History of Miso and Soybean Chiang - Page 1


A Special Report on The History of Traditional Fermented Soyfoods

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

Copyright 2007 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste made with soybeans, rice or barley, salt, and water. An all-purpose seasoning with a rich, hearty, often meatlike flavor and aroma, miso can be used (often like a meat stock or bouillon) in the preparation of soups, sauces, gravies, dips, dressings, and many other foods, as described in The Book of Miso (Shurtleff and Aoyagi, 1981).

The earliest known ancestor of miso was the group of Chinese foods or condiments known as jiang, and specifically soybean jiang (doujiang).

Miso is made using a two-part fermentation. In the first part, steamed grains (typically rice or barley, but in some cases soybeans) are inoculated with the mold Aspergillus oryzae and incubated for about 48 hours to make koji, which serves as a source of enzymes. In the second part, the koji is mixed with cooked soybeans, salt, water, and seed miso, packed into large vats, and traditionally fermented for 6-18 months. Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts also play important roles in this brine fermentation. The final paste-like product is ready to use.

The history of both miso and soybean jiang is interwoven with the histories of soy nuggets or shih (Chapter 32) and soy sauce (Chapter 34). Jiang and soy nuggets are both the ancestors of miso and soy sauce. A single integrated history of all of these foods is given in our Book of Miso (1981 Ballantine edition). The main sources of our information on the early histories of jiang and miso in East Asia have been our own translations of the following works: Miso no Hon ( Book of Miso ; Kawamura and Tatsumi 1972), Kikkoman Shoyu-shi ( History of Kikkoman Shoyu ; Ichiyama 1968), Miso Enkaku-shi ( History of Miso ; Kawamura 1958), Inshoku Jiten ( Encyclopedia of Food and Drink ; Motoyama 1958), and Daikanwa Jiten ( Chinese-Japanese Historical Dictionary ; Morohashi 1955-60).

Etymology . While the general term jiang, referring to various pastes, appeared as early as the third century BC, the first reference to jiang made from soybeans ( doujiang ; "bean jiang") is found in the Ch'i-min yao-shu (AD 535; Shih 1962). Prior to 1979 the Wade-Giles system transcribed these terms from standard Mandarin into English as chiang and tou chiang . After 1979 the pinyin system transcribed them as jiang and doujiang . Other types of jiang containing soybeans were also developed, as will be discussed later. As doujiang moved southward into southern China and Southeast Asia it became known as tau cheung in Cantonese, as tau ch'iu in Hokkien (from Fukien province), as tauco (pronounced taucho and formerly spelled tao-tjo; a corruption of the Hokkien for doujiang ) in Indonesian, as tau-cheo or tau-chio in Malaysian, as tao-chio or tau-cho cheaw in Thai, and as tuong (a term derived from jiang ) in Vietnamese. To the east, in Korea, it became known as jang .

The Chinese word for soy sauce, jiangyou , means "the liquid pressed from jiang." It clearly was derived from the earlier term jiang .

[2 sets of characters]

Pronounced jiang in China Pronounced jiangyou in

and hishio in Japan China and shoyu in Japan

When the Chinese character jiang entered Japan (it first appeared in the Man'yoshu in AD 686) it was pronounced hishio (Pierson 1929). By 730 the character was being pronounced both hishio and misho . The present word for miso, written with the present characters, first appeared between 886 and 901. A more detailed discussion of the complex evolution of the new term will be given later.

Since miso has no close counterpart among Western foods, it has, since the time of earliest Western contact??, usually been referred to in European languages by its Japanese name, miso . Only rarely has it been called "soybean paste." Chinese soybean jiang has never been widely known in the West, probably because it is a relatively unimportant food in China and because it is not nearly as appealing as miso to most Westerners. In 1976 Shurtleff and Aoyagi gave the first specific English names for each of the six basic types and 28 varieties of Japanese miso, as well as nine varieties of Chinese jiang, five varieties of Korean Jang, and four varieties of Indonesian, taucho. Miso is now known as le miso in French and das miso in German.

HISTORY OF SOYBEAN JIANG IN CHINA

Early Chinese Non-Soybean Jiang . Thought to have originated before the Chou dynasty (722-481 BC), jiang is undoubtedly the oldest condiment known to man, originally developed as a way of preserving protein-rich animal foods to be used either as seasonings or preserves. In effect, the peoples of East Asia discovered that when seafoods and meat (and, later, soybeans) were salted or immersed in a mixture of salt and rice wine (or water), their protein was broken down by enzymes into amino acids, which in turn stimulated human taste buds, augmenting the flavors of other foods. It was soon found that subsequent fermentation served to deepen and elaborate the primary flavor and aroma of the salt-pickled ingredients. The idea of combining these two distinct preservation techniques into a single process laid the foundation for the later development of miso, and enabled people long ago to break the vicious cycle of feast and famine, conserving foods from times of bounty to be enjoyed in times of scarcity.

The earliest varieties of Chinese jiang were probably made with fish, shellfish, and game. Their flesh--and in some cases bones, blood, and entrails--was ground or crushed, pickled in a mixture of salt and rice wine, and fermented in sealed earthenware vats for 100 days or more. This jiang closely resembled contemporary Asian fermented fish sauces and pastes such as the strong smelling nuoc mam of Vietnam. But it was fundamentally different from modern miso (or shoyu) in that it contained no soybeans, grains, or koji. According to Shinoda (1974), Japan's most respected historian of Chinese foods, the earliest reference to koji appears in the Shih Ching ( Classic of Songs ), the first of the Chinese Five Classics, consisting of 305 songs dating from the tenth to the seventh centuries BC. Koji was added to pickled fish mixtures to speed the fermentation. Soybeans and grains were being used as ingredients in jiang by the first century BC. The consistency of early jiang was probably neither as firm as that of miso nor as liquid as shoyu; rather it more than likely resembled applesauce, porridge, or the mash known as moromi from which today's shoyu is pressed. The various types of seafood miso (crab, shrimp, and red-snapper miso) still very popular in Japan are thought to be its direct descendants.

According to the Daikanwa Jiten , a remarkable Chinese-Japanese historical dictionary showing the earliest uses of Chinese characters (Morohashi 1955-60), the written character for jiang made its first appearance in about the third century BC in two unrelated documents, the Chou-li (Japanese: Shurai ) and the Analects of Confucius ( Lun yu ^??). It is not clear which of these is the older. In the Chou-li ( Rituals of the Chou Dynasty , a bureaucratic utopian vision of the administration that supposedly existed in the dynasty's royal court in the sixth to eighth centuries BC), jiang is mentioned several times. In the chapter "Contents of the Heavenly Palace Household" ( T'ien Kung Chia Tsai ) it is stated that "One hundred and twenty crocks of jiang were stocked for a party by the Chou government" (Biot 1851, Sun 1966). The work also states:

In preparing the eight basic types of foods whose qualities harmonize with the four seasons, one should learn to use jiang from the hundred and twenty crocks . . . Fasting from all foods is in the spring. Fasting from soups is in the summer. Fasting from jiang is in the autumn. Fasting from drinks is in the winter . . . They selected the hundred delicacies, jiang products and rare things to make an offering.

The Chou-li states that this jiang was made by mixing the meat of animals, birds, and fish with millet koji and salt, then pickling it in wine in a crock for a hundred days. It is quite remarkable that even at this early date the Chinese were consciously using the enzymes produced by the koji molds (whose airborne spores fell on the substrate naturally, rather than by deliberate inoculation), to make fermented foods such as jiang and fermented grain-based alcoholic beverages (Sakaguchi 1979). It is also clear from the context that jiang was regarded as a highly prestigious food and a delicacy.

Jiang appears in the Analects of Confucius ( Lun yu ^??; note that Confucius, c. 551-479 BC, did not write the Analects or any other works. They were compiled by his disciples 100 to 200 years after his death). Nevertheless, in scroll 2, Chapter 10 , jiang is mentioned in a section where the sage is discussing proper etiquette and social behavior, the wise choice of foods, and fasting (Waley 1938, 1966; Lau 1979):

Foods not accompanied by the appropriate variety of jiang should not be served. Rather than using only one to season all foods, you should provide many to ensure harmony with each of the basic food types. Make grains central to your diet. Use wine in moderation to welcome guests, but by no means should you get drunk and act foolish.

In other texts of the same period, we learn that each of the 120 crocks mentioned above contained jiang made with a different combination of ingredients and having a distinctive flavor. One source mentions, for example, mustard jiang and says that it should be eaten only with raw fish (Jap: sashimi ). A Chou dynastic legal document tells us that one government official was appointed director of jiang production, while another was made director of the closely affiliated bureau of medicine and foods.

The character for jiang next appears in several texts of the second or third century BC. The Chan kuo , in the section "The Intrigues of Eastern Chou," states that "Caldrons are not like pickle pots or jiang jars. If you pick up one and try to go to Ch'i, you will not get there as quick as a bird flying or a rabbit jumping or a horse galloping." This suggests that the containers in which jiang was pickled were relatively small. Five types of meat or fish jiang are mentioned in the Li chi or Record of Rituals (Japanese: Reiki ), the last of the Confucian Five Classics. This suggests the food's high status.

Jiang is next mentioned in the Historical Records (Chinese: Shih chi ; Japanese: Shiki ) by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, the great historian, who died in about 85 BC. In "The Record of Prosperity" chapter it is stated that "Throughout Ta-i (possibly a district in today's Sichuan) in one year, one thousand fermented products and one thousand crocks of pickles and jiang are made. This is equivalent to a house of a thousand chariots (i.e. a dukedom) (Watson 1961)." Jiang is also mentioned in Chapter 135 ( Huo ch'ih?? lieh chuan or "List of Various Products"); this is almost certainly a meat or fish jiang paste. The book also notes that in 140 BC a traveler in Canton ate a fermented food called ku-jiang prepared with a sweet wild fruit and probably resembling Japan's Kinzanji miso, but containing no soybeans. Since Canton was thousands of miles from the imperial capital at Chang-an and since we are told that this jiang was made in a remote town upstream from it, we may assume that the process for preparing various types of jiang was known throughout much of China before the Christian era. In this reference we also have the first known description of a jiang made without meat or fish.

The Han shu (Trans??), written by Pan Ku circa AD 90, stated in "The Collated Records of Yang Hsiung" section that the students of that age were such ignorant materialists that in the future, they might even use the sacred Taoist books "to cover jiang jars." The Han shu also mentioned the use of a starter ( chu ^??) in making two types of rice wines, li and chiu .

Early Chinese Soybean Jiang (doujiang; 100 BC to AD 599) . The first reference to the use of soybeans as the basic protein source in jiang, as a substitute for the previously used meat and fish, appeared in the Chi chiu p'ien , written by Shih Yu during the first century BC. It stated, "Soy nuggets ( shih ) are made from black beans . . . jiang is made from (soy) beans and wheat flour . . . Wheat, rice, and (soy) bean gruel are what the country people and farmers eat." In the Lun heng , written by Wang Chung in approximately AD 27-100, in the "Four Taboos" section, it is stated that "it is bad to hear thunder when making soybean jiang ( doujiang )." One wonders if it was believed that the thunder's static electricity affected the fermentation process.

The first detailed description of the process for making soybeans jiang appeared in the Ch'i-min yao-shu , a remarkable 10-fascicle agricultural encyclopedia, written in about AD 533 to 544 (Shih 1962). All of fascicles 7 and 8 are about fermented foods and there is a long section on "Jiang." It states that the culture used for making jiang was called huang-i (yellow coating), huang-cheng (yellow mold) and mai-yuan (wheat must). These cultures of Aspergillus or Rhizopus molds were propagated on steamed wheat grains inoculated by spores that were airborne or attached to the leaves of certain plants ( Phragmites or Xanthium ). After describing the preparation of meat jiang and fish jiang, the Ch'i-min yao-shu stated that soybean jiang was prepared by fermenting a mixture of 30 parts presoaked steamed soybeans, 10 parts powdered wine starter, 10 parts yellow mold, and 5 parts white table salt. After incubation for 3-5 weeks (depending on the weather), the mixture ripened as a stock (now called jiang chiao??). Thirty percent by volume of salt solution was then stirred into this and the mixture fermented for 100 days for best flavor, although it could be eaten after 20. It was thought that if a pregnant woman touched it during fermentation it would go bad. In one place, the book advised making jiang during the twelfth and first months of the lunar calendar (January-February); in another it recommended fermentation under the hot summer sun. It also described the preparation of Chinese koji (called ch'u ^ or k'u ^??) to produce fermented alcoholic beverages from millet or rice, and the preparation of "jiang-pickled vegetables" ( jiang tsai ), made by pickling half-dried vegetables in fermenting or well-fermented soybean jiang (Shih 1962).

During this period?? the Chinese learned to preserve a number of foods by pickling them in jiang: tofu was pickled to make jiang doufu , white uri melon to make jiang kua , and pork to make jiang jou . The use of soybeans in all of the above preparations marked a major step in the development of today's miso and shoyu. The early mention of soybean jiang in the Chi chiu p'ien and Lun heng , and the detailed description of this jiang's preparation in the Ch'i-min yao-shu indicate that the basic techniques for making soybean jiang had probably been established before the second century BC.

These early varieties of Chinese jiang were used primarily as a seasoning. Their consistency was midway that of today's miso and soy sauce, resembling an applesauce or porridge. Considered both nutritious and tasty, they were popular daily foods, highly esteemed by all classes of people, and used as a dressing for cooked vegetables or grains (typically mixed with other ingredients such as vinegar or a sweetener), or for pickling.

The development of fermented soyfoods, a process that depends on a rather sophisticated (intuitive and conscious) understanding of microbiology and fermentation technology, was a remarkable achievement in the early history of China. It is also remarkable that the Chinese recognized and deliberately cultivated at least two types of molds, Aspergillus and Rhizopus , and used them to produce enzymes. The Rhizopus processes, used with soybeans or barley to make jiang or soy nuggets (both having koji with a crumbly consistency), were never transmitted to Japan. (The Japanese, however, developed a way for making sake (rice wine) with Rhizopus that was not found in China.)

600-1899 . During the T'ang dynasty (AD 618 to AD 906) jiang was referred to as the "ruler of foods" and in one well-known ceremony, a tray bearing its many varieties was placed on the palace altar, before which the emperor showed his respect by formally bowing in public. A special official was appointed to guard the imperial household's supply as it fermented so that no one could steal the secrets of its production. In the T'ang shu ( The Old Book of T'ang , written by Liu Hsu, AD 887-946) at the "Records of the Hundred Officials" chapter it is stated that "In the department of the controller of pickles are 23 jiang craftsmen, 12 vinegar craftsmen, and 12 soy nugget (shih) craftsmen." The Liu shu ku (Trans??) written by Tai T'ung of the Sung dynasty (960-1126) noted cynically, "Nowadays people let soybeans and wheat go yellow, throw in some salt and water, and consider it jiang." Here we see mention of the use of both wheat and soybeans in jiang, the forerunner of today's shoyu. An early mention of the Chinese equivalent of miso soup appears in the T'an yuan (Trans??), written by Huang Chien in roughly 1027 AD. "Someone asked if the people and officials of Hsiu-shui and Ch'ing-te were clear (i.e. honest). He replied, `they are the color of jiang shui ?? ("jiang water")--not clear and not thick (i.e. corrupt)." This jiang shui, pronounced shosui in Japanese, later became the famous Zosui , a miso porridge. During the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279), jiang (probably soybean jiang) was considered one of the "Seven Necessities" in China. The other six were firewood, rice (or grain), oil, salt, vinegar, and tea.

The Pen-ts'ao kang-mu , a large and famous collection of botanical and medical writings by Li Shih-chen (1578-97, Ming Dynasty), mentioned various types of jiang, including soybean jiang, wheat jiang, and wheat & soy jiang. It mentioned five types of illnesses for which jiang was considered a potent remedy.

The Kuang yang tsa chi (Trans??), written by Liu Hsien-t'ing during the late 17th century stated: "So if the sage did not get his jiang, he would not eat," attesting to the continued importance of jiang in the culture.

1900-1948 . Surprisingly little has been published about soybean jiang in China during the 20th century, although it still plays a very important role in the diet of the people.

The Englishman Shaw (1911) in Manchuria stated:

Chinese paste (jiang) is not the same article of diet as the Japanese paste miso. It is made by farmers, and eaten with fish, meat, and vegetables, while the more expensive soy (sauce) is only made by wealthy families and restaurant keepers and is not consumed by the very poor. There are two kinds of jiang: ta (great) and hsiao (small).

For great jiang, soybeans were boiled until soft, mashed in a mortar, shaped into flat cakes, and fermented on mats for 2 months. They were then ground to a powder, mixed with salt water, and fermented in a vat, with occasional stirring, for 15 days. The same method was used for small jiang, except that equal parts of soybeans and maize (corn) were used in place of just soybeans.

In 1918 Shih in China wrote in detail about "Tou Jiang or Bean Sauce" but stated that it was generally made the "Water White Bean, Phaseolus vulgaris ." No mention of soybeans was made in the article, which described the fermentation process in detail. There are no known publications on jiang in English from 1918-1948.

1949-1980s . At the time of the founding of the People's Republic of China, soybean jiang was made in much the same way as soy nuggets, except that it was sold in the form of a soft paste, rather than being sun dried. The main varieties of soy-based Chinese jiang today are chunky soybean jiang ( douban jiang ), hot chunky soybean jiang ( la douban jiang ), Sichuan red-pepper soybean jiang ( Sichuan douban jiang ), soy nugget jiang ( douchi jiang ), sweet wheat-flour jiang ( tian mian jiang ), black soybean jiang ( hei jiang ), and hoisin sauce ( haixian jiang ). The Chinese also make jiang-pickled vegetables ( jiangzai ), jiang-pickled meat ( su jiang rou ), and jiang-pickled tofu ( jiang doufu ). More detailed descriptions of jiang and various recipes are given by Nakayama (1973) and Shurtleff and Aoyagi (1983b). Basically, jiang is used in China in much the same way as soy sauce, as an all-purpose seasoning. It is not used in soups, like Japanese miso.

China's second most widely consumed soyfood, jiang is made in many small shops throughout the nation. Unfortunately no statistics on production or consumption are available. It is sold in bulk at Jiang Gardens. Guo (1983) reported on a new method of making soybean jiang. Mix 100 parts wheat flour with 55 parts steamed soybeans; inoculate with Aspergillus mold spores, and incubate for 24 hours. Add a 30% salt solution (about 15 Be), stir, and place it in a large container for 25-28 days at 40-45°C. The untraditional use of a large proportion of wheat and the heated fermentation greatly reduce the fermentation time, and probably give a product resembling a Japanese shoyu moromi (but with more wheat); Japanese misos almost never contain wheat.

In the USA, jiang is not nearly as widely known or used as Chinese soy sauce or Japanese miso. Only a few types (such as "bean sauce" and hoisin sauce) are even mentioned in US Chinese cookbooks-- and then not frequently. Apparently it does not appeal to most American palates.

HISTORY OF SOYBEAN JIANG IN KOREA AND SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

Dissemination of Jiang from China . By the early T'ang dynasty (618-906 AD), soybean jiang and soy sauce (the liquid seasoning extracted from jiang) had begun to move out of China into adjoining countries. There is considerable evidence that Buddhist priests played a key role in taking soybean jiang eastward into Korea and Japan, while Chinese traders from Canton and the surrounding Kwantung province, and from Fukien province were instrumental in disseminating it southward. As it entered new cultures, both its basic character and its name were altered slightly. Unfortunately, very little has been published about the history of soybean jiang as it entered the various countries surrounding China, except for Japan.

The various relatives of jiang in Southeast Asia are much more closely related to Chinese jiang in consistency (like applesauce) and flavor (strongly flavored) than to Japanese miso. As in China, most continue to be made noncommercially at home for home use, and they are most widely used as a base for sauces served with meat, seafood, poultry, or vegetable dishes, rather than as a soup base like Japanese miso. A detailed description of all the basic jiang-type foods with production information is given in Appendix B.??

Korea . Korean records from AD 680 indicate that jang (soybean jiang) and kan jang (soy sauce) had entered the country in the customary exchange of gifts between ruling houses (Wang and Lee 1978). Today the main soy-based varieties of Korean jang are Korean soybean jang ( doen jang ), red-pepper soybean jiang ( kochu jang ), mild red-pepper soybean jiang ( may jang ), and Japanese red jang ( wei jang or ilbon jang ). Traditional Korean miso is basically soybean miso, made by cooking and mashing soybeans, shaping them into 6-inch balls, tying these with strands of rice straw under the eves or rafters for 1-3 months until they are covered with a white bloom of mold. They are then crumbled to make meju , which serves as the base of jang or soy sauce.

Early Japanese mention a miso-like product or hishio from Korea. The Wamyosho (903-938), the earliest dictionary of the Japanese language referred to a Korean product called koma-bishio , a fermented soy and/or grain hishio (Nakano 1981b). This product was further discussed in the Honcho Shokkan of 1695. While it is doubtful that miso came to Japan from Korea, it is very likely that Japanese miso and its name were influenced by its Korean forbears.

In 1976 in Korea, per capita daily consumption of soybean jang and red-pepper soybean jang were 15 grams and 10 grams respectively. Some 82% and 76% of each product respectively were produced in farmhouses and urban dwellings, and consumed directly by the families that made them (Wang and Lee 1978, Choe and Song 1960). Lee (1976) has given a detailed description of making Korean soybean jang and soy sauce.

Indonesia . The earliest reference to a relative of jiang in Southeast Asia was by the Dutch scientist Prinsen Geerligs in 1895 and 1896. He described Indonesian taucho, calling it tao tsioe in his Dutch article of 1895 and tao tjiung in his German article of 1896. He indicated that the soybeans were inoculated with hibiscus leaves, called waroe . Ochse (1931) gave a detailed description of taucho, which he spelled taotjo . Burkill (1935) mentioned " tao-cho " saying that the cooked soybeans were mixed with roasted rice flour, then arenga palm sugar and a paste of glutinous rice.

The main soy-based varieties of Indonesian taucho, listed in order of popularity are soft sweet taucho (taucho Chianjur, which contains 25% by weight of palm sugar), salty liquid taucho (also called black bean sauce, a relative of tausi), firm dried taucho ( taucho kering , sold in sun-dried cakes), and smoked dried taucho. Taucho is produced and consumed mainly in West Java, the center of production being the town of Chianjur, located midway between Bogor and Bandung. Figures on production and distribution have been given by Winarno et al. (1976). Popular recipes include Sambal Goreng Taucho and Oseng-Oseng Taucho.

Vietnam . Vietnamese jiang is called tuong. The best and earliest description of tuong and its manufacture in North Vietnam (Tonkin) was given by BUI Quang Chieu (1905) and later summarized by Li and Grandvoinnet (1912). Bui described two basic types of tuong, made with roasted soybeans and either glutinous rice or corn. For that made with a glutinous rice: steam glutinous rice, cover on trays with banana leaves, and leave for 2-3 days until it molds to form koji ( moc ). Roast the soybeans, grind to a powder, boil with water, and put in a jar for 7 days until sweet from auto-hydrolysis and fermentation. Then add salt plus 6 parts of the rice koji to 5 parts of the soy, ferment for 15-30 days, stirring before sunrise and covering at night; serve without filtering off the liquid. Tuong comes with either a chunky or a very smooth consistency: the chunky ( tuong ban ) is the most popular, while the smooth is made only in Cu-da, North Vietnam. A good tuong is mellow, thick, and brown; it is sweeter and smoother than nuoc mam fish sauces. Annamites (from central south Vietnam) say that only prosperous households succeed in making tuong. If tuong begins well but then sours, this is a bad omen. According to Mr. Hoang Van Chi (1981), owner of the first company to make smooth tuong in the West, since about 1950 there has been no soy tuong in North Vietnam because of a shortage of soybeans and rice caused by the protracted anticolonial war, and by the fact that the pre-Communist soy sauce makers were classified as landlords. Starting in the late 1970s efforts began to make soy sauce with peanut or cottonseed presscake. See also Chapter 11 at Vietnam.

Other Southeast Asia . Soybean jiang has long been used in Malaysia (where it is called tau-cheo or tau-chio ) and in Thailand (where it is called tao-chio or tau-cho cheaw ), but little is known of the history or present status of these products.

HISTORY OF MISO IN JAPAN

The origins of miso are not clear, although most scholars agree that its earliest progenitor came from either China or Korea. Some set the date of arrival in Japan at shortly before the introduction of Buddhism (AD 540-552) whereas others feel that the lack of definite records demands the more conservative estimate of AD 663. The miso transmitted from Korea is thought to have been prepared using the miso-dama technique whereby cooked soybeans are mashed, shaped into balls, and inoculated with wild mold spores to form the koji. Crushed and mixed with salt and water, the balls were then fermented in crocks to make a variety of soybean miso. This special tradition, though largely undocumented, is thought to have been the origin of much of Japan's earliest farmhouse miso. The product brought from China, on the other hand, is believed to have gained its first acceptance among the nobility and in monasteries.

Early Non-Soybean Hishios (Before AD 700) . There is evidence that long before the arrival of miso-like foods from China and Korea, the Japanese had independently developed their own varieties of fermented sauces, resembling Chinese jiang and based on fish, shellfish, and meat. The earliest inhabitants of Japan were hunters and gatherers who are said to have arrived about 20,000 years ago. Long before the Christian era, they learned to extract salt from sea water, and their earliest seasonings consisted of this natural salt, together with sansho pepper and ground shellfish. Starting in the late Jomon period and continuing through the succeeding Yayoi period (200 BC to AD 25), however, fish and meat sauces basically similar to jiang were independently developed, as attested to by pickling crocks recently excavated in the northeastern provinces and dating back 3,000 to 4,000 years. The Japanese word for these primordial seasonings was hishio (or hishiho ), and when the first writing system was introduced from China, it was written with the character for jiang.

A number of these Japanese hishios (each made without the use of koji) can still be found): shiokara is squid, squid intestines, or bonito pickled in a mixture of mirin and salt; shottsuru (from Akita) is sardines and hard-finned hatahata pickled in salt; shuto is salted bonito intestines pickled in sake; and gyoeki is fermented fish liquid. Two lesser-known relatives are ikanago shoyu from Kagawa (made from sand eels) and kurozukuri from Hokuriku (chopped cuttlefish salted and mixed with their ink). (Ancient Rome had a similar fermented sauce called "garum," an ancestor of anchovy sauce.) All are aged for one week or more and served as toppings for rice or as hors d'oeuvres. Through the northerly regions characterized by long snowy winters and severe flooding, they have also long been used as emergency food staples.

Today, the northeastern provinces are known as the "miso heartland" of Japan; the per-capita consumption there is the highest in the nation and the ancient homemade-miso tradition is still very much alive. These facts, combined with the archaeological evidence indicating early mastery of salt-pickling and fermentation, move some scholars to go so far as to trace the origins of miso (and shoyu) to this part of Japan rather than to China or Korea.

 

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