I’ve been thinking about making my own homemade miso for a year. I usually purchase the organic miso from Miso Master but it tends to be milder than the Japanese brand miso and I use it up after only making miso soup 3-4 times. That is not a lot for a Japanese, so I have to buy it all the time! Organic miso isn’t cheap and it definitely adds up. I’m very much into homemade anything so I started researching how it’s made. Miso making is a bit of a process and the miso has to sit and ferment for 6 month to a year. This long fermentation period can deter some people from making it, but look at it this way, once it’s done, you won’t have to buy miso again! Or at least for a long time.
Once I started researching about miso making, I was determined to make mine in a traditional ceder wooden barrel. On a recent trip back to Japan, I purchased one for home use and carried it back to the states. It wasn’t an easy task, but it was well worth it, as you can’t get these anywhere in the states. It’s handmade, using Yoshino ceder (one of the superior cedars in Japan), and is bound with woven bamboo strips. It comes with 2 lids, one smaller lid acts as a press, and another as an outer lid. No glue is used, they only use a few stainless steel nails on the back of the outer lid, which does not come into contact with miso. This home use one is a mini version of the barrels the old school miso makers in Japan use. Their barrels are enormous and hold literally tons of miso.
The pros of using the traditional cedar barrels are:
1. It gives the miso a nice cedar fragrance.
2. No plastic, period! (Especially because you have to let it sit for 6 month to a year.)
3. Your miso gets better and better every year because the koji spores (the bacteria that makes miso) starts living within the wood.
4. It just looks way cooler!
This particular barrel has a 12 liter capacity, but I had no idea how much miso to make for this size. Ultimately, I guestimated and decided to make about 40 lbs. It didn’t quite sink in how huge of an amount that was until I was actually making it. 40 lbs is a lot of miso. A LOT!! At least I literally don’t have to buy any miso once it’s done, and it will make a great Christmas present next year to my fellow miso loving friends.
I finally had my own cedar barrel which I had been dreaming about for a whole year, so I had to jump right into miso making. But before I start getting into how I made it, let me quickly explain what miso is. Miso is a fermented soy bean paste. It’s made by mixing cooked and mashed soy beans, koji (cultured rice), and salt, then fermenting it. When you are buying miso at the store, the ingredients list should be very clean as it only takes 3 ingredients to make it. You’ll see red miso and white miso sold at the market. The difference between the two is how it is made, and their flavor. Basically, white miso is made with cooked soy beans with a higher ratio of koji to soy beans, which makes it sweeter, and is fermented for a shorter period, about 3 months. It is milder in flavor and is a lighter yellow color. Red miso is made with steamed soy beans, with an equal ratio of soy beans and koji, and is fermented for a longer period, about 6 months to a year. It is richer and deeper in flavor and has a darker, rich reddish brown color. Both make great miso soups. White miso can be used as a secret ingredient in vegan white sauces and vegan cheeses or sauces to give it some real depth in flavor. Red miso can be used as a secret ingredient in vegan stews, curries, stroganoffs, and whatever dishes you want to add some deep rich flavors. I’m making white miso but with a longer fermentation period, so it will end up being a deeper and fuller flavored white miso with a richer, darker color from the extended fermentation.
I purchased all organic ingredients and sprouted my soy beans to make my very own homemade organic sprouted miso. To make 40 lbs of miso, it took 9 lbs of organic dried soy beans, 14 lbs of organic Koji, and 5.5 lbs of salt. The purchase set me back:
Organic soy beans from Whole Foods: $2.29 per pound x 9 = $20.61
Organic Koji 15 lbs bag: $112.50 + $34.20(shipping) = $146.52
Real Salt 4 bags: $7.49 per 26 ounce bag x 4 = $29.96
Total price $197.09 for 40 lbs of miso, $4.93 per pound. Half the price compared to Miso Master organic miso I get at Whole Foods, which is $9.99 for 1 lbs container. It cost more to make a batch at first, but it’s definitely cheaper if you compare it pound for pound. If you make a smaller batch like 8-10 lbs, it will be much cheaper to make too, and is still a better value.
Well, I think we’ve had enough of an intro, so let’s get into what I did. To make the miso, first you have to soak the soy beans in water. I soaked the soy beans for 18 hours. The soy beans usually double or triple in size when plump. Since I was going to make sprouted miso, I did not move on to cooking the soy beans after soaking, and instead sprouted them.
I drained and rinsed the soy beans well, then spread them thin and evenly in a colander to let them sprout. I’ve never sprouted 9 lbs of soy beans all at once, so my 4 colanders and every sieve I own weren’t enough. I ended up using seven, half gallon mason jars with sprouting lids and my large bamboo steamer. Using the steamer was just something I thought of on a whim. The trays are slotted so it acted like colanders and worked just fine. I covered them with dish towels and let it all sit at room temperature for about a day, rinsing the beans with water 3 times. After about 18 hours, the soy beans had some cute little sprouts. Let me tell you, 9 lbs of soy beans can take over your kitchen. Between the soaking and sprouting, my kitchen was invaded for 2 day.
Once the soy beans sprouted, I rinsed them very well. Then it was time to cook them. I bought a pressure cooker just for this part because I knew I was going to cook a ton of soy beans and just this process alone could take all day. This was one of the best investments I made for my kitchen! I had to cook it in 5 parts, since my pressure cooker is not big enough to cook 9 lbs of soy beans at once. Then again, few are!
While I was cooking the beans, I disinfected all tools to be used by washing them with soap and water, then wiping them with vodka. I also had to mix the koji and salt. Koji might not be something you are familiar with, so let me explain. Koji is rice or soy beans cultured with aspergillus oryzae. It is an essential ingredient in many staple Japanese condiments, such as soy sauce, mirin, sake, and of course miso, along with much more. You can find conventional rice koji at a Japanese market in the refrigerated section, but they don’t carry organic rice koji. I bought my organic rice koji online from Rhapsody. Here’s the link: http://rhapsodynaturalfoods.com/our-products/koji/organic-long-term-rice-miso-koji/.
Mixing the Koji and salt is a very important process. The Koji and salt needs to be mixed separately first. It’s also essential the two are mixed thoroughly, because even salt distribution is very important to preventing mold during the fermentation process. I had to mix 14lbs of Koji and 5.5 lbs of salt, almost 20 lbs worth. I realized I didn’t have a big enough container to mix the two properly, so my husband had to make an emergency run to Lowes to get a large plastic, food safe bucket with a lid!
After each batch of soy beans were cooked, I checked to make sure the soy beans were cooked to the right softness by pinching one between my thumb and pinky. If I could smash the bean without any effort at all, it was perfect. On to mashing the beans into a paste. I could have used a food processor but I opted for my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the beater attachment. It did an excellent job, saving me lots of time because of the larger batches I could do at a time.
Once all the soy beans were cooked, mashed, and cooled off, it was time to mix it with the Koji-salt mixture. I had to half the amount to be able to mix it in my largest bowl. Then mixed and kneaded away. It’s essential to mix the soy beans and Koji-salt mixture really well. Just like with mixing Koji and salt. The even distribution of Koji and salt throughout the miso paste is also essential for preventing mold during fermentation. So better to over mix it than to under mix it. It definitely required a lot of elbow grease and was quite a workout. When the miso was mixed thoroughly, I started rolling the miso into balls. Then I threw the balls really hard into the bottom corner of the cedar barrel, making sure it made a loud slamming sound. This is to get rid of any air underneath and within the ball itself, which prevents molding once again. I was supposed to throw the miso balls all around the perimeter of the bottom, then in the middle to fill the whole bottom surface. Then, carefully push and even out the surface, making sure to work out any air, and repeat the process. But I forgot to throw the balls over the surface first and instead, I started to spread the miso after I threw each ball. I paid extra attention to getting rid of any air, so even though I messed up the order, it should turn out fine.
I filled up the barrel leaving some room at the top for the inner lid and a weight. Weights are used on top of the inner lid to push down on the miso so that it has no contact with air, another measure to prevent mold. Before I moved on to the next step, I wiped off any miso that got on the sides and edges of the barrel with vodka. Next came a layer of salt. I spread salt all over the surface until I saw no miso. Again, another preventative measure for mold. The higher the salt content, the harder for the mold to grow. Some people don’t use salt on the surface and instead, lay down saran wrap on the miso, making sure there isn’t any air pockets. I personally didn’t like the idea of food touching the saran wrap and being left for an entire year, so I opted for the salt and kelp sheets. After the salt layer, I used re-hydrated kelp to cover the entire surface. The water you re-hydrated the kelp in is called dashi, and in Japanese cooking, it’s used as a stock or broth in many staple dishes. You can use it to make tasty vegan miso soup instead of the non-vegan bonito based dashi used in traditional miso soup!
I put the inner lid and the weight on, and found that the kelp on the sides was lifting off the salted surface. Salt was going to be absorbed overtime exposing the miso, so this meant the miso was going to be exposed to air in this area. On the surface where miso has contact with air, mold tends to grown over time. It’s very common, and fortunately, even if the batch ends up having some mold when you open it up months later, your miso isn’t ruined. You just have to scrape about a couple inches off the surface where the mold grew. But it’s always best to take preventative measures as much as you can. I actually did more research later on and found out Kuma Sasa leaves, a type of dwarf bamboo leaves have strong anti-bacterial qualities and if you lay the leaves down on the surface, there will be no mold growth throughout the year. I am seriously considering growing them for future miso making. Anyways, I took out the inner lid and weight and decided to use clear plastic bags filled it with salt. This acts as a weight and since it’s free forming, it does a great job of getting rid of any air pockets. I have thick kelp layered underneath so I wasn’t worried about the leaching of the bag too much over the course of a year. I will throw out the kelp when the miso is done. The salt bags did a great job of minimizing the air and weighing it down. I put the inner lid back on and tried to place the weight on top, but it wouldn’t allow the outer lid to close properly, so I pulled the weight out and closed outer lid.
I wrapped paper over the outer lid as a dust cover and secured it with some string. Do you remember when I told you my 40 lbs prediction was off earlier? Well, I was off by 8-9 lbs. I made too much. I didn’t plan on ending up with more, so after some scrambling to figure out what container to use, I chose to use mason jars. I disinfected them by boiling them in water for 15 minutes and wiping them down with vodka. Then stuffed them with miso, then salt, then laid down the kelp sheets, and jammed in the salt bag for weight, making sure there was no air pockets. I loosely tightened the lid because during fermentation miso can produce gas, so tightly closing the lid can be dangerous since it can potentially explode on you. I wrapped the jars in paper to shut out light and moved both the barrel and the jars to a cool dark place. I put the 7 lbs weight on top of the barrel to weigh it down. Phew! I was finally done except for cleaning up the mess I made! From all the work that went into it, these miso containers feel like my babies and I can’t wait until they are done! Now that I have one miso making experience under my belt, I want to make a small batch of organic and sprouted chick pea miso soon. I will write about it again so stay tuned!