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What is miso paste?

What is miso paste?


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The word miso means ‘fermented beans’ in Japanese. Miso paste is nearly always made with fermented soya beans, and is a staple of Japanese cooking. Its ultra-savoury, umami flavour gives all sorts of dishes a lovely depth.

Use miso paste in soups, broths, as a glaze or in dressings; or use it in Jamie’s gorgeous Seared sesame tuna recipe from 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food. Miso also goes really well with aubergine, mushrooms or tofu. Miso is also very good for you: it’s a great source of antioxidants, dietary fibre and protein.

It shouldn’t be hard to track down a basic miso paste in most supermarkets, but you may struggle to find more obscure variations without going to a Japanese supermarket or a whole-foods store.

HOW IS IT MADE?

The traditional process of making miso can last from a few weeks to years, and the time invested will affect the end product massively. The longer the fermentation period, the darker and more intensely flavoured the miso, while a short fermentation will yield a sweeter and lighter miso.

Other ingredients such as barley, rice and buckwheat can be added during fermentation to give different flavourings. Brown rice miso gives a gorgeously intense hit of flavour, while sweet white miso is a more mellow ingredient.

HOW DO I USE IT?

There are lots of delicious things you can do with miso.

This is a lovely recipe for a basic homemade miso soup (which tastes a million times better than the instant just-add-water packets), and at the bottom of this page you’ll find a brilliant recipe for a sticky miso glaze that can be used with lots of different veggies and meats.

You could also make a simple miso dressing to complement Asian-inspired salads – just whisk together a tablespoon of miso, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and a teaspoon of black roasted sesame seeds.

Sticky miso glaze recipe

SERVES 6

TOTAL TIME: 15 minutes

2 tablespoons runny honey

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons white miso paste

1 tablespoon dark miso paste

1 teaspoon low-salt soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

Measure all the ingredients into a small saucepan, then place over a low heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until sticky and glossy.

Generously brush the glaze over grilled, pan-fried or roasted meat or fish in the last couple of minutes of cooking for a lovely salty, sweet and sticky glaze.

Nutrition: 47 kcals, 0.3g fat (0.1g sat fat), 0.8g protein, 10.7g carbs, 9.2g sugars, 1.1g salt, 0.4g fibre


Miso is a key ingredient in Japanese cooking and forms the base of the staple dish, miso soup. The paste, similar in texture to peanut butter, is typically a cultured mixture of soybeans, a grain (like rice or barley), salt, and koji (a mold). Depending on the variety, miso can be smooth or chunky and is fermented anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

There are more than 1,000 types of miso, ranging in texture, flavor, and color. These factors can be influenced by the ingredients, length of fermentation, and the conditions under which the miso is kept. Miso imported into the United States is typically divided into two main categories: light or white miso and dark or red miso. Some miso is labeled awase, which is a mixture of more than one kind of miso paste.

White or light miso (sometimes called sweet miso) can be light beige to yellow in color and tends to be lighter and sweeter in flavor thanks to a shorter fermentation time. It's made with less soybean content and more grains, like white rice. Red or dark miso ranges in color from light brown to almost black and is fermented for longer for a stronger, funkier, and saltier flavor. This miso is made with a higher proportion of soybeans and salt for an intense experience.

Different types of miso can often be used interchangeably in recipes but with varying results. Generally, the darker the color, the stronger the taste. Light-colored miso is better for light dressings and sweets, while dark miso is best for long braises and stews.

While the miso selection is somewhat limited in the U.S., a dizzying variety is available in Japan, with different regions specializing in different types of miso. Varieties like Hatcho (a dark miso) and genmai (made with brown rice) can sometimes be found stateside.


What is miso paste?

Miso paste is made of soybeans fermented with salt and koji, an edible mold formally known as Aspergillus oryzae. Koji is also used to make soy sauce, sake, and other fermented delicacies. The mold occurs naturally in Japan, which is why it’s used most commonly found in Japanese food. But miso’s flavor is not specific to Japanese cuisine you can add it to a wide variety of types of food any time you want a boost of umami flavor (as you’ll see in the non-Asian recipes we list below).

Once the soybeans, salt, and koji (often growing on some kind of grain) are mixed together, they’re left to ferment for as little as a few weeks and up to several years. Lighter colors of miso are typically sweeter and mild tasting, while darker miso usually has a stronger flavor. Though it sometimes makes sense to pair the type of miso with the type of recipe you’re making, you can generally substitute one style of miso for another.

And if your miso has been waiting for you to return to it for a while? Good news! If kept refrigerated, miso can last around a year in your fridge without a reduction in quality.

Most of us are familiar with miso thanks to miso soup, but uses for miso go well beyond this simple broth. Here are some of our favorite ways to use miso paste.


The Three Main Types of Miso Paste

Here’s a quick overview of the three main types of miso paste available so you’ll know what each type brings to the table.

White Miso (Shiro Miso)

Made from fermented soybeans and rice, the name white miso is actually a bit of a trick, as you’re more likely to find this variety in a pale yellow colour (not to be confused with yellow miso below, which is actually brown in colour.

White miso is also known as ‘sweet’ or ‘mellow’ miso, as it has the mildest flavour of the three. It is also lower in salt than the darker varieties because it’s fermented for a shorter amount of time.

White miso is the most versatile of the three types so it’s a great all-rounder to keep in the fridge for many of the recipes below.

Shiro miso is the best choice for:

  • Condiments (such as mayonnaise)
  • Salad Dressings
  • Light Sauces
  • Desserts

Yellow Miso (Shinshu Miso)

Fermented with barley and sometimes a small amount of rice, remember that yellow miso is actually a light brown colour.

It has a stronger, earthier flavour than white miso and just a hint of sweetness in comparison.

Shinshu miso is the best choice for:

Red Miso (Aka Miso)

Red miso has the strongest flavour of the three main varieties of miso paste because it’s made with a higher percentage of soybeans and has been fermented for a longer time.

It’s the saltiest and most pungent of the three as well, adding some serious umami flavour to your dishes. Note that the term red miso covers all of the darker shades including dark red and dark brown.

Aka miso is the best choice for:


Making a miso-maple glaze

Although roasting the aubergines creates a huge amount of flavour, what really makes this dish is the miso maple glaze. Keeping with the theme of simplicity and letting flavours shine, we make the glaze by whisking together just 4 ingredients: sesame oil, red miso paste, soy sauce and maple syrup. It’s the perfect mix of sweet, salty and umami. Hopefully these ingredients aren’t unfamiliar to you. But, just in case, let’s take a quick look at miso.

What is miso?

Miso means “fermented beans” in Japanese. It is a seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients to create a super-savoury flavour bomb which adds real depth of flavour to whatever you put it in.

How is miso made?

The first step to making miso is to ferment the soy beans. This can take from weeks to years: the longer the fermentation period, the more intense it will taste. Other ingredients are added whilst the soy beans are fermenting to adjust the flavour.

What is the difference between white miso paste and red miso paste?

I’ve seen white, yellow, red, brown and even black miso available to buy. But, in the UK white and red miso paste seem to be the most common.

White Miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with rice. It has a light, mellow flavour that matches it’s colour. This is the most readily available miso in my experience.

Red Miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with barley or other grains. It usually has a higher percentage of soybeans than white miso and has been fermented for longer. Unsurprisingly, red miso gets it’s name from it’s reddish brown colour. It also has a much stronger flavour than white miso and is perfect for rich soups and glazes.

What else can I make with miso paste?

Although I don’t doubt you will want to make these Maple and Miso Roasted Aubergines over and over again, here are some other ideas for using miso paste:


1. Soy Sauce

If I run out of miso paste, my next go-to is soy sauce because it adds a similar salty / umami / savoury hit. Soy tends to be saltier and less creamy than miso so I start with less and work my way up as needed.

2. Salt

If a recipe just calls for a small amount of miso and has plenty of other ingredients, adding a little salt may be all you need.

3. Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It looks a little like miso paste and has a similar consistency so it can be substituted in recipes where you want to get some body from the miso paste.

If a recipe is using large quantites of miso, tahini probably isn’t going to work because the flavour profile is more nutty and creamy compared with the salty / savoury flavour of miso.

4. Vegetable Stock

In soups, a full flavoured vegetable stock can work instead of miso. Although if you’re making a pure miso soup, it will need something else.

5. Fish Sauce

Similar to soy sauce, fish sauce adds saltiness and umami. A little goes a long way though so start small.


We know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. Miso-spiked jam is not only delicious with pork but is especially tasty on bread with cream cheese.

Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.

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Miso paste recipes

Vegan cacio e pepe

Miso? In a pasta dish? It might sound strange but trust us when we say it works so, so well. White miso paired with a plant-based butter and oat cream make this an utterly creamy and savoury delight. White miso is a bit more mild than other types, making it great in this dish to add a mellow depth of flavour and create a silky sauce that clings to every shell of pasta.

Vegan Caesar Salad

This recipe gives caesar salad the vegan treatment with some amazing results. Subbing eggs and anchovies with cashew, mustard and miso, a creamy and punchy sauce is perfect when tossed with crisp romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons and shredded mushroom chicken. The perfect work-from-home lunch.

Udon noodle soup

For a more typical use of miso, this udon noodle soup recipe is definitely one to bookmark. Combined with dashi (japanese stock), this dish is packed with umami flavours and will trick anyone into thinking you’ve used a lot more ingredients and a lot more time preparing this dish.


The first product that is very common and easily found in soy sauce. Just like miso paste, soy sauce is made from fermented products which makes it very similar. They even have very similar nutrients and the flavor is almost the same.

Actually, soy sauce can resemble the same kick that miso offers. It has a very similar salty umami and savory traces that miso paste has.

It’s animal-free which means you can use them as an ingredient in many vegan dishes. Use soy sauce in soups, dressings, or any other recipes that require miso paste.

2. Tamari

This is another product that has a very similar profile as miso paste. They have many things in common. By adding Tamari to your dish, you’ll be able to provide a similar flavor as using miso paste, like the saltiness and the umami taste.

It is very similar to soy sauce as well, which makes all of the three products a good substitute for each other. They have a similar texture. Tamari will do the job well in any recipe that requires miso paste. You can use it to make marinades or any other recipe.

3. Tahini paste

Tahini is a type of paste that is made out of ground sesame seeds. It has a similar consistency as the miso paste and it can be used in many recipes as a replacement.

Actually, the difference is in the taste and tahini has a more nutty and creamy flavor so don’t use it if the recipes call for a large amount of miso paste. Otherwise, you won’t get the taste that you aim for. You can use it to make many other recipes.

4. Dashi

Dashi is another Japanese ingredient that can be used as a replacement for miso paste. It is used in many dishes to give an umami taste so that it will serve as a good replacement for miso paste in many recipes.

Made of pale broth with kombu, Dashi is common n Japanese recipes. It’s ideal for savory dishes that can handle more liquid since its texture is not like the miso paste.

5. Vegetable stock

A very useful ingredient that can serve as a great substitute especially for soups is the vegetable stock. it has a light color and will add tastiness to your soups, however, when making miso paste soup, add other ingredients and herbs to achieve the original flavor.

6. Fish sauce

Fish sauce is present in local markets and can be used as a substitute for miso paste. When you use it in recipes it will add a very similar taste as the miso paste.

It has a salty, umami, and savory taste but contains gluten. When replacing, add less just so you can adapt the flavors. You can always add more if it lacks the original taste.

7. Soybeans paste

This is another paste that can be used instead of miso paste. It’s mainly used as a seasoning for soups, stews, and other dipping sauces.

This also a fermented bean paste which is similar to miso paste. When substituting make sure to less because it is very salty and you can always add more if it’s not enough.

The key difference between miso and soybean paste is in the colors. It can be used in most recipes but keep an eye on the saltiness.

8. Chickpeas

A substitute that is not related anyhow to any other product but serves as a good substitute for miso paste is chickpeas. It has a stronger flavor than miso paste.

However, they taste similar to cannellini or pinto beans. The flavor isn’t that mild and can adapt easily in your recipes that call for miso paste.

The taste of chickpeas varies depending on the texture and how you use it. Use them as a whole or crushed to make many recipes even paste, they are very healthy.

9. Adzuki beans

Adzuki beans are different from miso paste but make a good replacement. Use when you are making salads or some other rice dishes.

They have a mild and nutty taste and a smooth texture with a bit of sweetness. It is usually used in many recipes in Asian cuisine. They are healthy as well as a good source of protein.

10. Salt

It may come as a surprise, but salt is the only ingredient that can be found all over the place. As simple as that you can add salt to all the recipes that call for miso paste, which will combine well with every other ingredient in your recipe.


Soy Sauce

If I don’t have any miso paste left, the first thing I grab is just plain soy sauce as it delivers a salty / umami /savory hit close to that of miso.

The only drawbacks are that soy sauce is much saltier than miso, so you should add a bit less and work my way up as required.

Miso also has a more creamy structure than the soy liquid, so you might want to add something else with that creamy texture, depending on the dish you’re making.

Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from seeds of soil sesame. This looks a bit like white miso paste and has a similar texture to replace it in recipes where you want to avoid miso paste.

If a recipe uses large amounts of miso, tahini probably won’t work as the flavor profile is more smooth and nutty compared to the salty/savory taste of miso.

If a recipe only needs a small amount of miso and has plenty of other ingredients, you might just need to add a little salt.

Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is similar to soy sauce, adding salt and umami. Nevertheless, a little goes a long way, so start small.

Vegetable Stock

For soups, instead of miso, a full-flavored vegetable stock will work.


5 Miso Recipes to Try

So know that we’ve answered the question, “What is miso?”, let’s get into some delicious recipes!

Minimalist Baker is one of our go-to websites for recipes. Their recipes require 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. All eating lifestyles are welcome.

One great thing about tofu is that it easily takes on the flavor of its marinade. This savory recipe from Namely Marly is loaded with flavor and is also gluten-free and low carb.

This cashew cream cheese by It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken is great on toast or bagels for a healthy breakfast or snack. It calls for a combination of white miso paste, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice for a TANGY taste!

Bell peppers and sugar snap peas give this stir-fry recipe from Connoisseurus Veg a great crunch while keeping it light and full of flavor.

This isn’t the same ramen noodles of your college days. These delicious ramen noodles are flavored with miso pesto and cilantro giving it a tangy flavor.

Thanks for listening/reading!

Peace and Veggies,
Vickie and Larissa

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