Resting: Namako cakes are sliced and spread out atop straw matting. The name “nesashi” derives from a word in the local dialect for laying something down to sleep. | SHOGO OIZUMI

On a stretch of fertile land, where several tributaries flow into Tokushima Prefecture’s broad Yoshino River, sits Miura Fermented Foods.

In the miso-making business since 1849, Miura has long been known for its nesashi miso, a variety produced in just a few parts of Tokushima. Made only with soybeans, nesashi miso has a strong, unique flavor that some find unusual but that adds richness to many dishes. Fifth-generation owner Seiji Miura describes nesashi miso as “similar in character to blue cheese. Just a tiny dab adds surprising depth to a dish’s flavor, and it has sparked interest among chocolatiers and chefs who specialize in French or Italian cuisine.”

Sea miso?: The rounded soybean cakes are called “namako” because of their supposed resemblance to the sea cucumber, which goes by that name. | SHOGO OIZUMI

The first step in making nesashi miso is to steam domestically grown soybeans in large wooden tubs known as koshiki. The steamed soybeans are then ground and shaped into oblong cakes called namako while still hot. When the cakes have cooled, they are sliced into 2-centimeter-thick rounds, which are laid out on straw mats. At this stage, ordinary miso would be sprinkled with kōji mold, which Miura’s nesashi miso however does not require.

As Miura describes it, “We just let our miso ferment through the action of the kōji present in the straw matting as well as in the storehouse.” The microbes thrive on the moisture of the sliced miso cakes, and after 40 to 60 days the cakes are coated with a hairy white mold.

Miso production using this natural method of mold formation takes place in the depths of winter, when other types of microbe are less active. But, says Miura, “the work is easily affected by changes in humidity and temperature. These days, the window for production is getting shorter and shorter, probably because of global warming, and that’s a cause for concern.”

By the time they are covered in hairy mold, the namako cakes are hard and black. Water and salt are stirred in with the cakes, and this mixture is packed into cedar tubs and left to age for three years. The end result is nesashi miso just as it’s been produced for a century and a half.

Family occupation: All the work is done by just three people: fifth-generation owner Seiji Miura, his wife and their daughter. In addition to nesashi miso, Miura produces kōji rice miso and soy sauce. | SHOGO OIZUMI

“Our miso contains no additives,” says Miura. “We keep a vigilant eye on the fermentation process, constantly monitoring the humidity, temperature and time, as well as the miso’s smell, color and texture. Miso is a ‘living food’ that changes from day to day. We are grateful for its blessings, and we will continue to make the best product we can by listening closely to the ‘voice’ of the miso.”

Miura Fermented Foods Co. Ltd.: Ichibacho 468, Ichiba Machisuji, Awa, Tokushima Prefecture 771-1604; 0883-36-4119;

By Kateigaho International Japan Edition

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