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Miso, a paste of fermented soybeans, sea salt and koji (a mould starter) is a sweet-salty and tangy condiment often used in Japanese cuisine to make marinades, sauces and dips. The main ingredient in the eponymous Japanese soup, miso is sometimes made with rice or barley too.

According to research, miso’s countless health benefits are attributed to its long fermentation process (between three months to three years). Along with beneficial bacteria and enzymes, miso is packed with nutrients such as vitamins B2, B12, E and K, choline, linoleic acid, lecithin and dietary fibre that help maintain the body’s nutritional balance, build immunity and heal the body.

A variety of antioxidants in miso help protect the body from free radicals that cause breast, colon and prostate cancer and have anti aging properties that retard the body’s natural decline. Protein-rich miso also propagates the efficient repair of cells and tissue and builds the immune system. Miso also aids digestion by restoring beneficial probiotics to the intestines while substantial fibre content also keeps the digestive tract healthy (while lowering LDL cholesterol).

Of particular interest to women is linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid in miso that not only keeps skin soft and free of pigmentation but is in fact effective in easing menopausal symptoms.

Last but not least, research indicates that dipilocolonic, an alkaloid in miso, protects the body from the damaging effects of radiation and toxins by collating heavy metals from the body and flushing them out.

Miso also makes an excellent vegetarian substitute for dairy products and is often used to replace milk and cream in soups; mixed with tofu it creates a vegetarian cheese. The beneficial bacteria in miso make it an excellent marinade ingredient which along with adding flavour tenderises meats.

So next time you dine out at a Japanese restaurant order miso soup and stock up on some solid nutrients.

Bon appétit or douzo meshiagare as they would say in Japan.

– Leila Mahfooz Barry

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on November 11, 2012.