Once upon a time, the most popular type of miso in Tokyo was something called "Edo sweet miso."
With a proud history dating back to the Edo period, Edo sweet miso is an essential component of Edo-style dishes such as Yanagawa nabe, a hot pot dish made with pond loach. Even now, it is cherished by miso afficionados such as professional chefs, despite the dominant presence of miso from the Shinshu region in today's market.
Bearing in mind the product's long history -- which includes a temporary production ban during World War II -- the Mainichi Shimbun asked chefs and manufacturers to share why they remain loyal to this classic form of miso.
At the Sendagaya branch of the "Galali" izakaya in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, they serve miso from all over Japan together with brown sugar shochu. If you order a grilled Edo sweet miso rice ball there, it will come with a generous serving of the miso spread across the surface of the rice. At first glance, the rice balls seem like they might be very salty, but the taste that greets you once it's in your mouth is a sweet one.
Shota Tsuzaki, 35, head chef of the Sendagaya branch of Galali, explains, "The miso has a rich roasted taste that is enhanced when grilled." He adds that broiled Edo sweet miso works very well when added to tsukune chicken meatballs. "I believe that good food survives the test of time. I want to convey the superb taste of this type of miso by using it in delicious cuisine."
Edo sweet miso has a reddish-brown color and possesses a distinctly sweet flavor. The sweet taste is a result of its high concentration of malted rice, which is the opposite of other miso types on the market, which tend to have a higher ratio of soybeans. Moreover, its salt content is low, at about 5 percent, meaning that it doesn't get very salty. It also counteracts the smell of meat and fish well, making it popular among restaurants that serve hot pot dishes with pond loach or horse meat.
Before World War II, Edo sweet miso boasted an 80-percent share of the miso market. However, its heavy dependence on rice meant that it was classed as a luxury food during the war, leading to a ban on its production. The ban was subsequently lifted in 1952, but people in Japan were beginning to switch to saltier brands of miso instead, with higher concentrations of soybean.
However, demand for Edo sweet miso has not died out completely. "As long as there is demand from customers, we will continue to make it," says Kiyotaka Tanaka, president of Nihon Miso Co., the sole manufacturer of this type of miso. In fact, Nihon Miso is currently searching for new sales channels, while maintaining the traditional taste of the brand, by promoting its use in curries, stews and ramen.
"We produce Edo sweet miso because we want people to enjoy it with others. It would be great if we could gradually increase the number of Edo sweet miso fans," Tanaka says.