Remember that '70s superheroine, the Bionic Woman? Chances are she didn’t get her powers by advanced technology alone. She probably supplemented her cyborg superstrength by eating a diet rich in probiotics. It’s information that the CIA has kept quiet all these years, but really, anyone can be bionic if they go probiotic.

I jest, of course, but there is surely some truth to the idea that a strong and healthy person (which the Bionic Woman certainly was) would eat a healthy amount of probiotics. And there’s more to probiotics than yogurt (despite Jamie Lee Curtis and her catchy Ac-tiv-i-a commercials). Miso, for instance.

Miso is a staple of Japanese cuisine. It's a thick paste made by fermenting soybeans, usually with a grain (such as rice or barley), salt, and fungus, or kojikin. Most of us know miso as we've seen it at teriyaki or sushi joints everywhere: as miso soup. But it can also be used as a spread, a sauce, or for pickling meats and vegetables. It comes in colors, too – from white and light, to reddish and brown, with the flavor becoming more intense as the color darkens. 

Probiotics are "good" bacteria naturally found in the body, usually as lactic acid. The word comes from the Latin pro, meaning "for," and biotics from the Greek noun bios, or "life." The natural balance found in the body can get out of whack, which is where Jamie Lee Curtis would like to be involved. But really, miso is so much better.

In Southeast Portland, the Jorinji Miso Company makes all the varieties of miso you could ever need. It's available in a bulk bin at Alberta Co-op (among others), so you can buy a little or a lot, and experiment. And since it's fermented, miso will last in the refrigerator for months or longer. (Best to cover it closely to keep air from getting in its container.) You can reach for it when you need it, as you would mustard or mayonaisse. But it's so much healthier and yummier – even unami-er!

To start, here's an easy recipe for miso soup, adapted from New Seasons Market.

Shiitake Miso Soup
5 cups water
5" piece of kombu
1/2 cup bonito flakes
1/4 to 1/2 cup light miso paste
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
4 ounces cleaned and thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

In a soup pot, bring water and kombu to a boil. Add bonito flakes, turn off heat and strain stock. Set aside. In the soup pot, heat sesame oil on medium heat and saute carrots and shiitake mushrooms a few mintues. Add stock back to pot, lower heat to low and stir in miso. (Note: do not boil once miso has been added, as the high heat will kill off the beneficial enzymes.) Serve and garnish with scallions and cilantro.

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