Classic Miso Compares to the Zen Concept of ‘Circle’
For each of the four kinds of miso that Masafumi produces, soybeans, sea salt and home-made koji rice malt are all 100% made in Japan. Meticulously-produced miso gives a gentle but solid savory taste. The taste is so rich and deep that even small children enjoy drinking miso soup. In fact, making miso isn’t difficult. Anybody could and would make miso at home a long time ago. It’s as simple as mixing boiled soybeans, salt and koji rice malt before placing it in a container during summer. Recently, the more people pursue natural food, the more home-made miso is produced. But there’s a huge difference between home-made miso and miso made by a professional craftsman. The ratio of well-selected ingredients combined with a century-old wooden barrel produces miso on another level.
When miso’s ingredients are put together in a plastic container, they will still ferment as expected. But heat is directly and quickly conducted in plastic containers. On the other hand, in a wooden container fermentation progresses moderately, making the aroma distinctively mellow. Wooden barrels that have held more than a hundred batches of miso help new miso to ferment better. In this way, every batch of miso makes the next batch even better. For the last 140 years, miso production techniques remained unchanged at Inoue Miso brewhouse. The natural environment and ingredients rotate, making a continuing circle. Masafumi called this natural way of miso production his “circle technique,” an idea from Zen philosophy.
“The growth of Koji rice malt can’t be controlled, but it can be helped along. The best we can do is continually assess the koji’s status. A lot of this is by ‘feel.’ If the growth feels good, then there’s no problem. But if it is not growing steadily, I must come up with a measure to help it to grow,” he said. Optimizing temperature and humidity is one solution. Only when koji grows correctly and attains a steady status can Masafumi finally feel relieved. “When I nurture koji, I don’t sleep for 40 hours, staying with it to watch over its growth. That is my job,” he said.
While science is revealing the secrets of miso, Inoue Miso sticks to classic production methods that may not be logical. “There are many things that cannot be expounded upon by mathematics. That’s why I don’t want to eliminate ambiguity or complication. I think such ‘inefficient’ miso brewhouses like ours can continue to exist for the years to come,” he said.
Unheated classic miso is the result of a tremendous amount of experience and creativity on behalf of innumerable craftsmen who tried various methods, both successful and unsuccessful. And even today, the pursuit of improved handmade authentic miso is still ongoing. As a result of their efforts, we can enjoy the old-style, all-natural miso.
Science has the great power to help people understand and consider alternate viewpoints. However, the essence of naturally-fermented miso like Masafumi’s will remain a mystery to science for now.
Photo by Eri Minouchi, Inoue Miso Shoyu
Text by Motomi Takahashi