Hooray for Fermentation, plus Hummus with Miso

There's one unfortunate side effect of cancer treatment, which doesn't get talked about a whole lot. But it makes you really cranky.


That side effect is that your digestive system sort of stops working properly. Radiation therapy can wreck havoc with the regular functioning of your innards, and chemotherapy is by all accounts worse. I only had radiation therapy, but on top of that having multiple surgeries in my abdomen area meant that putting effort into certain actions that you take for granted when you're healthy became painful and stressful. The end result was that I got into a vicious cycle. I'd become terribly constipated, have to take something for it, then have the polar opposite problem for days on end. I felt so icky and irritable all the time.

Talking to my doctors about the problem didn't yield a lot of good answers. "Eat fiber, fruits and vegetables" they'd say. But I already was eating all of those things, when I could stomach them, but the can't poop - can't stop pooping cycle continued. I lost my appetite, which made things even worse. A healthy digestive system means that your immune system is working properly, and mine clearly wasn't.

As you may remember, back in March 2011 there was a nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan, which contaminated the region around it with radioactive materials. One of the interesting effects of that has been a renewed interest in the immune-system boosting health benefits of the traditional diet in Japan. Japanese cuisine has a lot of fiber-rich foods like seaweed and vegetables and beans, but it's also abundant with many kinds of fermented foods, and it's those that have gotten the most attention. Here are some of them:

  • Fermented condiments and flavorings like miso, soy sauce, vinegar and shio-kōji
  • Fermented beverages like sake, shōchu, amazake
  • All kinds of pickled vegetables, from long-term pickles to "instant" pickles which are lightly fermented
  • Fermented soy beans or natto
  • Fermented or semi-fermented/preserved fish and seafood items like ika no shiokara (salt-preserved and fermented squid)

In addition a number of fermented foods have been incorporated from other cuisines, like:

  • yogurt - which is very popular in Japan
  • cheese
  • sourdough and 'natural yeast' (natural leaven) breads
  • pickles and fermented vegetables from other cuisines like sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, kimchi and so on
  • fermented beverages like wine and makkori (the Japanese pronounciation of makgeoli)

The theory behind why fermented foods are so good for you is that they add beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your system. So, I consciously tried incorporating more fermented foods in my diet, especially miso, shio-kōji and yogurt. Mind you, this is in addition to the generally vegetable-and-fiber-rich diet I was already attempting to eat. I'm not saying that fermented foods are some kind of cure-all, and I am not sure if they help to prevent you from getting colds and such as some claim. There does seem to be more serious academic research into fermented foods in Japan than in the U.S. for instance though.

What I can say is that eating these fermented foods seems to be helping my digestive system to gradually recover. I no longer have to take laxatives or - the stuff you take when you have the opposite problem. My plumbing isn't totally back to normal yet, but they're getting there. Plus trying to figure out how to incorporate as many fermented foods as possible in tasty ways has been quite interesting. I'll be posting the successful attempts on these pages.

Recipe: Hummus with Miso


I love hummus (here's my original recipe, posted 9 years ago! yikes!) which is full of fiber and good vegetable proteins. Adding miso to hummus makes it even better nutritionally. The miso does not make the hummis taste 'weird' or anything - just more flavorful. Perhaps it's because miso is made from beans (soybeans), and beans just got well together.

A food processor is recommended for this recipe, although a stick blender will work too, as will a mortar and pestle if you have patience and a lot of elbow grease.

Total time: 15 min

Yield: about 2 cups

Serving size: 2 tablespoons


  • 1 large can (800g/about 2 lbs) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), about 500 g / 1lb +, drained
  • 2 garlic gloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons white or blended miso
  • 1.5 to 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • to taste salt and pepper


  1. Drain the chickpeas, and rinse them off under running water in a colander.
  2. Peel and grate the garlic cloves on a fine grater or microplane.I prefer to grate the garlic before adding it to the food processor because i don't like getting big bits of raw garlic.
  3. Juice the lemons.
  4. Put the drained and rinsed chickpeas, miso, grated garlic, lemon juice.and tahini in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Add olive oil and process more. Adust the texture (it should be thick paste that is a bit looser than peanut butter) with more oil and/or lemon juice.
  5. Taste, and add some salt if needed (you will probably not need any since the miso is quite salty), and pepper if desired.
  6. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week or so.


Add yogurt to the hummus to make it more liquid, which works well as a dipping sauce. The yogurt adds tanginess as well as even more beneficial flora.

(Ignore this part: I'm experimenting again with recipe tagging)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: January 31, 2013

Type: vegetarian, vegan

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