Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Here’s a way to season dishes like a finishing salt would…but without salt’s deleterious health impacts – shiro (white) miso, gently dehydrated and ground into a powder.
Miso, a traditional seasoning that is thought to have be introduced to Japan from China in the 6th C, is a fermented paste made from soybeans (and other grains and legumes), inoculated with koji (Aspergillus oryzae) mold. A spectrum of miso choices exist, from mild, sweet light misos, which are aged for months, to saltier more flavorful dark misos, which are aged for years. All misos lend complex umami flavor and salinity to any savory dish in unique ways, depending on their ingredients and length of fermentation.
Salt, from the humblest table salt to the trendiest finishing salts, damages arterial and gut health, and increases our risks for high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, gut dysbiosis, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. 1,2
Salt is a preservative; it suppresses microbes that spoil food. It also injures beneficial gut microbial colonies, unfortunately. We greatly overuse salt; it is particularly pervasive in processed foods and meats/poultry, where salt is added to retard microbial growth. But there are naturally occurring trace amounts found throughout the vegetable kingdom too. Federal recommendations for daily limits range from 1500 -2300 milligrams of salt per day. That is between one-half to one teaspoon. Americans consume two to three times as much. Chefs are trained to salt at every stage of the cooking process; you can imagine how much salt accrues. This is one reason why restaurant fare is less healthy than home-cooking, where you are in control.
Miso is a live, probiotic food. Current research suggests that miso is health-protective; it lowers heart rate and does not elevate blood pressure. 3 There is not much research on the impact of miso on gut health, but one study shows it may reduce the symptoms of esophageal reflux disease.4
To preserve its microbial probiotic benefits, miso is best added after the dish is removed from its heat source. Miso pastes works well when seasoning loose and liquid dishes like soups, stews, sauces, batters, and breads. For other applications, I make miso powder, which can be sprinkled on salads, and plated dishes, much like a finishing salt.
It is best to habituate our palates to as little added salt as we can. More studies on the impact of miso on health are needed, but until contradictory data arrives, using miso in place of salt appears to offer us a healthier culinary option. Vegans who eliminate salt from the diet entirely, however, will need a reliable daily source of iodine (not too much, not too little), from sea vegetables or supplements.5
Prep time 30 minutes Dehydration time 40 hours Makes approximately 2 cups
Offset icing spatula
A food processor
Hint! The dehydrated miso releases much more easily from parchment paper than silicone dehydrator sheets.
1 17.6 ounce/500 gram package shiro (white) miso paste
Hint! I prefer using shiro miso as a powder for its lower sodium content and milder flavor, but you can create miso powder out of any type of miso.
Fit your dehydrator trays with parchment paper. Take a sheet and thinly and using an offset spatula, evenly spread a very thin layer of miso. A 10-tray dehydrator should be able to accommodate the entire package of miso.
Set the dehydrator to 105°F/41°C for 40 hours. If you have spread your miso sufficiently thinly, it should be dry and brittle after 35-40 hours.
Peel dried miso off the parchment. It should break in shards fairly easily.
Toss the miso pieces in your food processor and run for about a minute to form uniform miso crumbs.
For a fine powdery texture, transfer to your blender and run on high for about 30 seconds.
Store your miso in an airtight container in the fridge.