What is miso?
Miso is basically a fermented condiment found in many popular Japanese dishes like miso soup, ramen, and udon. This ingredient has been used in Japan and China for thousands of years. It’s made from soybeans, barley or rice, or a combination thereof. Miso can also be made from other legumes like chickpeas or azuki beans for a soy-free option. Some companies have even started producing miso from grains like corn, quinoa, and amaranth.
Miso has a thick, pasty consistency, and it can be used as a sauce, spread, or marinade. It has a unique, salty taste. It's also great for making broths and dressings, and you can even use it instead of table salt if you like. I really like the sharp taste in "cheese" recipes.
Miso isn’t just used to season soups or noodles. It’s also a key ingredient in the marinade for a special type of Japanese pickle called misozuke, and it is sometimes eaten as a side dish with spices, veggies, or rice. Although it has a savory flavor, you can find miso in some unexpected places: some tasty Japanese desserts like mochi and dango are coated with a sweet, sticky miso glaze.
Is there a substitute?
Unfortunately, no. Miso is very distinct and there is no substitute for it. The flavor of soy sauce is similar, but it’s easy to taste the difference.
Does miso have any health benefits?
Miso is packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other important macro and micronutrients. Miso contains high amounts of protein, Vitamin K, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. Like many fermented foods, it’s also full of beneficial microorganisms and probiotics like tetragenococcus halophilus and lactobacillus acidophilus, which promote gut health and aid digestion.
It’s important to note that these good bacteria can be killed off if miso is overcooked. When cooking with miso, it’s best to add it to your dish just before it is removed from heat or directly after. Miso must be refrigerated after opening to preserve the good bacteria. As long as you refrigerate your miso, it won’t spoil, so a jar of miso can essentially be stored indefinitely. The color may begin to look a bit darker over time, but this is normal, and it will not affect the flavor.
If you want to be absolutely sure that you’re getting the full spectrum of benefits for gut health, add miso to your dish after the food has already cooled. This is common practice in Japanese cooking.
Unfortunately, it’s a myth that miso is a good source of B12. Vegans cannot rely on condiments like miso for B12, and it is always best to supplement with this key vitamin.
Although miso is delicious, it is also quite high in sodium, and consuming miso can cause an increase in blood pressure for people with prehypertension or hypertension. Anyone who is sensitive to sodium should limit their consumption of miso. The good news is that when it comes to miso, a little goes a long way
What brand should I buy?
Don't worry about brand so much as color. There are several different main types of miso, and each of them have a slightly different flavor.
Shiramiso, or white miso, is slightly sweet with a hint of savory umami flavor. Producing white miso requires less soy beans and a shorter fermentation time. This is the most commonly used type of miso.
Akamiso, or red miso, is made with steamed soy beans, which accounts for its darker color. It has a saltier, stronger flavor than white miso. It is typically aged for a year or more. Sometimes red miso is even aged for two or three years—naturally, this results in an intense flavor and very dark pigment.
Awasemiso, or mixed miso, varies in flavor depending on the components. It can be quite salty, or it can be mild. This type of miso is also sometimes referred to as chōgōmiso.
I prefer yellow miso, which is a mellow miso. White and red misos are an okay substitute, but steer clear of brown or any dark colored miso. They are really strong and taste differently. As a general rule, the darker the miso, the stronger it tastes. Using brown miso in a dish that calls for white, yellow, or red miso can overpower the other flavors in the dish. Because of this, brown misos won't work in HH recipes.
Before purchasing miso, make sure to check the ingredients list. Look for miso that is free of stabilizers, alcohol, and additives. If the packaging is not sealed tightly, choose a different jar—that seal is necessary to preserve the healthy bacteria in the miso.
What can I make with miso?
Miso can be used to spice up a huge variety of recipes—this condiment is a must-have in any vegan’s kitchen. You may want to cook up a batch of homemade miso soup, savory vegan ramen with vegetables, or use it to give your tofu a boost of flavor. Miso can add a nice kick to Asian-style ginger sesame dressings, and you can also add a little to hearty vegetable stews. You can also make miso gravy. If you want to try something totally different from your typical breakfast, try spreading it on toast—some people love to start their days with miso.
Where can I find it?
Miso is refrigerated, usually by produce and other refrigerated condiments (like dressings). Sometimes, miso is simply labeled as “soybean paste” on the shelves.
You can find miso in health food stores (such as Whole Foods Market) and Asian grocery stores. My little corner street bodega in New York City even had it. If you’re looking for a specific type of miso that may be less common outside of Japan, you can also order it online through Amazon or a company like Miso Master.
Although miso has been traditionally used in Japanese cuisine, it has become a very popular ingredient worldwide, so if you’re having trouble finding it in your grocery store, ask for help—chances are it is in your store but hiding.