History of Miso and Its Near Relatives (200 BCE to 2021)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-37-3

Publication Date: 2021 May 5

Number of References in Bibliography: 5890

Earliest Reference: 200 BCE

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History of Miso and Its Near Relatives

Miso, or "fermented soybean paste," and its relatives, is one of East Asia's most important soyfoods. Miso is an all-purpose high-protein seasoning, which has no counterpart among Western foods or seasonings. Made from soybeans, rice or barley, and salt, its smooth or chunky texture resembles that of soft peanut butter. It comes in a wide range of warm, earthy colors ranging from light yellows to rusty reds, rich chocolate browns, or loamy blacks. Each miso has its own distinctive flavor and aroma, which for the darker, more traditional varieties is savory, and sometimes almost meaty, while for the lighter-colored types is subtly sweet and delicately refreshing. Miso's range of flavors and colors, textures and aromas, is at least as varied as that of the world's fine wines or cheeses.

Today miso is made by a small number of companies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and (as miso or miso products) is widely available at supermarkets, natural- and health food stores, and Asian stores.

200 B.C.E. (approx.) – Soybean jiang is first mentioned in China in the Wushi’er Bing Fang [Prescriptions for Fifty-Two Ailments].

544 C.E. – The Qimin Yaoshu (W.-G. Ch’i Min Yao Shu), by Jia Sixie in China gives the first detailed descriptions of making soybean jiang – and other soyfoods.

701 - Soybean hishio, miso, and soy nuggets start to be made in Japan by the Hishio Tsukasa, a government bureau. Reference to this is found in documents published between 730 and 748.

901-08 – The modern word for miso first appears in Japan in the Sandai Jitsuroku. The second character in the word miso is unique, and replaces the Chinese character for jiang (pronounced hishio in Japanese). The Japanese had so thoroughly transformed jiang into a new food, suited to their own tastes and foodways, that they felt it deserved a new and uniquely Japanese name. Miso was now its own food, unrelated to jiang. It was no longer the residue left after removing the liquid soy sauce from jiang.

927 – The Engi Shiki gives the first details about the production of soybean hishio/miso in Japan.

1433 – The earliest know reference to gochujang (spicy fermented chili paste with soybeans) appears in the Hyangyak-jipsongbang (Kim 2016).

1445 – The 2nd earliest know reference to gochujang appears in the Euibangyuchi (Kim 2016).

1460 – The 3rd earliest know reference to gochujang appears in the Siknyo-chanyo (Kim 2016).

1597 – Miso is first mentioned by a Westerner, the Florentine Francesco Carletti; he calls it misol.

1603Vocabulario da lingoa de Iapam (The Vocabulary of the Language of Japan), a Jesuit dictionary in Portuguese and Japanese, mentions:

Dengacu (Dengaku). Tofu is skewered and on top of each slice is spread miso; then it is broiled.

Miso. A kind of mixture which is made of seeds, rice and salt to season Japanese soups.

Misocoxi (Misokoshi). A bamboo strainer used for straining miso.

Misoya. A shop that sells miso.

Misoyaqijiru (Miso-yaki-jiru). A type of soup made with tofu and finely sliced daikon radish);

1712 – Englebert Kaempfer, a German who lived in Japan, is the first European to give detailed descriptions of how miso and shoyu are made in Japan. Also mentions koji.

1727 – Miso is first mentioned in an English-language publication, The History of Japan, by E. Kaempfer. He spells it "Midsu, a mealy Pap, which they dress their Victuals withal, as we do butter."

1779 – The word "miso" ("that is used as butter") first appears in an English-language publication, the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

1783Flora Diatetica, by Charles Bryant, has a long section on miso. “The Miso is made by boiling a certain quantity of the beans for a considerable time in water, till they become very soft, when they are repeatedly brayed with a large quantity of salt, till all is incorporated. To this mass they add a certain preparation of rice, named Koos [probably koji; Kaempfer introduced this term in 1712], and having well blended the whole together, it is put into a wooden vessel, where in about 2 months it becomes fit for use, and serves the purposes of butter.”

1847 – The word "miso" first appears in print in the United States, in a letter from T.W.H. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Farmers' Cabinet and Herd Book.

1889 Dec. – “Researches on the Manufacture and Composition of ‘Miso,’” by Kellner, Nagaoka, and Kurashima is published in English in a Japanese journal. They identify four types of Japanese: (1) Shiro miso, white miso; (2) Yedo miso, Edo miso. Inaka miso, country miso, made with barley koji; (4) Sendai miso, also called aka miso (red miso). Many families make their own miso at home.

1895 Aug. – In “The Preparation and Chemical Composition of Tofu,” M. Inouye of Japan first refers to miso as a “vegetable cheese.”

1907 – Miso is first made commercially in the continental United States by Yamane Miso, Sakana Sho in Sacramento, California. The next four commercial miso makers in the continental USA all started in California, owned and operated by Japanese: 1908 - Sanyo Shokai, in Melrose (near Alameda); 1913 – Marumi Miso Seizo-sho, in Los Angeles; 1917 – Fujimoto Co., in San Francisco (Brand: Kanemasa Miso). 1919 – Norio Co., in San Francisco (Type: Shiro miso = Sweet white miso).

1908 – Miso is first made commercially in Hawaii by the Hawaiian Yamajo Soy Company of Honolulu.

1921 – The term "bean paste" is first used to refer to miso by J.L. North of England in the Illustrated London News.

1929 – Amano Brothers, Canada's first commercial miso maker, starts in Vancouver, British Columbia. Founder: Mr. Teiichi Amano.

1960 – Dr. C.W. Hesseltine and K. Shibasaki, of the Northern Regional Research Laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, publish the first of many important scientific articles on miso.

1956 – George Ohsawa, leader of the worldwide macrobiotic movement, writes his first two books that mention miso; both are in French. (1) Guide Pratique de la Médecine Macrobiotique d'Extrême-Orient…(2) Le Miso et la Sauce.

1960s – The macrobiotic movement introduces miso to the Western world.

1963 – Michio and Aveline Kushi, teachers of Macrobiotics in Boston, start to teach Americans about miso.

1966 April – Aveline Kushi (with Evan Root) starts Erewhon, a pioneering retailer in Boston, that soon starts selling miso.

1968 Aug. – Herman Aihara, the leader of West Coast macrobiotics, translates the story by Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki about how eating miso had saved his life by protecting him and his co-workers (by changing their constitution) from the radiation when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Aihara published his translation in his magazine Macrobiotic Monthly (Chico, California), in August (pp. 6-12).

1968 – Erewhon expands to become an importer and distributor of natural and macrobiotic foods. Their first two misos, Mugi Miso and Hacho Miso, are imported from Japan.

1972 – Herman Aihara writes Miso & Tamari, a 34-page booklet telling about these foods/seasonings and how to make them.

1976 June – Miyako Oriental Foods, a division of Yamajirushi Miso Co. in Japan, starts making miso in Los Angeles. Owned by Noritoshi Kanai. Brands: Yamajirushi, Kanemasa, Yamaizumi.

1976 Sept. – The Book of Miso, by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, is published by Autumn Press of Hayama, Japan. This is the first book about miso in the Western world or in English.

1977 Oct. – Susan-Marie (“Lulu”) Yoshihara arrives in Japan to study miso making. After five months she returns to Denman Island, British Columbia, Canada, to help found Shin-Mei-Do Miso Co. with her husband, Yasuo (“Yoshi”). She is, thus, the first Westerner or Caucasian to travel to Japan with the specific goal of establishing commercial miso production in North America or Europe.

1978 Oct. – The Ohio Miso Co., the first Caucasian-run miso company in the Western world, is founded by Thom Leonard and Richard Kluding. They begin miso production on 13 March 1979.

1978 Nov. – Joel Dee of Edward & Sons (New Jersey) launches Natural Instant Miso Cup, an instant miso soup made with freeze-dried miso from Japan.

1978 Dec. – Aveline Kushi writes How to Cook with Miso, published in New York, NY, by Japan Publications Trading Co. (127 p.).

1978 Dec. – Miyako Oriental Foods of Los Angeles introduces Cold Mountain Firm Granular Rice Koji, the first koji sold commercially in the USA. In 1979 they start selling Cold Mountain Miso, the first miso with an American-style brand.

1979 Oct. – John and Jan Belleme arrive in Japan to study traditional miso- and koji-making with the Onozaki family in Yaita, Japan. They are the first Caucasians to do this, and then to return to the West to start making miso commercially. From 1981 on they write many superb articles about miso, published in America.

1979 April – Shin-Mei-Do Miso is founded by Lulu and Yasuo Yoshihara in British Columbia, Canada.

1981 April – John Troy of Elf Works, Ltd. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, launches Hot Stuff, an early and very successful American miso product. He first learned about miso from Joel Dee.

1981 Aug. – John and Jan Belleme begin full-time, large-scale production of miso and koji at Erewhon Miso Co. in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. By early 1982 their company is renamed American Miso Co. with Barry Evans as the new owner. He greatly expands production and is deeply committed to miso quality.

1982 Oct. 25 – Christian and Gaella Elwell start making miso and koji at South River Miso Co. in Conway, Mass. Earlier that year they purchased The Ohio Miso Co.

1984 Sept. – Naturally Preferred Miso Mustard is launched by American Natural Foods, Inc. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Developed by John Troy, it is widely advertised with very stylish ads.

2003 Dec. – Trader Joe’s starts to sell Trader Joe’s Instant Miso Soup, the most convenient and delicious miso product we have yet to find – when freshly grated ginger is added just before serving.

2021 April – America Miso Co. in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, has become, by far, the dominant miso maker in the United States. Leila Bakkum, the company’s national sales director, is developing many new and creative uses for American Miso – as an ingredient for food processors, as in sauces, marinades, salad dressings, etc. and in more conventional retail chains, such Raley’s.


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