Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Soy Free Sweet Miso Paste Recipe, with just a little bit of soy-free Tamari on top

For those of us with soy allergies and sensitivities, finding a soy-free miso paste that we can enjoy (and afford) isn't easy.  So I decided it was time to make my own.  I'm not certain what surprised me more, how affordable it was to make or how easy.

Miso paste and tamari
both made without soy

You can use any pulse, be it lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, black eye peas, anything, to make miso.  You don't need soybeans.  The only potentially difficult ingredient to get is Koji rice, but most asian grocery stores can order it in for you already cultured.  You can also make it at home with a bit of dedication.  It takes a couple of days, and you can get the koji spores from GEM Cultures.  The third ingredient is salt.

The method for making sweet miso is easy: get the koji rice ready the day before and soak the beans.  Next day, cook the beans, mash them (or not) and then mix them with the koji rice and salt, and maybe a bit of bean cooking liquid.  Pack it in a vessel with a inner lid and weight to press the miso down, then tie it up with a cloth and leave it on your kitchen counter for 2 to 8 weeks.

Red Miso, has the same method for making it, only different ratios of ingredients and it needs to ferment for at least a year.  It also requires different temperatures.  Since it's more fussy, I decided to start with the Sweet Miso recipe.  But I have everything I need, including confidence, to try one year miso later this winter.

For this first batch I cleaned out the back of my cupboard and used a mixture of forgotten dried beans (mostly Romano and Black Eye Peas).   But like I said before, you can use any bean to make miso paste.  Most people use chickpeas for their first soy free miso making experience.

I used an antique food chopper to mash up the beans
but you can use anything you like from stick and bowl
to cement mixer.

The references I used for this are The Book of Miso, especially this chapter, and Katz's two books, Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.  This is the recipe I used for the second batch of sweet miso as the first batch didn't have nearly enough saltiness to it and tasted a bit sour.

From what I've read, 1 gallon is about the smallest batch of miso you want to make at a time.  Something to do with the ratio of surface area to the volume of the something something.

Miso ready to dig out of the 1 gallon vat
you can see that some white mould has formed on top
that's normal.  Koji is a kind of mould, a delicious one.

So that's what this recipe makes, 1 gallon.  The ingredients cost me just under what one pound of soy-free miso paste is in the shop.  Since it made close to 10 pounds, I'm very happy with how affordable this is.  Next year I plan to grow my own beans which will cut the cost in half, and culture my own koji rice, which will take price of making this from $15 down to about $5 per gallon.

Soy Free Sweet Miso Recipe

1 kilo of dried beans
1 kilo (or just over) Koji Rice
140 grams sea salt (non iodized) plus extra
Kombu/kelp (optional)

Some other stuff you will need:
A container that fits more than 1 gallon (otherwise known as vat)
Something to mush the beans with
A plate or inner lid that fits inside your vat leaving as little room between the walls of the vat and the plate as possible.
A weight, could be a rock that has been purified with boiling water and scrubbed with salt
A cotton or linen, tightly woven cloth
...and other things.  This link covers it better.

  • Wash the beans well, and soak overnight.
  • Rinse the beans and boil with lots of water until they are mushy.  How long this takes depends on the kind of bean and how long they have been sitting in the back of your cupboard.  The older, the longer.  Usually for me it's about 2 hours, but some beans can take upto 14.  You can also use a pressure cooker for this step, but beware if yours is aluminium as sometimes that can contaminate your food.
  • While the beans are cooking, bring your koji rice to room temperature (if it's not already).  I'm going to assume at this point that you read the entire recipe before starting out and already have your koji rice ready to go.
  • Drain the beans, reserving the liquid.  Mash them up however you like.  It can be a paste, or it can be chunky, some miso recipes, like Natto Miso, keep the beans whole.  I do moderately chunky and puree or not as required when I use the finished miso.
  • If you are using kombu then keep in large pieces and soak in tepid water now.
  • Combine the salt with about 1/2 cup of bean cooking water, make certain it dissolves completely.  
  • When the beans are below 140F (aka, you can put your hand in them and they feel somewhat warm, but not hot), then add the salt water and koji rice.  Mix really well.
  • Add more bean cooking water as needed.  The goal here is to make a fairly moist, but not too moist mush.  To tell if the texture is correct, make a ball, like a snowball, from the bean mush.  Toss the ball firmly and assertively against a surface, like the bottom of your miso vat.  If the mush ball spatters everywhere, it's way too wet.  If it cracks upon impact, it needs more water.  And, if it just settles in, not cracking but not spreading out everywhere, then that's about right.  See the video in this post for an example of what you are aiming for.  
  • Make certain the inside of your vat is clean but don't use any antibacterial soap on it as this will damage the miso.  I often use a bit of sake or vodka to wipe inside the vat before the next step, but this is optional.
  • (Optional) Wet the inside of the vat and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Most people say this isn't necessary for sweet miso, but I find it makes a huge difference.  
  • Firmly press your bean mush into the vat, so that there are no air pockets.  I do a few snowball size bits of bean mush at a time, stop and massage them into the crevices, and repeat.
  • When the vat is almost full of bean mush, smooth off the top.  Evenly sprinkle at lest 1/2 a tsp of salt on top.  Cover the surface (directly on the surface) with clear wrap, or even better with kombu seaweed that you soaked earlier.  I go for a double layer, ripping the seaweed as needed to cover every last part of the surface of the bean mush.  
  • Place your plate or inner lid on top, and then your weight on top of that.
  • Cover with a tightly woven cloth and tie the cloth down so that no dust or insects get in.
  • Place the vat in a secluded part of the kitchen where it can stay at a fairly steady temperature, room temperature.  Check it after two weeks, but it will probably take a month.  There should be a layer of liquid on top (the Tamari, see below), maybe some white mould from the Koji Rice, and should smell like miso.
  • When you are ready to try some, drain off the liquid (keep it to one side for tamari, though if the miso is still immature, you may need to put it back in the vat again) and scrape off the mould.  Dig out half a cup from the center of the vat to try.  Press the bean mush back together to ensure there are not air pockets, smooth off the top, sprinkle salt on it, and wrap it up as before (kombu optional), replacing the tamari on top.  Try the miso you dug out.  If it's not ready yet, wait a week or two before trying it again.  If it is ready, then you can put all your miso in jars in the fridge, or you can use this same method to dig out miso you need for the week and let the rest continue to age.

You can see the coarsely mashed beans
and bits of koji rice in the miso
Sometimes I leave it as is, other times I puree it before use

Tamari (No Soy) Recipe

This is the liquid that forms on top of the miso paste while it's fermenting.  It tastes like super-strong-super-salty soy sauce.  Only if there are no soy beans in the miso, there won't be any soy in the tamari that forms on top.

Before you dig out your miso from the vat, drain off most or all of this liquid.  It's probably going to have some mould on top.  Remember, mold is one of the three main ingredients in miso (Koji Rice = special mouldy rice).  If the mould is white, yellow, or a bit blue-green, it should be fine.

Strain the tamari to remove the mould, sometimes this takes many strainings or even a bit of tightly woven cloth.  Bottle and store in the fridge.  Use as you would soy sauce, only use less of it, this will be much stronger.

Soy Free Tamari
Very salty taste, but delicious

Affordable:  Yep. I talked about this above

Vegan Friendly: Yep.

Healthy: Yep. There are some really fascinating studies out there about how daily consumption of miso has helped prevent radiation sickness, improve gut function, detoxify heavy metals from the body, and other good-for-you things.

Traditional:  Yep.  Until about 60 odd years ago, most families in Japan made their own miso paste, and each region (and family) had their own recipe.  Nowadays there are only a few dozen misos commonly available for sale in the shops.  Which is a shame.

Transitional:  YES!  With the consolidation of miso making to mid size and large companies, we have become very reliant on global trade and long distance shipping as a means of supplying our miso.  I think making our own miso paste can serve a role in transiting away from a lot of the problems we have with the current food system.  It's not just good for soups, but also for preserving pickles, marinades, condiments, and has huge health benefits.  Even those not use to eating miso could find this salty-savoury-sweet treat a beneficial addition to their daily diet.

There are a lot of different ways to make miso out there, this is just one of them.  The Book of Miso is currently the best English language book about miso, history, manufacturing, everything.  You can make miso from different pulses, grains, and even vegetables.  This experiment has opened up a whole new world, and I'm looking forward to exploring it all.


  1. Hi there, I love your blog! I was wondering if you could post more about Sweet Miso Paste Recipe? Keep up the great work!

  2. AnonymousJune 21, 2014

    thank you! so much for the miso mystique. I can do this! So little $ and so much to purchase to be nourished and be healthy.

  3. Thank you so much! Can you tell me how to store these items once they're made and how long they keep?

    1. Hi Claire,

      It's recommended to keep these in an air tight, not reactive (ie, glass, pottery or in a pinch plastic) container in a cool location or fridge, for upto a year. Or a week or two at room temp.

  4. I linked to this from your comment on food 52. thank you very much for sharing this recipe as I have wanted to make my own miso for ages but all the recipes I saw were asking for Koji,an ingredient I can't get!

  5. Thank you for this! I avoid soy but love Japanese food, so finding a homemade and healthy substitute for soy miso is fantastic :)