miso can be stored for years; Paswater’s oldest miso is five or six years old. As a safety precaution, always look at the miso before consuming it because “fermentation will always tell you if something has gone wrong.” Paswater urges us to remember, “Red, black and neon [colors] equal death — don’t eat it!” Still, the longer the miso ferments, the healthier it becomes. But for the wary, Paswater does acknowledge that “[f]ermentation is weird.”
Miso has an assortment of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and plant-based proteins drawn out by fermentation. According to Paswater, fermenting foods “increases their nutritional value [and] removes radiation and metal from the [consumer’s] body.”
After completing the workshop, retired biology professor and former president of the Asian American Faculty and Staff Association, Joan Miyazaki, says she will try making miso because “fermented food is very good for your gut [and] overall health and [she is] interested in its biodiversity and health benefits.”
Miso can be incorporated into one’s diet in various ways; it isn’t only reserved for miso soup. Any type of bean can be used; although soybeans are the most conventional, a miso product does not necessarily have to contain soy. The audience was encouraged to taste test different types of miso with date miso, fava miso and okra miso, and more. Try smearing miso on toast, adding it to a salad dressing, or simply substituting it for salt.
As Paswater says, “Every culture in the world is fermenting food but us, but we’re the sickest. I don’t think fermentation is a cure-all, but I think it’s powerful medicine for sure.”