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Fermentation, Family and a Shared Meal

People have been fermenting food for as long as they have been domesticating plants and animals, with records showing early examples in 7,000 BCE.  Its primary use was to extend the shelf life of foods, ensuring stock in the harsh winter months. These days, many people turn to foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha for their probiotic properties. Some people eat it as part of their culture and tradition.  And for some, it’s about family.  

In April, we invited friends and neighbors to join us at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands for an evening with our guest chefs, Anna and Shoichi Sugiyama of Yoka Miso. Shoichi began making miso in 1990 after taking a class while living in Iizuka, Japan. Not long after, his family grew to welcome two girls, Anna and Maia. After moving to Seattle in 1999, homemade miso was a kitchen staple and was often shared with friends. Through this act, they realized there was no locally made miso in Seattle, and that’s when Yoka Miso was born.

Shoichi Sugiyama, Anna Sugiyama, Maia Sugiyama and Michele Stanelun

What is miso?

At its most basic, miso is a fermented paste made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae — a mold called koji that is cultivated from rice, barley, or soybeans. The enzymes in the koji work with the microorganisms in the environment to break down the structure of the beans and grains into amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars. It creates a paste that has a rich, deep umami, and is a bit salty, toasty, funky and sweet.  

Besides being a fermented food in its own right, miso can also be used to pickle raw ingredients through a process called misozuke. Using a combination of miso and sake, mirin, or sugar, vegetables like cucumber, carrot, burdock root, and daikon, as well as meat, fish or seafood, tofu, cheese and egg yolks, can be flavored and preserved for an extended life. 

While most stores stock soybean-based miso, there in fact are over 1,300 types of miso produced globally. Yoka Miso brings some of that variety to Seattle through their offerings of both soy and chickpea-based miso. They partner with local farmers for their legumes and with suppliers who share a common vision of sustainability.  They are committed to minimizing their carbon footprint, serving & supporting their local community, and maintaining transparency in sourcing, packaging & production processes. 

A night with Yoka Miso

For our Community Kitchen event in April, Anna, her sister Maia, and both mom and dad joined in the kitchen to cook a family style meal at the farm. The goal was to gather, eat and learn how this beautiful, traditional food can play a role in every meal.  Many are probably already familiar with miso through its use in many savory soups but might be surprised at the ways this family incorporated miso into each dish. They prepared a local micro-green salad with a miso vinaigrette, grilled onigiris with miso glaze, a roasted miso eggplant dish, cooked spring greens with miso sesame, Japanese potato salad, pickled vegetables and chocolate chip miso cookies with miso caramel sauce and ice cream. 

Try the recipes

Miso, and all fermented foods, are a great way to add flavor, nutrition, and longevity to your own meals. If you are curious about trying out these miso-rich dishes yourself, check out the recipes from our April event including many creative varieties of traditional miso soup.

This material is funded through a Public Participation Grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology. Ecology reviewed the content for grant consistency but does not necessarily endorse it.

About Community Kitchens Meals

Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen Meals program is based at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands in South Seattle, and celebrates the diversity of food and food cultures in our neighborhood. Each month we partner with local home cooks and chefs to host an educational, cross-cultural event centered around a nutritious, delicious, and locally sourced meal.