What Is Miso Paste and How To Use It: A Beginner’s Guide

What is miso paste? This popular pantry item used in Japanese cuisine is a versatile ingredient that can add unique flavors to any dish. Learn all about the amazing world of miso paste!

three image of miso paste.

Miso paste is a traditional condiment that has been tantalizing taste buds in Japan for centuries, adding a delicious umami flavor to dishes.

In this post, you’ll learn about the different varieties of miso paste, how to use it in cooking, and the delicious dishes you can make with it!

    This recipe is for you if:
  • You are curious about miso paste and its uses.
  • You are seeking a guidance on choosing the right miso paste.
  • You are exploring ways to use miso paste in cooking.

Let’s get started!

What is Miso Paste?

miso paste on a plate with a spoon.

Miso paste is a fermented condiment made from soybeans, koji, and salt and is a preservative food with a long shelf life.

Koji” is the key ingredient that is created by cultivating “Koji-kin” , a type of fungus, on grains like rice, barley, and soybeans. It plays a crucial role in making miso as well as other Japanese fermented foods.

Miso paste is an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, adding depth and flavor to everyday meals. One of the most popular dishes made with miso paste is miso soup. This simple soup is made by adding miso paste to a dashi (soup stock) base, creating a flavorful and comforting dish.

Additionally, miso paste is highly nutritious and great for gut health.

What Does Miso Paste Taste Like?

miso paste in a plastic container.

If you take a small taste of miso paste, you will experience a uniquely complex flavor that combines the five basic tastes of sweet, salty, umami, sour, and bitter. The texture is creamy and thick, similar to that of tahini sauce or peanut butter.

Miso comes in a wide range of varieties, so whether you prefer sweet or savory flavors, there is sure to be a miso paste out there that suits your tastes perfectly. Read on to find out more!

Different Types of Miso Paste by Color

white miso, yellow miso, red miso.

There are many types of miso paste, each with its own unique flavor, color, and texture. This section will discover different miso paste varieties categorized by color.

Why do the colors vary? Even within the same type of kome miso, which I’ll mention shortly, color differences arise from ingredient ratios and fermentation duration. A deeper color indicates a longer aging process, resulting in a richer, less sweet flavor due to the Maillard reaction.

red miso paste.
Aka miso

Here are different types of miso paste by color:

  • White miso paste (shiro miso) – Short fermentation (1 to 3 months). Low salt content with a sweet flavor. This miso is a perfect blend of sweetness, umami, and saltiness – an easy entry point for any curious beginner.
  • Yellow miso paste (awairo miso) – Medium fermentation (4 to 8 months). The most common types of miso.
  • Red miso paste (aka miso) – Long fermentation (one year or more). Rich and salty, red miso is a delightfully complex condiment. Its lengthy aging process creates a full-bodied flavor that can enhance any meal.

I personally prefer using yellow miso for miso soup and red miso for other dishes. However, it’s a matter of personal preference. I recommend first trying white and moving on to yellow and red miso to discover which best suits your taste.

Different Types of Miso Paste by Ingredients

3 different types of miso paste.

When it comes to miso paste, people usually refer to kome miso, which is made from soybeans, salt, and rice koji. In fact, approximately 80% of miso production in Japan is of this type.

Miso can also be made from barley, known as mugi miso, or from beans, which is called mame miso.

The choice of miso type commonly varies depending on the region; for example, someone like me from Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan associates miso with kome miso, whereas someone from Kyushu in the southern region often thinks of mugi miso when it comes to miso paste.

This section goes deeper into various miso paste varieties, offering a comprehensive understanding. Keep reading to explore more about miso!

1. Kome Miso

white miso paste.

Kome miso, which means ‘rice miso’ in Japanese, is a miso paste made from soybeans, salt, and rice koji. It’s one of the most common and widely used varieties of miso in Japanese cuisine. The rice content gives kome miso its distinct flavor and often results in a milder, slightly sweeter taste than other miso types.

2. Mugi Miso

Mugi miso, which means ‘beans miso’ in Japanese, is crafted from soybeans, salt, and barley koji. This type is commonly found in the Kyushu region, located in southern Japan.

The primary distinction between barley miso and other miso varieties lies in its aroma. Barley, with its strong scent, imparts a distinctive and fragrant flavor to this miso.

3. Mame Miso

mame miso.

Mame miso, which means ‘beans miso’ in Japanese, is a unique kind of miso paste commonly found in the middle of Japan, in the Chubu region.

This special miso is different from others because it’s made only from soybeans koji and salt. As a result, it has a strong salty taste, a bit of bitterness, and a rich umami flavor.

One well-known variety of mame miso is Hatcho miso, originating from Hatchomachi town. This special miso has a deep-rooted history dating back to the 17th century during the Edo period. Miso indeed boasts a long and captivating history!

4. Awase miso

awase miso.

Awase miso, which means ‘blend miso’ in Japanese, is a blend of two or more types of miso, incorporating different koji, various colors (such as white, light-colored, and red), and diverse production regions.

Awase miso offers a mild flavor that harmonizes the unique tastes of each miso paste, making it a great option, particularly for those who are new to miso.

Which Miso Should You Buy?

miso paste section at a grocery store.
Variety of miso paste at a Japanese grocery store

When shopping for miso, look for products with a concise ingredient list, like kome miso, which includes only soybeans, rice koji, and salt. Opt for miso paste that has been fermented for at least six months to a year for the best flavor, like this miso paste.

Many processed miso products are on the market, and although they’re reasonable and faster to produce, they contain additives to imitate the deep flavor and texture of traditional miso paste. Unfortunately, these processed alternatives do not capture the genuine taste of traditional miso paste. Therefore, I don’t recommend them at all!

For those new to miso paste, start with the milder and sweeter options like white miso paste or awase miso, gradually progressing to the stronger flavor of red miso paste as you become accustomed to its unique taste.

Where to Buy Japanese Ingredients

If you live in the US, you can find Japanese ingredients in the list below.

  • Japanese market: Mitsuwa MarketplaceMarukai
  • Asian market
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Health food stores
  • Online stores: Instacart, Walmart, Amazon

How to Use Miso Paste

3 dishes using miso paste.

With its intense flavor, you can try using miso paste instead of salt or soy sauce. It works amazingly in everything from stir-fried dishes and marinades to soups – this all-purpose seasoning will enhance the flavor of your dishes.

Here are six ways to use miso paste! Experiment with miso paste in your cooking and discover new ways to enhance the flavor of your dishes!

1. Miso Soup

8 miso soup images

Miso soup is the most common and simple way to use miso paste. Just dissolve the paste in dashi (soup stock) and add ingredients like tofu, seaweed, and vegetables. Try these miso soup recipes: Tofu miso soup, Mushroom miso soup, and Wakame seaweed miso soup.

2. Salad dressings

A bowl of salad with miso dressing.

Whisk miso paste with vinegar, oil, and honey to create a delicious and unique salad dressing. Try this dressing recipe: Miso dressing.

3. Dipping sauce

miso mayo dipping sauce with vegetables.

Mix miso paste with mayonnaise or sour cream to create a savory dip for vegetables or chips. Try these dip recipes: Easy miso mayo dipping sauce, Tofu cream cheese with miso paste.

4. Stir-fry

Miso udon carbonara served in a plate.

Add a spoonful of miso paste to your stir fry with vegetables or noodles for a delicious umami flavor. Try these stir-fry dishes: Miso udon carbonara, Napa cabbage miso stir-fry.

5. Marinade

Tofu misozuke served in a plate.

Mix miso paste with other ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, and garlic to make a flavorful marinade for meats or vegetables. Try this marinade recipe: Tofu misozuke.

6. Glaze

colorful shiratama dango served in a plate with various glaze.

Mix miso paste with honey and water to create a sweet glaze for a Japanese dango. Try this glaze recipe: Shiratama dango (mochi balls).

How Is Miso Paste Made?

how to make miso paste.

If you’re curious about how kome miso is made, read on! The process is surprisingly straightforward. All it requires is some patience, as it needs to ferment for six months or longer.

How to make it in a nutshell:

  1. Collect ingredients: soybeans, salt, and rice koji.
  2. Cook soybeans in a pressure cooker.
  3. Mash the soybeans and mix them with salt and koji.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a large airtight container.
  5. Ferment in a dark, cool place for six months or longer.
  6. Check the color and taste, and enjoy!

Homemade Miso Paste

homemade miso paste.
my 18 months of miso

I made homemade miso, and this batch has aged for 18 months! The outcome is a dark brown miso, which turned out to be less sweet than I initially intended. While it might not be perfect for making soup, it’s fantastic for stir-frying and dressing.

Health Benefits

Soybean, the main ingredient of miso, is a food rich in high-quality plant-based protein. Thanks to them being fermented, amino acids and vitamins are produced, making this fermented food even more nutritionally.

Also, miso is an incredible food for promoting your gut well-being. It contains beneficial bacteria that help make the intestines home to good bacteria while reducing bad ones and creating a healthier digestive environment.

Click here to find out more about the health benefits of miso paste!

Where to Buy Japanese Ingredients

If you live in the US, you can find Japanese ingredients in the list below.

  • Japanese market: Mitsuwa MarketplaceMarukai
  • Asian market
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Health food stores
  • Online stores: Instacart, Walmart, Amazon

How To Store Miso Paste

miso paste in a airtight container.

The storage conditions are critical to keeping the best quality fresh miso. The best way is to keep it in low temperatures.

Once opened, miso must be kept in an airtight container and refrigerated to preserve its freshness. Storing at room temperature can quickly diminish the taste and overall quality, so I always keep mine in the fridge. It will last in the refrigerator for a year or more!

Click here to get more information about how to store miso paste.

FAQ

What is miso paste similar to?

The texture is creamy, thick, and similar to tahini sauce or peanut butter. The taste is similar to soy sauce as it uses soybeans and salt.

What does miso taste like?

If you take a little bite, you might experience a uniquely complex flavor that combines the five tastes of sweet, salty, umami, sour, and bitter.

Is miso a strong flavor?

Yes, in general, it’s salty, savory, and has an intensely strong flavor. However, light-colored miso, like shiro miso (white miro), has a mild and light flavor.

Is miso healthy or not?

Yes! It’s a fermented soybean paste that offers healthy gut bacteria.

Can I eat miso paste raw?

Yes, you can.

Do you need to refrigerate miso paste?

Yes and no. You can keep unopened miso paste at room temperature in a cool and dark place as long as the temperature is below 20C/68F. Otherwise, you want to refrigerate to keep the freshness.

How do you store miso paste once opened?

Once opened, miso paste must be kept in an airtight container and refrigerated to preserve its freshness. Storing at room temperature can quickly diminish the taste and overall quality, so I always keep mine in the fridge.

How long does miso last once opened?

It will last up to a year if you keep it in the fridge.

Thanks For Stopping By!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog♡ . If you’ve tried this recipe (or any other recipe on the blog), please give it a star rating below!

Also, feel free to leave comments if you have any questions. I love hearing from you!

Chef JA Cooks is a Japanese food blog that shares simple and healthy Japanese home cooking recipes, including vegan and vegetarian. From traditional Japanese recipes to modern recipes with step-by-step instructions.

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