Miso Paste Is The Savory Key To Golden Brown Apple Crisp

Long before the words "miso" and "umami" entered the culinary vernacular, at least in Western-style cooking, the idea of adding salty complexity to a homemade apple crisp would have been questionable at the very least. After all, umami flavor, which largely defines miso paste, only became scientifically recognized as the "fifth taste" in 1990, joining its sweet, salty, sour, and bitter counterparts. Though hard for many chefs to pinpoint, the umami flavors in miso are earthy and savory with a subtle saltiness, typically used to enhance soups, sauces, dressings, and marinades.

Miso is a staple in Japanese cooking, starring in the famous miso soup and appearing in stir-fries, noodle dishes, salads, sushi, grilled meats, and seafood. Since it's gone mainstream, worldwide chefs are dabbling outside preconceived applications. That includes discovering that miso paste can transform baked goods, assuming the pairing is a good match. As gastronomy fate would have it, a warm apple crisp dessert gets an extra oomph of flavor and golden-brown crumbliness when miso joins the baking party.

Miso creates a nice balance of flavor and deeper color to an apple crisp

When it comes to the perfect apple crisp, it's all about the topping. Otherwise, it's no different than any number of delicious apple-filling desserts, including pies, turnovers, and apple brown betties. That apple crisp topping is a perfect place for an injection of miso paste.

Most apple crisp recipes call for brown sugar, which can overpower the dessert with sweetness if not properly balanced. Miso to the rescue! Instead of using a pinch of salt, let the mild salinity of miso paste be the equalizer. It counterbalances the sugar while bringing a rich, savory depth to other toppings, which typically include rolled oats, nuts, flour, cinnamon, and butter. Miso also deepens the nutty brown hue of the topping and complements the hearty apple flavor in the filling. 

Miso is a fermented soybean paste most easily available in three versions identified by color: red, white, and a red/white mixture known as awase. Because of its relatively mild sweet flavor, white miso paste, also known as shiro or "sweet white miso," works particularly well in apple crisp topping. To smoothly blend miso paste into the crumbly topping texture, incorporate it into an easily mixable base such as butter. Just add a teaspoon of miso to the softened or melted butter, mix evenly, and then combine with the remaining ingredients as usual.