Every region’s traditional cuisine has its own set of fermented food. Miso, tempeh, tamari and natto are examples of the various ways Asians have learned to ferment soy beans. They are quite diverse in flavor, form, texture and culinary properties. This is due to the particular methods or stages of fermentation each of these products undergo.
Miso and tamari are used as sauce or as flavoring in the preparation of other dishes. The latter is actually a byproduct in the manufacture of the former. Tamari is the liquid that accumulates as the miso continues to mature. There are various types of miso. It depends on which grains, other than soy beans, are used. Tamari is derived from miso made almost exclusively from soy.
Meanwhile tempeh and natto are viands by themselves. With tempeh, the soy beans are ground and formed into large patties. But in natto, the individual beans are still distinguishable though quite soggy and sticky. It also has a very pungent odor that makes this dish an acquired taste. Tempeh is actually of Indonesian origin, while natto as well as miso and tamari are part of Japanese cuisine.
These four types of traditional Asian food have a lot of proteins and other nutrients to offer. But the way soy beans are cultivated nowadays, plus some of the ingredients used in the fermentation, introduces some health risks that need to be considered.
Continue reading and learn more about the pros and cons of miso, tempeh, tamari or natto and why the Superhuman Food Pyramid recommends only moderate consumption of these sources of protein.
Benefits of Miso, Tempeh, Tamari or Natto:
Soy is an excellent source of protein like most beans and legumes. The useful bacteria introduced during fermentation helps break down these proteins into constituent amino acids. This results in easier absorption during digestion. Here is a list of the total proteins per 100 grams for each of these four types of fermented soy food:
Miso – 11.69 grams
Tempeh – 18.50 g
Tamari – 10.50 g
Natto – 17.70 g
Leucine and glutamic acid are two amino acids that are consistently abundant in all four. The first helps build muscles while the second is used by the body for neurotransmission, especially in the cognitive areas of the brain. Tempeh and natto are notable for also having high amounts of proline and serine amino acid. Proline is crucial in the production of collagen which in turn forms most of our connective tissues and skin. Meanwhile, serine is a structural component of various parts of the nervous system.
Proteins aren’t the only compounds broken down by fermentation. Soy’s oligosaccharides, known to cause gas and indigestion, are also reduced. Another obstacle removed is phytic acid. This phytochemical is higher in grains but some legumes do contain significant amounts of it. It tends to block the absorption of mineral nutrients. Fortunately fermentation eliminates the phytic acid in soy beans, enabling you to absorb the iron, calcium and other minerals found in these soy products.
Risks of Miso, Tempeh, Tamari or Natto:
The process of making miso and tamari is almost similar to that of soy sauce. One common ingredient is sodium, lots of it. The same 100-gram serving of miso or tamari that offers so much protein will also unfortunately contain more than the recommended daily limit of sodium for adults. Of course in reality no more than a tablespoon or two of miso or tamari is used as an ingredient or sauce. That means only a very small amount of nutritional benefits is also actually consumed in a meal.
A much deeper problem for all soy-based products is the fact that more than half of the total soybeans produced around the world today are genetically modified. There is no easy way to tell if a finished product is made from conventional soy or GM soy. The main issue with GM food is that no conclusive study on its long term effects to the human body has been made (or at least officially accepted). Will the modified genetic component in the food you just ate survive and thrive in you intestines? How will that transgene affect the rest of your health?
Practical Uses of Miso, Tempeh, Tamari or Natto:
Miso soup is the most popular Japanese dish for this soy product. The other necessary ingredient is dashi or fish soup stock. Typically you only need 1 ½ tablespoons of miso paste to flavor 13-14 ounces of soup. The paste and soup stock form the essential base, additional vegetables or spices really depend on your preference. Customarily dried seaweed, mushrooms and tofu are included.
Tempeh can work as a substitute for tofu. Take note there are differences in texture as the latter is made by curdling soymilk. Tofu is soft and spongy while tempeh is firm and chewy, which makes it more appropriate for frying. Traditionally, before it’s fried, sliced pieces are soaked in brine.
You can then use tamari as an alternative dipping sauce for your fried tempeh. It’s almost like soy sauce, only a little thicker and less salty. Another advantage tamari has over conventional soy sauce is that no wheat is included in the fermentation process. Thus it’s safe for people sensitive to gluten.
Natto is usually eaten as is, after you take it out of the packaging. Typically it is topped on a hot bowl of steamed rice. In Japanese cuisine, natto is also sometimes used in other dishes. It can be added in miso soup, prepared as sushi (natto sushi), or one of several ingredients in okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pancake.
In the next post, I’ll tell you the pros and cons of egg protein powder and how to moderately use it in your quest to Become Superhuman.
In the meantime, if you care to jump ahead, here is a complete listing of the protein sources on Superhuman Food Pyramid:
• Organic Yogurt (Full-Fat)
• Soaked or sprouted beans and legumes
• Raw seeds and nuts
• Roasted Seeds and Nuts
• Regular or Canned Beans and Legumes
If you have questions, comments or feedback about the pros and cons of miso, tempeh, tamari or natto, the Superhuman Food Pyramid, this website, or other aspects of Becoming Superhuman, then leave your thoughts below, as well as any tips you have on the pros and cons of miso, tempeh, tamari or natto.