Vegemite is an Aussie breakfast staple, but a closer look at its ingredients list recently – processed and synthesized, has had me reconsider. Instead, in a lightbulb moment I decided to try miso paste as an alternative and, my gosh, it was so vegemite-like! Here are a few good reasons why it’s a better choice.
Vegemite is an acquired taste. The spread has a texture of sticky chocolate ganache, and even looks like it, but the flavour is far from it. It is pungent, salty and sharp. It took me a good few years of minature tastings to be convinced of its flavour enough to say I enjoyed it, especially when topped with cheese and a slice of tomato. I wanted a healthier alternative. A gluten-free and wheat-free vegemite recommendation for coeliac friends. I’ve recently made the switch from vegemite to a similar-tasting Japanese shiro miso paste and, surprisingly perhaps, I absolutely love it. It’s soooo good and very good reasons.
Luckily, a simple three-ingredient answer to my new dilemma has been sitting right in my fridge: miso paste! How did I not think of this before? The kids love it already for an afternoon pick me up cuppa and I regularly add it to soups. Now I’ll be using it as a spread, and here is why.
1. Miso paste is gluten- and wheat-free therefore suitable for coeliacs
The issue with Vegemite, for me and for those of you who are coeliac, gluten- and wheat-free is that the main ingredient, yeast-extract, is made from yeast growing on wheat and barley. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans. While soy is hard to digest for many, fermented soy is not. I talk about the difference between fermented and unfermented soy in My Take on Soy chapter of The Wholesome Cook book.
2. Yeast extract has similar properties to MSG
I was chatting to a fellow ingredient label reader at a supermarket the other day – she was trying to find a healthier version of crisps while I decided to suss out if those lentil chips were really all that lentil-y. She said something about looking for brands with no MSG because her daughter was getting terrible reactions to the flavour enhancer. Somehow, I noticed yeast extract as one of the ingredients on the crisps packet she’d picked and explained to her that, while Vegemite does not contain MSG as such, yeast extract can cause very similar reactions to people sensitive to MSG.
“That’s it” she exclaimed. “It explains why she’s been reacting to Vegemite and no doctor I’ve taken her to could ever explain to me why.”. Now, that is a little sad – though there are fabulous doctors out there like Dr Cris Beer and Dr Rupy Aujla who are starting to push the boundries of conventional medicine and incorporate a lot more nutritional research and knowledge into their practice. Amazing work and so refreshing to see.
3. Vegemite contains caramel (150c)
Even though manufacturers can describe caramel (150a, 150b, 150c, 150d) as natural colour on labels, caramel 150c for instance (the type used as an ingredient in Vegemite), is produced synthetically using ammonia. For some reason I don’t find an ingredient classified by “the reactant used in its manufacture” to be extremely appetizing. In 2011 the European Union Food Safety Authority decreased the recommended daily intake recommendation for caramel 150c from 300mg per kilo of body weight to 100mg per kilo of body weight. This was due to its immunotoxicity – ability to negatively impact the count of white blood cells and disturb the immune function. Another reason I’d rather pass and use miso which contains ingredients that actually support the immune function.
4. But Miso is made from soy…
My Take on Soy chapter of The Wholesome Cook book provides a little insight into the distinction between “raw” and fermented soy products like miso. When choosing your paste, it is best to pick one that’s organic or made with non-GMO soy. That’s pretty much it. Some people with mild soy intolerance only experience symptoms when taking raw soy like soy beans, soy bean oil, tofu and soy milk.
5. Miso is a fermented food
While soy is hard to digest for many, fermented soy is not only easier on the digestive process, like other fermented foods such as dill pickles and sauerkraut, it is actually beneficial to our gut microbe communities. I talk about this throughout The Wholesome Cook book – with recipes for both fermented dill pickles and my childhood fave, the sauerkraut with carrot. In a nutshell, fermentation not only provides food for the good bacteria already in our colon, it helps introduce new strains of good bacteria. Miso also contains high amounts of vitamin B-12 synthesising bacteria and is a natural source of protein, zinc, manganese and copper which are known for their anti-oxidant properties.
TIPS FOR BUYING MISO PASTE
When looking for miso paste, try buying it from a refrigerated section of a health food store or Asian grocers. Check the labels, some do still contain added MSG listed as 621. Be mindful that some miso paste can contain up to 2% alcohol by volume, which can be listed as alcohol or 1510. If you can’t consume alcohol or are serving the paste to kids, look for brands that list soy beans, rice and salt as the only ingredients as these will be the purest. Otherwise, the amount of alcohol can be negligible, especially if you end up using the paste in a soup. Certain brands also contain added 101 (Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2).
So tell me, will you consider making the swap?