Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Organic Lives Chickpea Miso paste (soy free)

Organic Lives, a company out of Vancouver (although the miso is a product of the USA) makes a rather yummy sweet miso paste from chickpeas.  I'm always thrilled to find a soy-free alternative to my favourite Japanese foods, so I picked up a bottle from my local health food shop.

Although I am a die hard fan of South River Miso chickpea miso, it's not always easy to get here.  The shipping direct from the company is prohibitive, and I only know of one health food shop that gets it in (twice a year), so I have to be quick to snatch up my bottles.  The great thing about South River, is that the miso paste seems to last forever in the fridge and only tastes better the longer I leave it.  I found a jar of chickpea miso while cleaning the fridge the other day, it had been in there at least a year and tasted fantastic.

But like I said, the supply is inconsistent.  Organic Lives is filling a well needed gap in the market.

What I like best about the Organic Lives chickpea miso (aside from it being soy free) is the flavour.  It's a nice balance of sweet and salty.  It is a smooth paste and easy to blend into your broth (much easier to work with than the South River chickpea miso which is quite chunky).

You can see the texture difference between the two

I also really like that they used sprouted chickpeas.  As far as I can tell, this is unique to this company.  This is fascinating and I would love to learn more about this process and what effects it has on the nutritional value of the finished paste.   I understood that the fermentation process makes more nutrients available from the  beans, but if sprouting adds another degree of nutrition... well, it's very interesting to me.

Because this is a sweet miso, in other words it's aged in weeks instead of years, the rice in it is still a bit crunchy.

Which brings me to my next point... The bottle brags about being aged for 60 days!  Whereas South River chickpea miso is a 1 year miso.  Most customers are use to labels bragging about how many years old the miso paste is, not days.   What they do not realize is that there are different - yet traditional - methods for making miso.  Some miso methods are ready in as little as two weeks, others need at least four years.  They each have different flavours and unique benefits. Without educating the customers about this, bragging about only ageing the paste for 60 days is not necessary the best idea.

The one thing I really do not like about the Organic Lives chickpea miso paste is the way it's been put in the jar.  For starters, I think the jar is too large for the volume of paste, leaving lots of airspace at the top and a feeling when you open it that you are being short changed on your dollar.

Second, it isn't packed down firmly into the jar, leaving air pockets where mould can grow - sure it's not bad mould, miso after all is made from carefully cultured mouldy grain and beans.  Although it is safe to eat, the mould growing in air pocked can cause a musty flavour to the paste around the offending air bubble.

Can you see the white tinge of mould starting to develop
near the bottom of the jar?
This is probably Koji mould, and harmless, but preventable.

To me, this displays a level of amateur behaviour that I do not like to see in a company that prepares my food.  If I didn't already know about the mechanics of making miso paste, I would be freaked out to find mould in a jar fresh from the store.  And yes, being alive, miso will continue to ferment and produce gas after it is bottled, but there are steps to make to prevent these air pockets from forming and make it more customer friendly They have either skipped them or not bothered to do their research.

This makes me nervous.

However, I do like the flavour of Organic Lives miso paste, and there is nothing harmful to my health in their packaging mistake. It's not necessarily my first choice, but it makes a fair enough substitute for when I cannot find any better soy-free miso.

Cuppa miso soup, green onions, miso to taste,
 and water that boiled about five minutes ago.

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