Fermented foods like tempeh (a soy-based alternative to tofu), miso (a paste of fermented soybean, barley and koji), mirin (rice wine used in cooking) and amazake (a drink made from fermented rice) are selling online and offline, and being incorporated into recipes, in India’s increasingly health-conscious cities.
Apart from the umami flavour they add to dishes, they are packed with healthy probiotics that aid digestion, enhance immunity and improve gastrointestinal health.
Here’s a look at how they should, and shouldn’t, be used.
This fermented soy paste with a salty, earthy flavour is what makes miso soup so hearty and comforting.
“It can be eaten raw, or cooked, but boiling makes it lose its beneficial probiotic qualities,” says Sandhya Pandey, chief clinical nutritionist at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.
“Also, it contains high levels of sodium, so it is advisable to limit its use.”
Another way to effectively use Miso is by adding a dash of the paste in a ramen at the end or in a salad dressing.
While it tastes wonderful in marinades, sauces and batters, to get the most out of miso, its ideal use would be in a salad dressing, where it is never heated to high temperatures and therefore retains the probiotic qualities that make it so healthy.
- Ingredients: 2 spring onions bulbs, chopped finely; 6 tofu cubes; 1½ tbsp miso paste; 2 cups water
- Method: Boil tofu cubes in water until soft. Add spring onions. Reduce heat and mix in miso paste gently and gradually. Stir well and remove from heat. Serve hot.
- For best results: Don’t mix in the miso too early. It doesn’t need to cook, just lightly simmer for a few seconds. If it boils, it loses its probiotic properties. Don’t add the miso paste in one go; it will form a lump. Mix it in a little of the broth first, and gently stir it into the soup. Eat miso soup fresh. If it’s kept, the miso will settle at the bottom and you’ll have to reheat it to mix it in again.Recipe courtesy James Bianka, corporate chef at Kofuku, Mumbai
The principal condiment in teriyaki sauce, mirin is similar to rice wine sake but sweeter and with a lower alcohol content (and higher sugar content).
“Steam vegetables and fish with mirin or add it to marinades for a delicately sweet grilled fish or meat barbecue. This is a flavour that pairs well with ginger, soy sauce and sesame seeds,” says chef Amit Patra, of the Japanese restaurant Edo at the ITC Gardenia hotel in Bengaluru.
While mirin is free of fat, it is high on sugar content and therefore not suitable for diabetics or pre-diabetics, says Sweedal Trinidade, senior dietician with Mumbai’s Hinduja hospital.
If it is being used in a family meal, mirin also should be cooked on high heat to allow the alcohol to evaporate while its flavours remain. “Mirin in salads is not heated and hence unsafe for children as it has significant alcohol content.”
KOJI: The base player of fermented foods
- Koji is the base ingredient for a range of soy-based fermented foods, including miso, sake, mirin, tempeh, amazake and soy sauce.
- Koji is a mold or thread-like fungus that develops on rice or barley, and is then used as a starter culture for further fermentation.
- In Asian cuisine, it is used to create products that lend the umami flavour to food, as well as soften meat and fish.
- Depending mainly on the ratio of koji rice to soybean, the process can be used to produce a range of products from the sweet, alcoholic rice wine, mirin, to the fermented soybean cakes called tempeh.
- Koji is itself a health food. The process of fermentation produces kojic acid, which has strong probiotic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities. It also aids in assimilation of food and nutrient absorption, contains vitamins and helps boost the metabolism.
This fermented soybean cakes from Indonesia looks like a burger patty and is often used as a meat substitute. Tempeh is fermented soybean compressed into a solid cake. It looks similar to tofu but is a dairy-free alternative that can also be eaten by vegans.
“Tempeh has a firm, dry, chewy texture and a nutty flavor that can lend meatiness to a dish. Its texture makes it versatile, and it can be tossed, sauteed, marinated, or added to curries,” says Eric Sifu, executive chef with Pebble Street Hospitality, which manages the Asian restaurants Foo and Koko in Mumbai.
Tempeh is a delicate probiotic. Once opened, it must be wrapped and refrigerated immediately. “Leave enough space around it in the fridge, as stacking will lead to overheating and undesirable fermentation, which could spoil the tempeh and make it unfit for consumption,” says Tenzin Namkha, chef de cuisine at the Mikusu restaurant at the Conrad Bengaluru hotel.
In addition to its antioxidant effects, it is a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans, says Trinidade.
This sweet, non-alcoholic rice wine is made by mixing dried rice koji (see box) with water, and letting it ferment under very specific temperature conditions.
Amazake can be used in baking as it acts as a vegan substitute for milk or the beverage can be warmed up a bit and sipped on during chilly days.
“Because it is made from whole grain brown rice, it is packed with nutrients,” says nutritionist Hetal Chheda. “It has active enzymes which break down carbs, fats and proteins to aid digestion. Other key benefits include improved gut-health, a boost in metabolism, better skin health, and improved immunity.”
You can have the beverage, gently warmed and flavoured with fresh ginger, on cold days. In the summer, have it chilled.
Amazake can act as a vegan substitute for milk in baking. But drink in moderation, says Chheda. It has a high sugar content.