Making Miso. Or Not.

Miso is why you should always have at least one type of koji on hand unless you are buying pre-made miso. You can make or buy a lot of really useful and tasty things made with koji besides miso, but miso is definitely the most sophisticated member of the koji family.

Black Gram Miso

Making miso is like creating the dance steps (choreography) for a performance. The steps don’t have to be elaborate. You just have to make sure that all the participants are ready and capable of doing their part – and that some show hog like the ever present bacteria Bacillus subtilis doesn’t take over the proceedings.

Salt usually keeps things under control and moving along, but just to be sure you have to carefully control the amount of humidity and water that is involved in the microbial rave, and just how tightly you pack everything in. Tight enough so interactions can’t be avoided, but loose enough so that they can actually take place. Nobody pins baby in a corner.

If miso is a long production (like two or three years) you need a lot of salt. If you’re making an all bean like Hatcho miso that will eventually taste like a cross between chocolate, a well aged red wine, and nirvana if it were a dense pst then salt it up and wait. But you can make other misos in days, months, or under a year.

In order to keep everything under control you need to plan all this out when you decide what type of miso you are making, how it’s going to be weighted down and how much weight is needed, and how the air flow is going to be controlled inside and outside the miso.

No insects, pets, other critters nor just any microbe hanging out should be allowed to sneak into the show. Make a plan. Stick to it.

Mellow Miso ( Shinshu or Yellow Miso)

The Miso Dance

Train your koji, rice, salt, beans or grains or whatever – seriously, you can make miso out of just about anything but you might not actually like the way it tastes – to act out the steps before the production is presented. Because unless you know exactly what steps to take, and there is a written plan to follow (including labels written out beforehand), count on something getting messed up. Miso can be very forgiving, but don’t test it’s willingness to adjust to new and uncomfortable situations.

That said, making miso is easy. You can even start a batch and finish it up over a few days. In fact, some miso makers make a big batch of starter miso they then mix with new ingredients several weeks after they start.

Wait, Plan.

We’re going to play the hold on listen to the voice of experience card on you. No? Okay we’ll play the Chef card on you. Oh, the days and nights and next days we’ve spent not sleeping, sweating, stinking and trying to throw together on overambitious projects.

They can be a great learning experience – especially if you’re getting paid overtime for it – but getting paid for the hours you actually work in a kitchen are as rare and as ridiculous a concept as someone won’t have pay for poor planning. And you can’t make up the sleep. And you’ll probably lose your job. Or your shirt. As in money.

But even a busy parent or two job worker can do it if you plan small, ahead, and factor in exhaustion, malaise or distraction. Especially if you take our moromi miso approach.

Think of it as a chef’s mise-en-place (things you should always have ready on hand regardless of what you can resource on a specific day) approach to making miso and other things. You just had the experience card played on you.

Moromi Miso: Miso Smart

Why do we love the moromi miso approach? If you don’t get around to making four different types of miso with your one gallon of moromi miso you still have your really easily assembled moromi miso. Eat it. Cook wit t. Make pickles wit it. Marinate with it.

It’s also why we like shio-koji so much. Actually, it’s why we love koji so much, but let’s stick to miso now.

Imagine what you can make with a fermented garlic miso moromi. Like this ketchup.

Moromi miso (sometimes referred to as okazu miso) is traditionally a somewhat softer and almost loose miso with chunks of koji or beans suspended in it. It’s made from the same ingredients that are used to make sake or doboroku or shoyu (soy sauce).

We make a lot of those things anyway, or at least versions with more or less salt and varying ingredients, so why not plan ahead and make a gallon of moromi miso. By adding different grains or legumes or tubers turn one gallon into four different gallons of miso that are ready all at the same time. Or at different times throughout the year.

We’ll show you how to do that step by step, but not all at once. And in the next post. We’ve been making miso for decades, some of us our entire lives since we were kids as part of family gatherings.

But things have kind of changed. What we now know about the science of miso making is amazing. We also know that someone who is really gung ho today is very likely to tire or get bored and suffer from miso making burnout.

Do you have an unopened or half eaten container in your fridge? Do you know or associate with people that do? See. Obviously not making miso together is the root cause of the weakening of the family unit throughout the world. Not the internet, nor the inability to communicate without a electric device.

Miso Master Organic Red Miso comes in sizes from 1 pound to 40 pounds. Others may make miso as good as this, but no one makes it better.

You Don’t Have to make your own miso.

Just so you know you could buy the miso. Some of the recipes we provide on how to actually use the stuff will inspire you to overcome your illogical fear of miso. You can use miso to make a salad dressing or tacos or a stew that will completely change your outlook on life. We’re not kidding.

There are many ways to use miso you probably have never heard of, including preparations of miso that blend several types of miso, misos that get simmered with sweet or savory things that make an entire meal with a bowl of grains, misos that make incredible pickles, and even baking misos. Got your miso? Or do you want to know how to make koji first? Or make your own?


Come learn in New York City!

Koji Spores

Using Aspergillus oryzae and other Aspergillus spores for sake, misos, shoyu, fish sauces, meat sauces, etc.

The next 12 posts will be about specific enzymes, making koji on different substrates such as rice, beans, and other grains like barlet or wheat, research into clinical uses for koji enzymes, the ongoing and widespread use of Aspergillus spp. enzymes (esp. kojic acid from Aspergillus oryzae) in food processing, etc. The amount of information available is voluminous (for those that still read books) and even online. 

Aspergillus sojae grown on black soybeans for douchi, miso and kecap manis

All posts will be in the context of side bars to recipes for tasty food, however.

Any site that sells spores will have descriptions in English, some so incredibly poorly translated you will easily lose patience. What spores yoiu need is really based on the very basic principle that when inoculated at the lower end of the temp range of 85F spores will pretty much produce more proteases and lipases. That a pretty good temperature to aim for if you are making koji on most substrates.

At the higher temperature range of around 104F you will generally produce more amylases. In low or non fat substances like rice for sweet or quick misos, sake, or amasake you want as much amylase as you can get. There are thousands of different spores however, although you’ll probably never be offered more than 50 from any one producer. Spores are designated by how quickly they create heat, or the length of the hyphae.

If you have a bean or a more fat and protein containing substance like barley or meat or fish you really want to be using Aspergillus sojae that is way more inclined to produce proteases, cellulases and pectinases. Most soybean miso or shoyu spores, although rarely labeled as such, are actually A.sojae.

Every spore distributor in the USA always says they only sell A. oryzae, although their spores are always made in Japan. You could create a decent koji from mild rice or barley miso specific spores sold by Gem spores that are A. oryzae to get the job done, but studies clearly show you are not going to get as much proteases etc. to create more amino acids and other things to increase both umami and maximum nutritional value, and break down proteins and fats.

Places like and Akita Konno sell spores through different exporters (a customs certified agent is required). The former provides some really useful charts on what each spore type does, and are the only place we know of that sells the enzymes we use.

Although somewhat difficult to understand these two do the best job of explaining what they are selling. If you are willing to wait a little, and have somewhat that can translate their English translations into English there is always kawashima-ya ( and other sites.

Just remember there are miso spores, and sake spores, and shoyu spores and shochu spores. We have our own spore guy that gets us what we want, but most people will never need what is not offered through the internet.
You can also easily get koji spores almost overnight in the US through the Modernist Pantry ( -shirayuri is for white things that are sweet, shiragiku for brown things like browner misos and shoyu) 

Most spore providers will provide an English language label, like these spores from Gem Cultures packages available to professionals. They also sell much smaller sizes. These are good spores, but you won’t get the best effect if you use them for beans or high protein sauces or misos.