The history of miso

The history of miso

Although we don't know exactly who invented miso we dive into the history and development of this paste.

The history of miso is somewhat obscure, and like many delicacies, there are various possibilities. One theory suggests it's origins lie in ancient China and that it was brought to Japan around the 6th century by Buddhist monks. Hishio/sho, the precursor of miso, was a fermented food product that may date back to the 11th century BCE.

Hishio was made from grinded/mashed meat or fish mixed with salt, alcohol, and koji, then fermented for over 100 days in pots. Also around this time, Shi/Kuki would be made. This was produced from soybeans or grains and salt. The fermentation process allowed for long-term storage of valuable food, essential for hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies.

Another theory suggests that a precursor to miso existed in Japan as early as the Yayoi period, from 300 BCE to 300 CE. There is evidence of a culture of salting and fermenting foods such as wild animals, fish, and grains. Given Japan's temperate climate, it's likely that fermentation culture existed before the Chinese introduced Hishio.

Regardless of its origin, the first written record of this fermented product was in the 'Taihō Ritsuryo,' where it was noted as Misho, literally meaning "not yet Hishio/Sho." This term did not exist in China. It is believed that the Japanese developed their own version of Hishio/Sho, which evolved over time into "Miso."

The miso consumed during the Heian period was made by salting and drying soybeans. Easily picked up with chopsticks, it was consumed in small amounts as a condiment for steamed vegetables or fish, eaten with rice, or enjoyed as a salty snack with sake. It was also used for medicinal purposes.

The Birth of Miso Soup In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), miso underwent a radical transformation when Zen monks studying in China brought back the mortar and pestle. The monks ground the grainy miso in the mortar and dissolved the paste in hot water to make miso soup.

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