Chefs Everywhere Are Obsessed With This Gut-Healing Ingredient. Here's How To Use It

Photo: Ellie Baygulov

If you notice a funky, interesting note in restaurant food—a hint of depth that you just can't identify—there's a solid chance that it's miso. The fermented soybean paste is quickly turning into a staple of food professionals and enthusiasts everywhere, who rely on it for the much sought-after umami factor, otherwise known as the sixth, savory, taste. The umami flavor is present in foods like Parmesan and tomato paste (and, interestingly, breast milk, which might be one of the reason's babies always look so gastronomically satisfied)—and miso.

While it's long been a staple in Japanese cuisine, in the last few years it's become far easier to find in the United States (look for brands like Westbrae Natural and South River Miso Company in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store). As consumer's palates have shifted toward a preference for more creative, interesting, and yes, funky, food (see: the natural wine movement and the rise of fermentation generally), recipe developers have begun to rely on its properties outside of Asian cuisine. "I love miso," chef Stephanie Izard, whose new cookbook Gather & Graze utilizes the condiment liberally, told mbg. "Along with fish sauce or soy sauce, it's a great and easy way to add a rich, savory note into any dish." She uses it in both sweet and savory dishes. "While we buy about 12 quarts at a time for the restaurant, any small container will last for quite a while if stored in your fridge," she says. "My personal favorite is white miso."

White miso might be the most common type of the paste, but there's also red and yellow. White is made from soybeans and rice and is fermented for the shortest amount of time, making the taste slightly sweeter and more mild. Yellow miso is a bit funkier and is typically blended with barley and fermented longer than white. Red is fermented the longest and has, as you might expect, the boldest, funkiest flavor. You can use them all interchangeably in most recipes, although red miso could overpower more delicate dishes.

Whichever color you choose, you're in for potent gut-healing benefits. "When you ferment soybeans in miso, it ups its nutritional profile. Just like with any other probiotic-rich fermented food, miso is loaded with good bacteria to help heal your gut and restore microbiome balance," explains Will Cole, D.C. He cautions to always look out for organic, non-GMO miso since soy is a commonly genetically modified crop. As with all probiotic foods, the more raw you leave the miso, the more its good bacteria will stay intact, so add it at the end when possible!

Here's how some of the country's best chefs utilize the superfood:

Chloe Coscarelli: In nut cheeses & vegan cream sauces

"I love to use miso as a cheesy, umami flavoring, such as blending it into nut cheeses, cream sauces, or Caesar dressing!"

—Chloe Coscarelli, author of Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan

Stephanie Izard: Toasted, to caramelize the sugars

"Recently, after reading about someone toasting miso, I started incorporating it toasted into dishes at the restaurants. Right now we're using it in a mayonnaise with brown butter. It might be my favorite thing on the menu at the moment. Toasting the miso caramelizes the sugars in it and gives it a nice nutty flavor to complement the salty."

—Stephanie Izard, author of Gather & Graze: 120 Favorite Recipes for Tasty Good Times

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Seamus Mullen: As a rub for protein

"I like to use miso on meat and fish before I grill it; the slightly funky, earthy sweetness of the miso brings out a rich flavor in oily fish like mackerel and marbled cuts of meat like ribs and chops."

—Seamus Mullen, author of Real Food Heals

Alon Shaya: In soups and stews

"I love to add it to soups and stews for a richer, deeper, umami flavor. I use it in simple chicken stews, or add a few spoonfuls to seafood stews made with coconut milk."

—Alon Shaya, author of Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel

Want more gut-healing foods? These are the best picks to heal your gut lining.

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