miso main imageWhat’s made from fermented soybeans, spreadable like margarine, healthy enough to fight off cancer, and very versatile in the kitchen? If you guessed miso, you win the foodie know-it-all prize. If you’ve never even heard of miso, consider yourself normal. But don’t feel bad, we’ll fill you in.

Miso is a thick, smooth paste made from soybeans, sea salt, a mold starter (koji), and often a bit of whole grain, like rice or barley. The mixture is fermented for anywhere from a few months to a few years, and like the process of wine making, it becomes darker, fuller, and more nutrient-dense as it ages. A young miso is yellow and has a slightly sweeter flavor, whereas the more aged versions are reddish-brownish, have a more salty flavor, and are much more robust.

Why should you eat miso? Simply, it replaces other salt sources with a probiotic-loaded savory flavor that can help fight off cancer and protect reproductive health. It’s full of B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients that vegetarians frequently need, and it can help heal digestive disorders. We’re sold.

But what the heck do you do with it? That’s easy. Read on to learn how to use this amazing condiment as a regular health-boosting kitchen staple.

Replace that lousy canned broth.
Forget that ole chicken or vegetable broth—it was doing nothing for your soup aside from the mild shot of sodium. Instead, whisk 1 teaspoon of miso into every 1 cup of warm water for your own probiotic-infused super stock. Learn to make the familiar miso soup here.

Make a superhero Macrobiotic tea.
You don’t have to eat twigs to get a taste of Macrobiotics (in fact, we recommend that you don’t ever eat twigs). Mix up a super-hero super-healing Macro tea by heating up 1 teaspoon miso, 1 teaspoon umeboshi vinegar (found in the Macrobiotic/Asian section of the health food store), and 1 cup filtered water until just warm. They say it’s the ultimate hangover cure, too—you can try that one out for us.

Spread it—healthier and yummier.
Mix equal parts miso and softened butter for a spread perfect for toast, fish, roasts, scones, and other savory noshes. Make a small container worth and keep it in the fridge for regular use. Look at you plan ahead.

Make a vegan sour cream.
Puree about 1 cup of extra-firm tofu with about 1 teaspoon miso and 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and you’ve got yourself a vegan sour cream. Want it saliter? Add more miso. Want it tangier? Add more vinegar. Boom, you’re a chef.

Impress your raw friends with a snazzy salad dressing.
To make a high-powered salad vinaigrette, puree a bit of miso with olive oil, fresh herbs, and lemon juice. Drizzle on greens and float away.

Kick up peanut butter and jelly.
Make an insane sweet and savory peanut butter spread by blending miso with peanut butter—thin it out with a bit of apple juice or fruit jam and honey. Um, yum.

Image: cyclonebill