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14 September 2021

Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste widely used in Japanese cuisine, offering a burst of umami flavor in many dishes, essential for miso soup. Learn more about it and how to use it.

When it comes to judging the deliciousness of a dish, the main ingredients always require mouth-watering seasoning to accentuate the taste.

Without the use of various sauces and spices, you can’t season the food well. Ingredients like honey, lemon, vinegar, sweet syrups, lime juice, cheese or seasoning pastes are used for flavoring the foods, enhancing all the flavors perfectly. Each ingredient contributes to the final taste of a dish differently, making it either sweet, sour, saltier or spicier.

When it comes to Japan’s famous cuisine, foods like sushi and ramen instantly come to mind. However, Japan is also known for its wide range of seasoning ingredients like miso

What is Miso?

Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste that is widely used in Japan’s traditional and modern dishes. One of the classic soups of Japan is made with miso paste, known as Miso soup. Miso specifically brings out the umami flavor in foods and offers several health benefits improving immunity and overall blood flow of the body.

There are various types of miso depending on the mixing of different ingredients like salt, soybean, rice, barley and many other grains, period of fermentation, and conditions in which miso is cultivated.

However, you can mainly divide them into two groups for avoiding confusion over the color and taste. The basic division includes sweet miso and dark miso. The fermentation process for making miso could last for weeks to years, each type demanding a different amount of time.

Light and Dark Miso Paste in bowls

Sweet Miso vs. Dark Miso

Sweet miso is light in color and has a mild taste. The colors vary between white, beige or yellow. Its fermentation time is shorter with a large amount of rice koji (a type of rice) compared to soybeans is added in the mix to create a refreshing and moderate flavor.

Dark miso includes your typical red and brown miso that gives a very strong and tangy flavor. Adding soybeans in an immense amount compared to koji and using a longer fermentation gives the dark color and highly salty taste to miso.

What Does Miso Taste Like?

Miso is characterized by a unique and wholesome umami flavor, and is quite savory. It is also known as the fifth taste that’s inexplicably delicious and wholly on another level, different from the rest of the commonly known four tastes. Therefore, chefs especially appreciate the flavor of miso and use it in various recipes.

White or yellow miso is best to use in desserts, dressings and soups due to their light and mild flavor, whereas dark miso with brown or red color can be added in stews or used for marinating meat to give a salty and tangy flavor.

Although the types of miso are limited in the United States, there are a thousand plus variations in Japan. Hence, the taste also varies with the change in type, with light colored miso offering sweeter taste and darker offering salty and savory flavors.

In a nutshell, the taste of miso is super addicting and leaves you craving for more. It is a cultured food, so you can eat it directly and taste the sweetness or saltiness. However, it’s not supposed to be consumed directly. Using it in various recipes will provide you with the ultimate umami flavors.

Two different bowls of miso paste with spoons

Is Korean Soybean Paste the Same as Miso Paste?

Korean soybean and Japanese miso might use similar ingredients to produce the paste but both of the components are different to each other in terms of flavor and color and use contrasting fermentation processes for cultivation.

Doenjang (Korean Bean Paste)

Korean soybean paste is called Doenjang that is fermented for at least six months using only cooked soybeans and salt, while miso usually uses many different ingredients other than soybeans and salt.

The three-step fermentation process of Korean soybean paste uses exposure to oxygen, whereas miso gets fermented in an enclosed space without oxygen.

Doenjang has a more complex flavor and tastes sharper, producing an enriched umami seasoning ready to be devoured with vegetables and meat.

You won’t find a sweetening taste in the Korean soybean paste because of its tangy and sour effect, unlike in miso variations that produce a mild and sweet flavor suitable to put in desserts. 

What Can I Cook with Red Miso?

Red miso has a piquant flavor, so you should use it in marinades, salad dressings and soups. Red miso paste proves to be quite effective as it doesn’t consume more than five minutes to marinate meat for you.

You can surely use red miso paste as an alternative for soy sauce or salt and expect to get a savory and flavorsome taste.

For salad dressings, whisk miso with olive oil and pair it with suitable ingredients like rice, soy sauce, ginger and vinegar, etc., to accentuate flavor. It is popular to make miso butter.

Miso is most commonly used as the base for soups. Making soups with miso can be simple, but you must not add miso in boiling water as that could cancel its health benefits by killing the probiotics. 

What Can I use Instead of Miso?

The best alternative to miso is soy sauce. Soy sauce can enhance the flavor of any dish by giving a salty and savory taste. You can also use tahini sauce in place of white miso as it adds a mild flavor to your recipe.

Two different kinds of miso paste

Buy Miso Paste

You can find miso in grocery stores often in the international aisle, but if not, you can easily find it online.

Try Some of These Other Similar Pastes


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