Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient made from soy beans, salt and usually a fermented grain such as white rice, brown rice or barley. It was first seen as a luxury food, eaten solely by Buddhist monks and nobles, but by the sixteenth century it had become a common food item. Furthermore, by the seventeenth century miso had begun to be produced on an industrial scale.
In more recent years the export of conveniently packaged miso pastes has increased annually as more and more people around the world are discovering its health benefits and delicious flavour.
Bonnie Chung, founder of the instant miso soup kit company Miso Tasty, is seeking to start a miso movement in the UK. I had the opportunity to speak to Bonnie about how she came to create Miso Tasty and what makes the product so special. She tells me she came up with the concept of Miso Tasty as she felt disappointed with the poor quality, MSG-laden miso soups that were available on the market.
"I was so fed up that I would carry around fresh miso paste in my bag to make the soup at work, because a convenient yet quality alternative was non-existent." To fill the void Bonnie sought to create a miso soup that was authentic, convenient, natural and, most importantly, really tasty.
She conceived the idea over four years ago but it took three years of hard work to develop the product and perfect the recipe, creating premium miso options, before launching the company in March 2014.
Miso Tasty currently offer two miso soups. They have a Classic Shiro Miso Soup and a Spicy Aka Miso Soup.
There are many different types of miso made in Japan, but Miso Tasty’s soups are made from a base of shiro (white) miso and aka (red) miso. Both are made with rice and soybeans, which have been fermented together over a period of time. The white has been fermented for six months, which gives it a light, classic flavour, whereas the red has been fermented for 12 months, giving it a deeper, richer taste.
Bonnie came into the food industry as a chef and immediately knew that it was the field for her. She had always wanted to run her own business and with a determined mindset she went about setting up one of London’s first supper clubs. Open seven days a week, Bonnie ran the club at her own home. "It was really handwork," she tells me, "but I loved every second of it. It really prepared me for the relentless nature of running a start-up."
The key differentiator between Miso Tasty’s miso soups and other instant miso soups on the market is that their miso soup comes in a two-part kit. The miso paste is in one sachet and the spring onions, wakame seaweed and kelp come in a separate packet. To make the soup, you simply add both these packs to a cup of hot water. Separating the ingredients from each other means the miso will taste fresh and will not age. It also ensures that the vegetables are crunchy and bright, as they haven’t been deteriorating in the miso paste.
All of Miso Tasty’s products are made according to their own unique recipe. This has enabled them to make their soup a vegan product, replacing the traditional bonito (fish) stock with a kelp stock. Making sure all their products are all natural, gluten- and GMO-free has also been really important to the development and uniqueness of the product, Bonnie says.
Miso is such a versatile ingredient. When I asked Bonnie, "why miso?", her apt response was, “Asking me ‘why miso?’ is like asking a chocolatier ‘Why chocolate?’”. She continued to tell me that she has always used miso in the kitchen and is obsessed with the flavour-packed taste it delivers. She is determined to make miso a store cupboard staple in the UK that everyone knows how to cook with.
In the Miso Tasty office they love using their miso soups as a base for a quick and healthy lunch. Bonnie suggests simply cooking some noodles, dropping them into a miso soup and adding some crunchy vegetables and tofu for a nutritious and easy meal. Miso soup has a very high-protein content, which means that it can really satisfy your appetite and sustain you throughout a busy afternoon.
Miso Tasty comprises of a small team that is growing very quickly. While each person has their own role, as a small company they are constantly working together, sharing ideas, problem-solving and brainstorming; everyone knows what’s going on in each part of the business. Bonnie believes that it is very important to have a happy and positive work environment, which is something that the team tries hard to cultivate, as they spend so much time together. When I asked Bonnie about a typical day in the office I learn that no two days are ever the same at Miso Tasty HQ.
The team starts their morning by addressing and resolving any urgent issues. They then spend the rest of the morning sorting through stacks of emails, ensuring the supply chain is functioning smoothly, catching up on social media, while also juggling various team meetings with members based outside of London, their PR agency, and their SEO team. After a quick miso noodle soup for lunch, they tend to step away from their desks, working in the kitchen, testing and developing new products for launch, or running off to their stockists to do an in-store tasting. Every day is another action-packed miso adventure, but that’s the nature of a start-up.
"My ultimate aim is to find Miso Tasty in every kitchen cupboard in the world, starting in the UK," Bonnie announces. As it is such a nutritious and delicious product she would really like to help educate people about miso's uses and make it a key part of everyone’s diet. And at Fine Food Specialist, we think it's such a tasty product that we're happy to help her on her mission!