Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Feeding Change Chickpea Miso

I was delighted the other day when I found another company making soy-free miso paste.  Feeding Change makes a Chickpea Miso paste that is "soy-free", "gluten-free" and (most importantly) "GMO-free".   It also claims to be 100% certified organic (awesome!).

Feeding Change's Chickpea Miso paste is smooth, sweet and salty tasting, and very delicious in cup of soup.  It's a sweet miso, meaning that it has a short (less than a year) fermentation period.  The website says it's a 60 day process, which is more than double most sweet miso ferments.  It's packaged in glass, with a plastic label and plastic lined metal lid. (Why the sudden interest in plastic in packaging? More on that later this week).

This miso paste is also Unpasteurized, which has it's advantages, and disadvantage (I'll get to that).  It is also Vegan Friendly.

After trying this paste in a few things, including my favourite breakfast cuppa-miso (I put some miso paste in a cup and pour hot water on it), I've come to the conclusion that there are definitely some aspects of this miso paste that I adore, and some serious room for improvement.

The thing I like best about Feeding Change Miso is the taste.  It's sweet and salty, has a smooth miso flavour, but not overpowering; has a smooth chickpea flavour, but again, not overpowering.  How to describe it?  The flavour is suitably strong, but not so aggressive that it can't be drunk on an empty stomach.

"Miso Happy There's No Soy", a slogan from Feeding Change's website.  With my sensitivity to soy and growing concerns about the sustainability of agriculture, having gmo-free, soy-free alternatives like this make my day.

Their website also claims that this chickpea miso paste is made (or at least hand stirred) in wooden vats - way to go for using traditional and renewable materials in production.  What they mean by double fermented, however, I don't know.  Unless they are referring to the koji growing part of production as a fermentation.  The word fermentation has so many uses these days, it's becoming quite the catch all.  But koji is a vital part of making real miso, so I'm glad they are including it.

Feeding Change Chickpea Miso is also a few dollars less than other chick pea miso(s) on the market right now. Every penny counts these days, and the only way I know to get a more affordable soy-free miso is to make it yourself.

And now for the needs improvement part of the blog post.  As much as I am enjoying this product, there are some areas the company can improve on.

First, the packaging.  Kudos to Feeding Change for using glass jar.  Not only is plastic touching food an increasing health concern, plastic waste (as I'm learning) is a major environmental issue and could doom us all if not dealt with soon.  However, plastic label on the jar indicates to me that they didn't think the plastic-free packaging all the way through.  The plastic on the inside of the lid is (more or less) unavoidable, and it's better than having the metal corrode into the food.

Next, I noticed that when I got the jar home and went to open it, there was an immense amount of internal pressure in the jar.  The lid shot off the top and landed on the far side of the room.  As startling as this is, it's not a health concern (like it would be in pasteurized food), it simply means that the miso paste has continued to ferment in the jar.  Being unpasteurized has major health advantages, however, it also means that the ferment will continue to 'breath' and gas build up is not uncommon.  I'm grateful that the jar was strong enough to contain the pressure, but I wonder how much longer it would have lasted before exploding.  Perhaps the miso paste was subjected to a prolonged period of un-refrigeration (or whatever the proper word is to describe being room temperature) during shipping or storage?  It certainly wasn't out of the fridge long enough on the journey home from the store to explain it.

As it was when first opened fresh from the store.
Not the tidiest presentation.

Another aspect of the packaging they need to improve is the size of the jar.  The jar is far too large for the product size which can lead the customer to feel short changed.  Though, I did check, that the weight of the chickpea miso paste (without jar) is as it states on the label (it is).  Still, having all that open space inside the brand new jar of miso has that negative psychological impact.

Again, as it was when first opened.
Notice the gap in the top and the large air bubble in the bottom right.

But that's not the biggest problem with the packaging.  Like the now defunct Organic Lives Chickpea Miso, another company with good ideas and lots of potential out of Vancouver,  There are a lot of air pockets in the miso.  When miso is packed with air pockets, it leaves it open for the possibility of mold growth.  Considering that koji (an essential ingredient in miso) is mold, the problem isn't one of safety.  The potential problem is two fold.  first, the  perception (so much of selling something relies on perception) that all mold is bad for us - not true - but still a prevailing meme in our society.  The other problem with mold growing in pockets of air is that it causes the miso around that pocket to develop a musty, unpleasant flavour.

These problems in packaging are very amateur and the company should have figured this out with the minimal research.  The Book of Miso talks a lot about this, and that's pretty much the go to English language book for learning how to produce miso both at home and commercially.

I'm confident as the company grows, they will find ways to improve their packaging.

One final thing, and please forgive me, I'm just being nitpicky here, however, the website brags that the Chickpea Miso paste is grain free - yet, the last time I checked (and every time before that), rice, a main ingredient in miso, is a grain.

Am I going to buy this again?  Yes, I think I will, especially if they fix how it is packaged in the jar.  Feeding Change is off to a good start with this product, and I can't wait to see how they evolve.

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