Miso is a unique food. It is a fermented soybean paste often made with brown rice or barley as well. It is used as a seasoning in various types of sauces, spreads, soups, and for pickling other foods such as vegetables, tofu or fish. Miso soup has become very popular in recent years. A good bowl of miso soup leaves you with a wonderfully satisfied feeling that is soothing, calming and strengthening at the same time. Miso is a very nourishing food that aids digestion and strengthens our blood.
Miso soup made with wakame seaweed and leafy green vegetables is a wonderful source of high quality protein, B-vitamins, calcium and other minerals. It also provides protection from environmental pollution from the air, heavy metals and even radiation. In Oriental medicine, it is used to promote digestive and reproductive health.
There are many types of miso to choose from. In macrobiotics we use three main types of miso for maintaing health and for healing: soybean/Hatcho miso, barley miso or brown rice miso. The two that I recommend most in my counseling practice are barley and brown rice miso. Hatcho miso seems to be too strong for regular use.
From a macrobiotic perspective Hatcho miso is the most strengthening. Barley miso also has a more deeply nourishing and strengthening effect on our health, though not quite as strong as Hatcho. Brown rice miso is the most relaxing and soothing. It depends on our health and desires to decide which miso is best for regular use.
We can use the principle of yin and yang to understand the nature of each. Soybeans are the most yin food of the group followed by barley and then brown rice. Since soybeans are by far the most yin they have the ability to absorb more yang and become stronger and more yang over time. Barley is more yin than brown rice. Using the same principle, barley miso has the capacity to become substantially more yang than brown rice miso over time. All types of miso have a strong polarity of yin and yang elements, which gives them the ability to balance out extremes. Miso can balance out the harmful effects from animal foods, dairy foods, sweets, alcohol and many pollutants.
It is easy to think that a stronger miso is a better choice. This is not the case. We are after balance. If we move to either extreme too strongly, we can harm our health. For people that ate too many animal foods, well-cooked and salty foods, brown rice miso may be the best choice to help lighten their condition. The sweet richness of brown rice miso can effectively balance out the harmful effects from meat, hard-salty cheese and baked foods. It has a more relaxing, calming and soothing effect on us. If we became depleted from too many sweets, alcohol or other weakening foods, barley miso may be the better choice. It is more deeply nourishing and strengthening and can more easily cancel out excesses and extremes of yin. Simply speaking, barley miso for strength, warmth and activity, and brown rice miso for relaxation and unwinding.
Experiment with the various types of miso and try to observe their effects on your digestion, vitality and overall feeling of well being. You can also blend two types of miso for a unique effect.