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Dec 15, 2006 06:07 PM

Making Miso from Scratch - want to give it a go

I am fascinated by what seems to be endless diversity in this single product, and would like to try to make it at home. Any help-please?

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  1. I haven't tried making miso at home, but I have made my own natto several times now. There's a resource you should know about up in Fort Bragg, CA named G.E.M. cultures, a small husband and wife operation. This is where I've bought all of my cultures in the past for fermenting natto.

    9 Replies
    1. re: cgfan

      Was wondering how long homemade natto will keep in the fridge?

      1. re: omotosando

        Ive had natto in my fridge for a few months now and it seems to be fine.

        I just looked at a package of natto and I can't seem to find an expiration date, but I know it will go bad (contrary to popular belief).

        1. re: bitsubeats

          in my experience, homemade natto keeps just as long as the commercial stuff but ymmv i guess.

      2. re: cgfan

        Do you have the recipe for making Natto? I really enjoy having it for breakfast with rice and eggs.

        1. re: designerboy01

          It's very easy, as it could be as easy as taking some cooked soybeans and using an existing batch of natto to innoculate it and fermenting it at room temperature. In Japan the traditional method was to wrap cooked soybeans in a bundle of rice straw tied at both ends. Apparently the bacillus that ferments the natto occurs naturally in rice straw. Natto used to be sold every morning by vendors walking the streets shouting "natto", still packaged in the rice straw package that they were fermented in.

          Having said that, and I've known people to produce natto via such simple means, (us moderns can be suckered into buying all sorts of things that nature is more than willing to do for free, such as yogurt makers for "making" yogurt... Hey, which would probably work just fine for "making" natto too! It's no longer a single-tasker!), I chose to use an off-the-shelf culture in addition to fashioning a simple incubator out of an incubator thermostat from a tack and feed store, a lamp socket, and a heat lamp. (as posted elsewhere in this thread...)

          I lost the instructions from G.E.M. Cultures that came with the culture, but I believe this is roughly how it's done. You will certainly receive printed instructions when you purchase the culture.

          * boil soy beans
          * cool to below critical temperature (above which is too hostile for the bacillus)
          * the bacillus is aerobic, so spread the natto in a thin layer, but not so thin as to make it difficult to maintain moisture. I used a rectangular casserole dish.
          * innoculate the soy beans with the culture and mix thoroughly; it is extremely concentrated, so very little is used. (A small spoon is shipped with the culture, looking like a miniature salt spoon...)
          * I don't recall exactly, but I probably would have covered it with food wrap to hold in moisture,with holes poked throughout to allow for air. Perhaps a moist cloth would work as well
          * I put this in an oven (oven off!) with the incubator thermostat/heat lamp gizmo and oven thermometer to monitor tempertures; close the oven door for insulation
          * monitor the fermentation looking for contamination from foreign cultures until done; I fermened it many times over what was suggested in the instructions. As one may imagine, the longer the fermentation, the more assertive the taste.
          * refrigerate when done

          The only "problem" that I ran into when making natto is in finding a sufficiently small soybean. Any soybeans that I've been able to find were much larger than I wanted, even from the Japanese markets. In the end I used a soybean larger than I would have prefrred.

          Does anyone know of a good source for small soy beans, perhaps the width of a lentil?

          1. re: cgfan

            Did you try the indian markets? I appreciate the information and I think I'm going to give it a try when I get some time.

            1. re: designerboy01

              It had never occurred to me. I'm not very familiar with Indian food, so I didn't know they used soybeans... Will check out Miramar's Little India area next chance I get...

              Thanks for the tip!

              BTW, how do you think you'll approach the natto-making?

              1. re: cgfan

                Here's a description w/ pics of a factory making natto in straw:


                Two tutorials for (non-straw) making at home:



                1. re: cgfan

                  To be honest I don't know either, but I have a hunch a good store may have them.

                  As far as the Natto making, I have to find time first which is my biggest problem.

        2. The Book of Miso by Shurtleff & Aoyagi is very informative. I still haven't made it, though, because I'm not sure what I would do with two gallons of miso.

          1. [reply to omotosando] - sorry, I must have replied at the wrong posting level...

            I personally don't worry about my homemade natto staying long in the refrigerator so long as it doesn't dry out, get invaded by other cultures, or pick up any off flavors or armoas from other items in the refrigerator. ...which is a good thing, since it's hard not to end up with a huge quantity of natto when you make your own...

            When I was making my own natto I always felt like I wanted to extend the fermentation time to develop more complexity in the taste. In the end the fermentation was extended many times over what was called out for in the instruction sheet, around 3-4 times longer! When it stays in the fridge for an extended time I imagine the natto continues to slowly ferment, much like bread dough will when treated to a retarded fermentation in the refrigerator.

            (Speaking of which when I have the time and forethought to do so, I'll leave the natto that I'll be using for dinner out on the kitchen counter in the morning, covering it in plastic wrap but poking holes to allow some air in for the bacteria. [I do this with store-bought natto as well...] This is to allow the bacteria to awaken and "rev up" it's fermentation. And of course just before serving briskly stir-up the natto with your chopsticks to further develop the natto "threads". In this way you can develop more of the "neba neba" [mucilageonous] quality from the natto culture.)

            If you want to try making natto at home one of the main things to deal with is deciding how to provide the warmth. For my natto I went to a local tack and feed store and purchased a thermostatic switch used for poultry incubators. It only sounds complicated, but in reality it's just a simple switch.

            Much like s lid on a jar of bad preserves, a metal diaphragm bubbles out as it gets warm. That movement trips a switch that can be used to light a heat lamp. A screw controls the nominal distance between the diaphragm and the switch to allow proper calibration against a thermometer. So I simply wired-up the incubator switch to a lamp socket and mounted it on a piece of board, all of which went into my oven (oven off!) to provide for an insulated enclosure.

            Hey, it's not often that one gets a chance to combine a bit of Rube Goldberg, a purchase from a tack and feed store, and millions of frisky bacteria to create a traditional Japanese food item!

            kare_raisu: BTW when I re-read my response above I realized that I failed to mention anything other than the natto culture being available at G.E.M. Hopefully you checked out the website, but in case you haven't, G.E.M. carries all sorts of different food cultlures for soy, dairy, and bread products, including what you need to make your own miso.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cgfan

              Thanks for the website cgfan, i am gonna check them out. [Once again amazed by your ingenuity..awesome experiment it sounds like]

            2. Here are a few links to how to make miso.

              Shurtleff's book is still the definitive work.

              Take a look at these sites to see an overview of the process:





              Remember that making miso used to be as common in each rural household as was making kraut in Germany.

              As to having too much miso as a result of making it yourself: a single large bbq event of miso marinated chicken can go thru gallons. A lavish use for a product that is pretty cheap if homemade.

              1. Here are a few links to how to make miso.

                Shurtleff's book is still the definitive work.

                Take a look at these sites to see an overview of the process:





                Remember that making miso used to be as common in each rural household as was making kraut in Germany.

                As to having too much miso as a result of making it yourself: a single large bbq event of miso marinated chicken can go thru gallons. A lavish use for a product that is pretty cheap if homemade.

                16 Replies
                1. re: FoodFuser

                  You will find some interesting cultural information in Gaku Homma's book, "The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking - A Trditional Diet for Today's World", 1991, North Atlantic Books and Domo Productions. In it he says:

                  "Making miso was traditionally a community effort that began May 21st or 22nd (haru higan or the spring equinox).

                  Soybeans were soaked overnight, boiled, drained, and poured into a large tub. Men wearing rice-straw shoes to protect their feet crushed the beans. The women then shaped the crushed beans while they were still warm into pyramids, squares, or balls, depending on the locality. After the shapes cooled they were tied with rice-straw rope and hung under the eves of the house. When the naturally occurring fungus began to grow on the miso, it was said that "the flower had opened". After this occurred, the miso was transfered to the misodaru or miso tub. Salt was added and the tub was covered."

                  Apparently koji was not used in these earlier methods. Homma continues to explain how it is done with koji, the more "modern" method:

                  "It was my job as a child to crsh the boiled beans used to make miso. The crushed beans were then poured into a wooden tub, mixed with koji, covered, and left to ferment for an average of six months to a year. The traditional farmer still keeps a storage shed for the tubs of miso and other pickles near his house. Not too near his house! The most obvious reason for storing miso away from the family home was the pungent odor created during the fermentation process. City people sometimes use the phrase "you smell like miso" to mean you come from the country.

                  Sometimes on larger farms, miso was stored for up to eight years. To have old miso in your huse meant that you had a large, prosperous family."

                  Later, Homma writes:

                  "While the miso is fermenting in the tub, juices leak from the bottom and are collected underneath. Ths juice is called tamari or taremiso - used to make soy sauce. In the United States, there is a product named "tamari". This is completely different from the original tamari collected from the fermenting miso. If you have experienced Japan, you know that American tamari and Japanese tamari are like American futons compared to Japanese futons: the names are the same, but the two are fundamentally different.

                  "Shoyu (soy sauce) was traditionally produced as a cash crop to be sold in the cities. The mountain people and country farmers couldn't afford shoyu, and used tamari or taremiso as a flavoring instead".

                  This is a really interesting book, especially if you are interested in the intersection between food and culture. It includes many recipes, though the discussion on miso is mainly the above narrative.

                  1. re: cgfan

                    "You smell like Miso." : )

                    These descriptions evoke incredible mental imagery...this book does -indeed- sound wonderful. Where did you purchase this cgfan?

                    I would love to find some late 19th Century / early 20th C. photographs of these sort of scenes. I am especiallly interested in the speciality shops such as the Tofu-ya or even the Mobile Yaki-imo vendors.

                    I always assumed Tamari was a soy based product -- no idea that in its original form it came from Miso.

                    Have you done any reading into Korean Miso pastes? I made a fending-for-yourself-for-dinner (no real food in the house) discovery last night. I place some Ssamjang - the (kochunjang, garlic, sesame) seasoned bean paste in a bowl and added hot water and proceeded to make a miso soup.

                    It was wonderful. Almost like a korean '-tang.' There are even redidual half-crushed beans revealed after finishing the soup.

                    PS I noticed the pictures of the Gurume Manga at book-off in CM on your Flickr Page. Are any of these translated into english as of yet?

                    Check out this old Post:

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      You can find the Homma book, where else, at ( ) You will find some interesting pictures in the book, though the narrative in the book has more comprehensive coverage of historical food production methods than the pictures alone.

                      A couple of other books that may be of interest to you; not that these are 100% food-related, but invariably food-related items do show up in all of them one way or another:

                      * "Mingei", by Amaury Saint-Gilles - This little book is published by the S.D.'s own Mingei Folk Art Museum in Balboa Park, and is a wonderful collection of Japanese folk crafts (mingei).

                      * "How to Wrap 5 Eggs" and "How to Wrap 5 More Eggs", by Hideyuki Oka - A wonderful collection of traditional packaging techniques, almost all of which are food related. Each entry gets its own full page, usually just a full-page photograph with expalanatory notes assembled in the back of the book.

                      * "Kindred Spirits: The Eloquence of Function in American Shaker and Japanese Arts of Daily Life", by Martha W. Longenecker, et. al. - an interesting cross-cultural visual comparison between the design styles of Japanese crafts and American Shaker crafts; it's basically the catalog for the exhibit under the same name that was held at the Mingei Museum of Folk Art in S.D.'s own Balboa Park. (I believe it was Longenecker herself who seeded the museum's large collection of Japanese mingei.


                      A beautiful movie that was a big hit in Japan that you might be interested in seeing is "San-chome no Yuhi", distributed as "Always: Sunset on 3rd Street" in the U.S. It's a period piece that shows life in Tokyo during the post-war period, and in it you will see portrayals of confectionary stores, toy shops, tobacco dealers, as well as roving natto vendors, an izakaya, large format kid's magazines/comics, bamboo toys and rubber band gliders. It's a wonderful film with many nostalgic elements.

                      On the Gurume Manga, I don't know of any that are available in English other than "Yakitatte Ja-pan!", English adaptation provided by Viz Media. They specialize in "localizing" printed media, specifically manga, for U.S. audiences. Unfortunately I am not aware of any other Gurume Manga that has gotten their attention.

                      If you wish to peruse some of the Gurume Manga titles, a small hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop restaurant that I occasionally go to has a good collection of them stacked two deep in a pair of bookcases in the back of the room. It's called Ume no Ya, (on my underrated by CH'ers section of my profile), in the Miramar area.

                      The service is very patient (slow, very slow) as they have no help, and if they fill 30% of their tables they will be overwhelmed (which rarely happens). But the food has always been very good, (except for my last visit - don't know why...), and they offer many of the kind of home-cooked Japanese meals that I like to make myself at home or that I remember eating growing up. They have a good collection of the "Oishimbo" series, as well as "Cooking Papa". I'm sure you will discover others if you look through their shelves.

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Cgfan: Well, I am off on the search for the above. I cannot thank you enough for the assistance as I am passionate about this subject.

                        Regarding Umenoya: I am very interested in this restaurant as it has only been briefly described in a mmm-yoso post and it sounds characteristically samiliar to my favorite restaurant, Sunshine Cafe.

                        What do you reccomend? Do they make sukiyaki by chance?

                        At Mitsuwa today, I went to the bookstore where I asked about the Gurume Manga, I learned about from you. I found the Oishimbo series and wish I didn't polietly decline for them to unwrap a title (I can't read Japanese). Instead, I bought my second Tsukemono book - sigh. A Historical Manga series about the Russo-Japanese war - (I am also a history buff) caught me eye.

                        I bought the Koji and daizu today for my miso. I think I will make up a batch of amazake (also for sale) before it warms up.

                        On a side note: I was tempted by the most expensive miso at Mitsuwa; a $12.99 Koshiskari Miso with visable rice grains. Instead - I picked up a batch of dark Haccho miso - which I have been meaning to try for a long time.

                        (I think a chowhound miso tasting is in order, a la dommy!'s tamale post on the LA Board.)

                        At Nijiya I noticed a Tofu Misozuke -- what an interesting product: two seperate by-products of a single ingredient reuninting to form something entirely unique!

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          "two seperate by-products of a single ingredient reuninting to form something entirely unique"

                          BTW here's another example from a recent O.C. trip (Natto-stuffed age-doufu): (


                          Regarding Ume no Ya I would recommend ordering off of their Japanese menu, while also perusing their specials board. (If I recall correctly, though, their specials board is rarely translated, so you may want to ask the waitress for assistance...) On their specials board you will usually find some dishes that are seldom prepared in a restaurant setting, such as "u no hana" (okara). The specials list usually has about 5-7 items, and will be a mix of some interesting appetizers along with some entrees.

                          The Japanese menu usually has combinations of broiled fish (like sanma, aji, saba, etc...) served with various secondary dishes such as ika-natto with soup, salad, and tsukemono. If I recall right the Japanese menu was also simulataneously translated into English...

                          I don't recall if they do sukiyaki, I'm guessing not as they probably can't afford to deal with the extra logistcal issues with only one person in the front of the house, but I rarely go there for dinner so who knows? (One more thing - their hours do seem a bit odd, so please do call before making a visit...)

                          1. re: cgfan

                            Thanks for the foto link....Japanese cuisine continues to amaze and unfurl before me.

                            Do you know any backround information regarding the owners? They are only a two person restaurant? Is their clientele almost purely Japanese?

                            1. re: kare_raisu

                              Sorry to have left this thread hanging... I "rediscovered" it wondering if anyone on CH has talked about Umenoya outside of this lone thread; well unfortunately this still seems to be the only thread of this relatively undiscovered, "labor of love", restaurant.

                              I wish I knew more about the owners, other than that they are a husband and wife team. When the subject of food comes up amongst San Diego Japanese, it's amazing when asked how many of them go to Umenoya, even though they may not have mentioned it otherwise. It seems like they all, myself included, like the food they serve there but wonder how they manage to stay in business given the general dearth of customers and slow, patient service. And there's always a sense of surprise when they find out that someone else goes there, but easy to imagine as it's usually nearly empty.

                              Yes, the clientele tends to be almost all Japanese. They feature good Japanese homestyle cooking, executed well. Call it Japanese comfort food, but in a way that does not dwell on the big starchy items that usually connote comfort food. Rather picture set meals of, say, broiled fish with pickles, rice, misoshiru, salad, and perhaps some natto.

                    2. re: cgfan

                      Thanks for the book link. I've just ordered a copy based on your rec.

                      As for tamari, here's a supplier of the "real stuff". It's made by Miso Master in Rutherford County, NC. It's the liquid that slowly gathers under pressure on the miso. Liquid Gold.


                      more on the company:


                      1. re: FoodFuser


                        Does anyone know the various miso/Japan books of John and Jan Belleme? They are the founders of the company that makes miso master.

                        Amazon string of their 5 or so books is here:


                        1. re: FoodFuser

                          Great site foodfuser. What else have you ordered from this company? I am interested in ordering the corn miso --but there is no link.

                          What applications have you used the miso tamari in?

                          1. re: kare_raisu

                            re corn: I've emailed them re the corn hyperloop. I've tried several of their misos, and all of them are winners.

                            re tamari: The stuff is so good that I use it for any dipping sauce apps (ponzu, salad dressings, etc) where I'd use regular soy sauce. I haven't used it in Cooked apps, because of it's price. I have also been known to take a 1/4 teaspoon straight from the spoon, on "treat yourself" occasions.

                            1. re: FoodFuser

                              FoodFuser, please let me know if you are contacted regarding the corn miso as I can't wait to try it!

                              1. re: kare_raisu

                                I've just fired off a second attempt email. I will certainly let you know when I receive a response. My email address is in my profile, if you prefer that method.

                                1. re: kare_raisu

                                  kare: I just got a feedback from the distributors/manufacturers about the corn miso. The reason I'd had no reply was that they had recently discontinued the corn miso but had neglected to clean the link from the website.

                                  So... corn miso is not available. At least.. from them.. who knows what other CH'ers will find or even make.

                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                    I so appreciate the reply Foodfuser. That's too bad about the corn miso - I really wanted to try it. Thanks again for the follow up.