CULTURAL ARTS: JAPANESE MISO IS ALIVE & THRIVING IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA

BY
MOUNTAIN XPRESS
GINA SMITH

The drive out to the American Miso Co. on a clear autumn day is stunningly beautiful — and a bit of an adventure. It seems straightforward enough heading east out of Asheville on I-40, but once you leave behind the interstate near Marion, getting to the manufacturing facility in Rutherford County is a matter of snaking along for a solid hour on mountain roads flanked by forests and cow pastures peppered with the occasional house or church. And once you arrive, there is a surprise: It’s tiny. Nestled among trees and fields, it seems unlikely that the unobtrusive set of small warehouses could comprise the largest organic, non-GMO miso manufacturer in the world.

What It Is

But what does that even mean? Miso, a fermented paste made from soybeans or other legumes or grains mixed with sea salt, has been a staple of Japanese cuisine for many centuries. Its rich umami flavor is the fundamental building block of numerous dishes essential to Japanese culture, from soups to pickles to desserts. Yet, in spite of its illustrious history as a traditional handcrafted culinary necessity in Japan, the average American consumer likely has no idea what miso tastes like, or even what it is. And although restaurants around the world use the the American Miso Co.’s Miso Master products — including local eateries such as Gan Shan Station, Chestnut and Doc Chey’s Noodle House — miso isn’t exactly hanging out with sriracha and turmeric as a hot food trend.

But sales have been growing steadily at the American Miso Co., and an expansion of its manufacturing operation is planned for “sooner rather than later,” says national sales director Leila Bakkum, who works from the West Asheville office of the American Miso Co.’s distribution and sales arm, Great Eastern Sun Trading Co.

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