Maruya Hatcho Miso
Maruya Hatcho miso is the oldest existing Hatcho miso maker in Japan. Situated in the heart of the Mikawa district of Aichi prefecture (approximately 60km east of Nagoya city), Hatcho miso draws it name from its proximity to the seat of power of Japan’s first Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa. His residence was the nearby Okazaki Castle, and “Hatcho” refers to the fact that the miso factory was 8 blocks from the castle (“ha” meaning 8, and “cho” meaning one city block).
Maruya Hatcho miso has been operating continuously since 1337. It, as a brand, is perhaps the most renowned in Japan. Indeed, during the Second World War, when due to rationing the Imperial Army sent orders to reduce the quantity of soy used (and hence the quality) in the manufacture of miso, Maruya Hatcho miso refused, and eventually won out in order to continue producing the best quality miso. It is this rigorous approach to the production of the highest quality miso that makes Maruya Hatcho miso the stand out in its class.
Types of miso
There are two basic types of miso in Japan. Shiromiso (“white miso”) is a light, less dense type of miso, commonly used in Kyoto cuisine and with lighter dishes throughout Japan. Different varieties of shiromiso are made across Japan, using combinations of soy with rice and barley. Akamiso (“mame- miso”) is only made from soy, and is most popular in the Chubu region (central Japan). Frequently in the home blends are made by mixing favoured brands of shiro and aka miso for a unique flavour. Hatcho miso is a variety of aka miso renowned for its dense, rich flavour and relatively low salt content (5-12% salt compared with up to 18% for some varieties of rice based miso).
Maruya Hatcho miso is known as a tennen jozo (naturally fermented food). The Mikawa region is ideal for the traditional manufacturing of soybean-based miso. Mikawa has long, humid summers, and relatively short, mild winters (it very rarely snows here). As this temperature regime would over-accelerate rice or barley based fermentation processes, it suits the soybean perfectly, which has fewer carbohydrates than rice or barley. This is an ideal environment in which to ferment 100% soy into a high quality miso paste, suitable for use as soup and as a base for making sauces for a wide variety of dishes.
Maruya Hatcho miso is made according to strictly traditional measures. Pure soybeans are steamed and then mashed. This then dusted with koji (the fermenting agent used in miso and soy sauce manufacture). Around 6 tons of soybean mash is then mixed into large wooden vats (made from Japanese cedar, they look somewhat like overgrown wine barrels), with pure sea salt and natural spring water. Most of the vats in use at Maruya Hatcho miso are over 100 years old. The vat is then sealed with a lid, and up to 4 tons of river stones are placed on top. Typically around 600 pieces of stones are placed in a conical tower on the vat, to compress the miso mix and squeeze out the excess water (which also carries away a large percentage of the salt). Why not one big weight? Firstly, should an earthquake strike, it would be too easy for the single large weight to be dislodged, tipping the entire vat over. At the same time it would be virtually impossible to have a single weight distributed evenly across the surface; uneven pressure would lead to an inconsistent miso. Much better to use the river stones, which distribute weight evenly across the entire mixture.
Maruya Hatcho miso is one of the longest lasting varieties of miso. Due to its low water content it has a naturally extended shelf life. It has been a favourite for Japanese armies, expeditions and adventurers for over 600 years, due to its portability and high natural protein level.
Health benefits of Maruya Hatcho miso
In the last 50 or so years research has shown the positive health benefits of low salt miso. The human body has trouble digesting and assimilating the protein found in soybeans, but as the koji enzymes help to break these proteins down they become more available to the human system.
Miso has also proven beneficial in the fight against cancer and radiation poisoning. A significant body of research exists showing correlations between regular miso intake and up to a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer (Hirayama et al, National Cancer Centre Research Institute, 1981). Similarly, a reduction in liver cancer rates by over 50% (Ito et al, Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, Hiroshima University, 1992). Akihiro Ito also showed how hepatocytes in the intestine survived radiation much better when the diet had a high percentage (10%) of miso; this research was so well received that large amounts of miso were exported to Europe following the Chernobyl nuclear incident in 1986. Low salt miso, such as Maruya Hatcho miso, has also been shown to be active as an antioxidant (Katoh et al, Otsuma Women’s University, 1995). The research all points to Hatcho miso being a wholesome food with a variety of health benefits.
Miso soup recipe
Miso soup varies widely from region to region. Here is one recipe common to Aichi (serves 4).
Maruya Hatcho Miso
Dashi (dried bonito powder)
Mirin (Japanese sweetened rice wine vinegar)
Shoyu (Japanese soy sauce; note that other types typically have a much thicker consistency and stronger flavour)
Daikon (Chinese or white radish)
Dried wakame (a type of seaweed)
All of the above will definitely be available from any standard Japanese or Asian grocery store, and many supermarkets as well.
Peel the daikon and chop into cubes about 3 cm/1 inch square. Bring water in the pot to boil and place in the daikon. Boil until daikon is 75% cooked (about the same consistency if you were boiling potatoes and wanted them firm). Turn heat down so water is simmering. From now on do NOT let the water boil.
Add about half a teaspoon of hondashi. This acts as a stock. The more you add, the “fuller body” the flavour, so you may want to experiment a little. Then using a fine sieve (or place the paste in a ladle and mix it into the soup with a fork) gradually dissolve two heaped tablespoons of Maruya Hatcho miso into the soup. Add just a dash of mirin and shoyu (be very careful with the shoyu as too much can completely spoil the mix!) and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The soup is ready when the miso paste has completely dissolved, don’t let it simmer too long. A difference between Hatcho miso and other misos is that it does not lose its flavour when boiled, but it is still not recommended to boil for too long. Serve the soup into bowls, and garnish with the dried wakame and finely chopped spring onions. Never, ever put these into the pot, as the wakame has no need for cooking and the spring onions are there to just add a bit of bite. By the time you take the bowls from the kitchen to the dining room table the wakame will have rehydrated and will be perfectly al dente.
Another popular addition is shellfish. Small clams/cockles work best (make sure they have sat for a few hours in salt water to remove any sand). Here it is important not to overcook them or they become tough and chewy. One way is to first heat the shellfish in the pot with no water (adding water actually leads to a longer cooking time meaning the meat gets too tough). When the shellfish have only just opened remove them, but keep the juice left in the pot as your dashi (stock), so reduce or exclude the hondashi. Proceed as above and just add the shellfish back in prior to serving to reheat.
For the deluxe version, pacific lobster/crayfish is used. The same rules apply here as for shellfish, but generally only the head of the pacific lobster/crayfish is used, the white meat of the tail having been reserved for another dish. Make sure you split the head lengthwise, to allow the insides to be exposed (incidentally, the insides of crabs and pacific lobster/crayfish are also called miso in Japanese).
Miso soup is usually one of the last things served in a meal. It should never be eaten with a spoon. It is meant to be taken directly from the bowl, hot, so you get a full mouthful, which stimulates all of your olfactory senses, with the contents (daikon, wakame etc.) eaten with chopsticks. It is also really good in a thermos/hot flask when out hiking or fishing, or in the lunchbox at work.
Where to buy
Distributors and retailers
Maruya Hatcho miso is currently to expand its range of distributors, wholesalers and retailers. If you are interested in opening a discussion regarding potential distribution opportunities, please fill in the form below.