Fermentation #1
Miso and Natto

As interest in health and beauty soars while COVID-19 rages on, an old Japanese saying "food is medicine" comes to mind. It means that both treating illness and the daily diet are both indispensable for nourishing life and maintaining one’s health, and that it all stems from food.
Japanese food is one of the aspects of Japanese culture that is in the global limelight, and the Japanese Beauty Institute is also paying special attention to the idea and practices of “eating your way to both health and beauty.”

Now, what Japanese food are Japanese women paying extra attention to these days?

Please enjoy this essay by Aya Aso, a specialist who, over the course of 30 years, has left her mark on the beauty pages of women's magazines 25ans, Fujingaho, VOGUE JAPAN, and etRouge.

Since things have come to this, I think I’d like to master the art of miso. And traverse the world of fermented foods.

You might wonder what I mean by “since things have come to this,” but for almost 600 days straight, I’ve been eating plain miso soup for breakfast. I of course had some delectable miso soup this morning as well.

We know that miso soup is a great beauty food. Not only is it highly nutritious, but it is also good for the intestines, which are said to be the key to boosting the immune system. So if your intestines are in "gut" health, your skin will also be feeling great. But in all honesty, it’s a pain to make. It’s too hot to cook during the summer, and using a pot and cutting board leads to more things to wash. Some might suggest making miso soup balls, but that still takes too much time and effort. So I gave up on the ideas above and went and bought a pack of miso, but before I knew it, it faded from memory and started getting hard and crusty at the back of the fridge...Can any single folks or working women relate?

And so, I had an epiphany. The biggest turn off was using a pot!

The important thing is just to keep making it each day

The first rule of miso is not letting it come to a boil. So shouldn’t putting a spoonful of miso directly into the bowl and dissolving it in hot water be enough? We can leave “hearty” tofu and veggie filled miso soup for another day, as the important thing for now is just to keep making it each day. Which is why it should be something that can be made expeditiously with just a bowl and a spoon. In fact, you can just sprinkle in a pinch of powdered flying fish stock, and then add a spoonful of miso and hot water. With this “instant” food, I easily lasted 600 days, despite being so disorganized. The proof is in the pudding, really.

Throw in crushed natto for a more nourishing soup

Let me share one more story about breaking stereotypes. One day, when I was extolling the amazingness of plain miso soup to my colleagues, I was surprised to hear one of them reply, "You’re a very cultivated person, Ms. Aso ." “Huh? How am I cultivated?” “You’re using a proper bowl. For something like that, wouldn’t you normally use a mug?” Oooh, I see now. My coworker hit the nail on the head. This really struck a chord with me, as a mug would be easier, since they’re dishwasher-safe, but I am still pretty partial to bowls. To be more specific, I want more volume with my soups, and mugs are simply too small. For the bowl, I’ve been using a large bowl meant for noodles, and for the past six months, I’ve also been adding crushed natto (fermented soybeans) and seaweed. "That’s not plain soup!!" Well, I’m not using a pot or cutting board, just putting things in a bowl, so I’m not exactly breaking any rules. If you add crushed natto, which has a nice and loose consistency, it can be used as a substitute for soup stock and make the miso soup even more nourishing. To be honest, the soup doesn’t look very appetizing after you pour in hot water and stir, but not to fret. It’s all in the name of my personal beauty!

Pilgrimage to Ginza 1-chome, the Mecca of fermented foods

By the way, did you know that the composition of vitamins and minerals is different between regular and crushed natto beans? It is said that the crushed version has more vitamin K and potassium, while whole bean natto has more calcium and dietary fiber, so sometimes I opt for the latter. Also, crushed natto is crushed not after being fermented, but at the soybean stage. That is, before the beans are steamed. Through this process, the nutritional content, in addition to the texture, becomes very different… very interesting, there's even more to this fermentation enigma than I thought.

The Ginza 1-chome area is a sort of Mecca of fermented foods, the perfect place for me to take a walk on my pilgrimage to master all things fermented. I taste and buy miso from all over the country in small volumes at a miso shop attached to a natural foods restaurant and ordered limited edition custom-made natto at an Ibaraki prefecture satellite shop not too long ago in honor of Natto Day (July 10). Boy oh boy, steamy hot miso soup and natto. I’m getting excited just writing this!

Actually, fermentation and putrefaction are based on the same principle, but the former is a microbial process beneficial to humans, while the latter a harmful microbial process. It’s really only a matter of humans calling it different things, when for the microbes it’s a life-and-death struggle that we're just benefiting from. It was probably accidental, but I want to take this moment to thank our ancestors for being so clever in figuring this out! Thanks to you, I'm still feeling healthy and eating like royalty!