There are two things people from Okazaki, a small city in Aichi prefecture, are proud of.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa period and the one who united Japan was borne right in Okazaki.
And Hatcho Miso, a strong and dark type of red Miso originated in Okazaki almost 800 years ago. And is still produced today.
In this post, rather than talking about history, I would like to talk about Miso. What it is, and why you should care!
What is Hatcho Miso?
Miso is a standard ingredient in Japanese cooking. Most foreigners associate it with Miso soup but it is used in many other dishes in the Japanese cuisine.
Miso is typically made from soybeans, grains like rice or wheat, and salt.
Foreigners might be surprised that there are actually hundreds, maybe thousands of different kinds of Miso. Depending on the region the production of Miso can be different resulting in a different product with a slightly different taste.
Hatcho Miso is just one of these Miso variations.
It is a very popular and famous one but only 0.2% of produced Miso paste in Japan is Hatcho Miso.
The name Hatcho Miso comes from the place it originated from. 800 years ago Hatcho used to be a small village about 870 meters from Okazaki Castle.
The Cho in Hatcho is a unit to measure blocks and Hat comes from Hachi which means eight. Hatcho, therefore, means eight blocks from Okazaki Castle.
When Hatcho Miso was first created Hatcho used to be a village. Today it is a part of the city that is Okazaki.
The first company producing Hatcho Miso paste was Maruya which was established in 1337. It still exists today and you can do free factory tours to learn about the Hatcho Miso production process.
Right next door is another company specialized in the production of Hatcho Miso called Kakukyu. They are a little bit newer but still impressively old by any standard (founded in 1645). They also offer free factory tours where they explain about the production process.
I took the time for both tours because I wanted to see the differences of both companies, because I had time and because the tours were free with food samples at the end. No drawbacks at all.
At both companies, tours start every 30 minutes. The tours are unfortunately in Japanese only.
What Is the Difference Between Red Miso and White Miso?
As was explained to me during both factory tours, there are two differences between Aka Miso and Shiro Miso (red and white).
1. The Ingredients
Hatcho Miso which is red is made only from soybeans, salt, and water while Shiro Miso, white Miso has other added ingredients such as rice or wheat.
2. The Process
Red Miso gets its characteristic color from steaming the soybeans.
They turn red in the process.
When making Shiro Miso the soybean rice mixture isn’t steamed.
Aka Miso is also fermented for a much longer time than Shiro Miso (around 2 years), which turns the reddish-brown color even darker.
Because the ingredients and production process are different the end product is very different. While Shiro Miso has a light taste, Hatcho Miso has a very strong, unusual taste.
There is actually a mixed version of Hatcho Miso and Shiro Miso called Aka Dashi Miso. It has a rich taste but not as overwhelming as the pure Hatcho Miso. And is very popular.
How to Make Hatcho Miso?
The only ingredients in Hatcho Miso are soybeans, salt, water and time.
To start the process soybeans are immersed in water and are left to soak.
After the beans have absorbed a carefully measured amount of water they are steamed with hot vapor.
The steamed soybeans now have their characteristic reddish-brown color. They are formed into baseball-sized clumps and starter culture called koji is added to the surface of the soybean clumps. Now the soybeans are left for a couple of days to ferment. Thereby the original Miso is created.
Next salt and water are added to the mix.
The finished mixture is transferred to gigantic wooden casks which can hold 6 tons of Miso. A worker in rubber boots will stomp on the layers of Miso to get rid of any air that might be in the Miso mix. The mixture is very firm and stable enough that a worker can stand on the surface.
The casks are made from cedar and can be used for more than 180 years. Since one barrel costs around 2 million yen (20.000 US dollars), it’s a real investment to purchase new barrels.
The cask is closed with a lid, and 3 tons of stones (around 500 of them) are laid carefully in a pyramid shape on top of the lid to press heavily on the Miso mixture inside. The skilled worker piles the stones so carefully that they can withstand even earthquakes.
To become true Hatcho Miso the wooden tubs are left alone for at least two years (two summers and two winters). During the summer the Miso expands in the tubs, in winter it contracts. The workers say the Miso is alive.
Why is Hatcho Miso so Famous?
The fame of Hatcho Miso can be attributed to two factors.
1. The location of the factories in Hatcho directly at the Tokaido. The famous road connecting Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period. Travelers would stop here to drink some Miso soup on their long and hard way to the capital. There is also the Yahagi river to be considered as it made the transportation of the finished Miso very easy.
2. The fact that the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu loved Hatcho Miso from his birthplace is also a factor which played a role in the fame and popularity of Hatcho Miso today. The Miso was used by his Military as battle rations.
How to Eat Hatcho Miso?
There is a saying in Japan, that people from Nagoya put Miso on anything. While this is, of course, a blatant exaggeration, there is a grain of truth to it.
These are all dishes with a very strong Miso flavor and widely popular in Nagoya.
During my tour of the Kikukyu Hatcho Miso factory, I got to try a Hatcho Miso soup as well as an Aka Dashi Miso soup.
While I liked both, the Aka Dashi Miso isn’t as strong and less overwhelming for the senses, so I feel it would go better with other foods.
The shops at both factories sell a wide variety of Miso based ingredients and dishes, such as Miso Nikomi Udon, Miso pastes, and sauces. They even have Miso pudding.
You can, of course, find Miso soup here as well.
At Kakukyu they have a small stand selling some snacks with Hatcho Miso. One of which is Miso Soft-serve Ice Cream.
Since I can never say no to Soft-serve in Japan, and especially not if there are interesting flavors on offer I had to try it!
To be honest, it wasn’t bad. I mean when have you ever had a bad ice cream before? But it wasn’t all that great either. I wouldn’t necessarily want a second serving of it any time soon.
Final Thoughts on Hatcho Miso
Miso is a main ingredient in Japanese cooking together with sugar, salt, vinegar, and soy sauce.
Even if you have tried Miso before, I highly recommend you try some dishes made from Miso in Nagoya. It’s a special place to try some unique dishes and a great opportunity to experience the unique flavor of Hatcho Miso.
You can find more information about these dishes and the best restaurants to try them by reading the Nagoya Food Guide.
During the Nagoya Meshi Food Tour, we try at least one dish made with Hatcho Miso each time, either Miso Katsu or Miso Nikomi Udon. Sometimes both.
If you want to learn more about Hatcho Miso and these dishes join me on a food tour in Nagoya! Find more information here.
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.