In central Japan’s Aichi Province, in the town of Okazaki, on Hatcho (8th) Street, is a curious set of old tile-roof buildings. They are the home of Hatcho Miso Company, Ltd., makers for five centuries, of one of Japan’s true living treasures, the most revered miso in all Japan. Under the ancient rafters of the shop stand rows of huge 200-year-old cedar vats, held together with hoops of braided bamboo .
Each one is topped with a mountain of stones so skillfully arranged that they never collapse, even during earthquakes. In each vat, under the pressure of three tons of river rocks, 12,000 pounds of Hatcho (pronounced hot-cho) miso slowly and naturally ferment through the hot, humid summers and mild Aichi winters. After 24 to 30 months, under the direction of their nineteenth generation president Kyuemon Hayakawa, workers remove the stones and pressing lid, exposing the rich, fragrant miso that has long been treasured by emperors, shoguns and common people alike.
Hatcho Miso Company’s rise to fame began in the late 15th century. Okazaki was the home of Japan’s most famous warlord, Ieyasu Tokugawa, whose military exploits were popularized in the novel Shogun, by James Clavel, and the television mini-series by the same name. In the shadows of Tokugawa’s castle, a small soybean miso shop supplied the vital ingredient for the shogun’s power breakfast. Because of its concentrated nutrition and its ability to keep for years, Tokugawa’s miso was one of his troops’ most important military rations. After his army succeeded in conquering and unifying all of Japan, Tokugawa moved his headquarters to Tokyo and, until his death, ordered miso from his home town miso shop. This official patronage as the “purveyor to the Shogun” guaranteed Hatcho Miso Company the pre-eminence it still enjoys.
In 1892, Hatcho Miso Company received the even more prestigious honor of becoming the purveyor to the emperor of Japan. Today, busloads of tourists visit the 8th Street shop to see where the emperor’s and shogun’s miso is made. However, you don’t have to be a samurai, or even live in Japan, to enjoy Hatcho miso. Since 1971, Mitoku Company has been exporting this same miso to natural food distributors around the world.
Organic Hatcho Miso
- Dairy free
Naturally fermented for two summers and two winters in aged cedar vats, Hatcho miso is the richest and heartiest miso variety. It has a distinctive astringent flavor, a deep color, a very high protein content, and has mellow sweetness on the palate. Unpasteurized.
Although miso has many beneficial qualities, it is miso’s anti-cancer and probiotic studies that have attracted the most attention. Large, long-term population studies in Japan revealed that people who eat miso soup daily were statistically less likely to get several types of cancer and other chronic diseases. Miso is usually made from soybeans and a grain, such as rice or barley. However, research has revealed that it is the soybean component of miso that is most important in fighting cancer.
Although the power of soy foods, such as soy milk, have been touted in the press for over a decade, it is a little known fact that in fact miso and other fermented soy foods have more isoflavone than unfermented soy foods such as soy powders, soy milk, and tofu. Moreover, Hatcho Miso – made from only fermented soybeans, sea salt and water – is considered the most beneficial, because its use of high percentage of fermented soybeans at 65%.
Because of its high soybean content, Hatcho Miso is a very concentrated source of nutrition. It contains more protein and less salt than other rice and barley miso. Moreover, it is a source of essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins; is low in calories and fat; and has five times the fiber of an equal amount of celery.
There are many types of miso on the market, and they all have their unique color, flavor and character. However, if your primary consideration for eating miso is well-being, then Mitoku Organic Hatcho Miso may be your best choice.
Recipe and methods unchanged since 1645
Although modern machines now do some of the work, the basic method used at Hatcho Miso Company has changed little almost 400 years.
First, premium organic soybeans are washed and soaked in water for one hour. The beans are then transferred to a 200-pound-capacity cooker, steamed for two hours, then left in the closed cooker overnight. This unusual cooking process gives Hatcho miso its deep, cocoa brown color and characteristic smoky flavor. The following morning the soft, dark beans are crushed in a special machine that shapes them into 2-inch crosses, allowing a greater surface area for the growth of micro-organisms.
Next the crosses are lightly dusted with a mixture of Koji spores and toasted barley flour and incubated for 48 hours under carefully controlled temperature and humidity. As the “Hatcho crosses,” now called Koji, emerge from the incubation room covered with a fragrant bloom of pale yellow mold and loaded with powerful digestive enzymes, the Koji is mixed with sea salt and a small amount of water and transferred to seven foot tall cedar vats.
After being covered with a thick cotton cloth and the heavy wood pressing lid, the miso is pressed with a three-ton pyramid of stones, and the unhurried process of natural aging begins. The enzymes supplied by the Koji slowly mellow the mixture, transforming the complex protein, carbohydrates and fats of the beans into dark, rich, flavorful amino and fatty acids and sweet simple sugars.
Finally, after at least two full years, the mature miso is scooped out with a wooden shovel. The best miso comes from deep down in the center of the vat. This was traditionally presented to the emperor who, until his recent death, enjoyed Hatcho miso soup every day. However, usually the miso is mixed together and packaged without pasteurization.
Although some manufacturers use the name Hatcho miso for their dark soybean misos, only the special miso made since the 1300’s on 8th street in the small town of Okazaki is authentic Hatcho miso. The exacting ancient process gives this miso its savory aroma, mellow sweetness, and astringent flavor. According to Miso Master Brewer Kazuo Kuroda, the extreme pressure of the stones on the dry miso creates a low oxygen environment that encourages the growth of Hatcho’s special type of micro-organisms. What’s more, over the centuries a particular strain of Koji, known as Aspergillus Hatcho, has made its home in the cracks and crevices of the old seasoned vats and throughout the fermentation rooms on Hatcho Street. Aspergillus Hatcho gives this miso a unique flavor that has never been duplicated by other miso makers. Hatcho miso is a cultural artifact, and, more than most Japanese foods, is the authentic taste of old Japan.
Mitoku Hatcho Miso has a lower salt content than rice or barley miso. For this reason it is much less salty than its rich, dark color might suggest. Even when trying to moderate intake, it can be easy to consume too much salt. Using this miso is a great way to keep salt intake low while enjoying the bold umami of Hatcho miso and the sense of fullness it imparts.
Dark, saltier miso combine nicely with beans, gravies, baked dishes, and vegetable stews and soups. For a simple and delicious fall or winter vegetable dish, try adding sweet chunky vegetables such as winter squash, carrots, or parsnips to sautéed onions, steaming them in 1/4 inch of water until just tender, then seasoning with dark, long-aged rice or barley miso thinned in a little water or stock just before the end of cooking. Try dark miso in thick soups using root vegetables such as burdock, carrots, and daikon. A lentil casserole seasoned with dark miso warms the body and supplies plenty of high quality protein. Although dark miso are not as versatile as light varieties, traditionally made, unpasteurized dark miso makes nutritious, flavorful, and satisfying miso soups that you can enjoy every day in fall, winter, and spring without ever becoming tired of them. Once the weather becomes warm, Mitoku suggests combining a dark and a light miso when making miso soup.
Mixed with sweet, tangy, or pungent ingredients such as mirin, rice syrup, rice vinegar, or fresh ginger, dark miso can be used in refreshing sauces. Remember that dark miso is stronger in taste than sweet miso, so use it sparingly.
Both dark and light miso are suitable for certain special uses. In general, miso is a good choice when you are looking for a salting agent, digestive aid, or tenderizer.
As a salting agent, miso supplies much more in terms of flavor and nutrition than plain salt, without salt’s harshness. When substituting miso for salt, add approximately one level tablespoon of any sweet, light miso or two level teaspoons of dark, salty miso for one-quarter teaspoon salt.
The powerful enzymatic action of unpasteurized miso is a natural digestive aid and tenderizing agent. In the digestive system miso enzymes aid the body’s own resources in breaking down complex food molecules. Foods such as beans, tomato products, and raw tofu may cause digestive discomfort. Miso helps balance and digest these foods.
For the same reason that miso aids digestion, it is also a great natural tenderizer. When used in marinades its enzymes break down the complex molecules of vegetable fiber and animal protein into more readily digestible forms. At the same time its flavor penetrates the marinating foods.
For many people making the transition to natural foods, there is a problem of interesting other family members. For families with a commitment to healthful eating, cooking for guests who are not accustomed to this way of eating can be a challenge. Miso helps bridge this gap. It brings a depth of savory flavor and a satisfying complexity to simple fare.