To walk past a sushi shop without picking up a takeaway cup of miso soup can prove difficult. Seventy- five percent of all Japanese people consume miso soup at least once a day and there’s no wondering why; hot, satisfying, and profoundly ‘umami’, it’s the slurpable substance of choice when the cold weather kicks in and our stomachs yearn for something hot and satisfying. Made from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt (miso paste) with added stock (dashi) it’s the former ingredient that truly defines the flavour. A paste that has been fermented for a longer period of time, such as a red miso, gives the soup a stronger, deeper flavour, whereas a paste that hasn’t been fermented for quite so long, such as a white miso, provides a lighter, sweeter profile.
Being low in fat — a one-cup portion generally contains 66 calories — yet high in sodium, makes miso a great pick-me-up for the health conscious and fitness minded (whose sodium levels need replenishing). Served with rice, it’s the most common breakfast in Japan, adored by peasants and royalty alike. But slurpers beware, not all miso is created equal. Ninety percent of what’s served in eateries along with many of the brands you find in the supermarket, contain the addictive flavour enhancing MSG, a compound that has been linked to various health problems, such as headaches and allergic reactions.
Upmarket sushi purveyors &Sushi are renowned for their elevated iteration of miso soup. Each of the City Works Depot and Newmarket outlets offers strictly MSG-free varieties with either vegan, crayfish, crab or beef bone broth as the base. Britomart’s Ebisu is also expert in the art of quality miso. Like all of their menu, its standard vegetarian variety is MSG free and comes topped with soft tofu, spring onion and wakame seaweed. Meanwhile, at Ponsonby’s Azabu they extract the stock from bonito flakes, rather than adding the dashi variety. So, if it’s a soul-warming cup of goodness you seek, we suggest you do your homework and use your discretion to seek out only the best quality miso.