Miso (pronounced mee-so) is fermented soybean paste. There are different kinds of miso: white miso (shiro miso), red miso (aka miso, sendai miso, inaka miso), awase miso (blended miso), hatcho miso, and shinshu miso.

Shiro miso (white miso) has a sweeter flavor while aka miso (red miso) is a rich miso with a strong and salty flavor. Red miso is made from barley. It’s mainly used in soups, stews and braised dishes. Hatcho miso has a very pungent and salty taste. Its texture is thick and grainy. Hatcho miso is made from soybeans only. It’s used in small amounts to add richness to soups and broths. Shinshu miso has a yellow color. This miso has a mellow and salty flavor.

Miso Paste, Miyagawa Market, Takayama, Honshu, Japan
Miso Paste, Miyagawa Market, Takayama, Honshu, Japan

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Miso is regional. Shiro miso is traditionally eaten in the Kansai region of Japan, where Kyoto and Osaka are located. Aka miso is popular in the Kanto region where Tokyo is located.

Miso is made from soybeans and sometimes a grain such as barley or rice. It’s combined with salt and a yeast mold culture called Koji and is aged in cedar vats for one to three years. Once the process is complete, the fermented ingredients are ground into a paste similar in texture to nut butter. The savory paste ranges in color from golden to reddish-brown to dark brown to black. Miso is a nutritious balance of natural proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, essential oils, and isoflavones.

In Western countries it’s made in a similar manner. Quick miso is also available but it’s inferior in taste. To vary the flavor, color, texture or aroma different ingredients are added and the length of aging is varied. In Japan different types of miso are evaluated in much the same way wine and cheese are in Western countries.

In the United States miso is available in natural food stores and Asian markets although it’s availability in supermarkets is increasing due to its increasing popularity. It should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for several months. The white mold that sometimes forms can be scraped off or mixed into the miso. It can be used in soups, sauces, marinades and dressings. It can be used in place of salt in most recipes.

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Ramen with Pork in Miso, Tokyo, Kanto...
Greg Elms
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Miso soup can be made by adding dashi stock or boiling water to the paste and stirring it well until dissolved. Dashi is Japanese stock, which is the base for many Japanese dishes, such as soup, dipping sauce, and nimono (simmered dishes). There are different kinds of dashi. It can be made from hoshi-shiitake (dried shiitake mushrooms), kombu (dried kelp), katsuo-bushi (dried bonito) flakes, niboshi (dried small sardines), and more. The soup can be garnished with cubes of tofu, sliced button or whole enoki mushrooms, or strips of dried seaweed to name a few.

It’s the basic ingredient in misoshiru, which is the most common type of Japanese soup, which accompanies most meals.To make this soup, first boil a selection of vegetables, which have been cut into small pieces. Adding dashi stock to the water or starting with a few pieces of konbu (seaweed) improves the taste. Add the other vegetables when the water starts to boil. Use 3 or 4 selected from this list; potatoes, carrots, mushrooms (sliced), green beans, onion, shiitake and small cubes of tofu. Shortly before serving, add the miso paste. Add 1 tablespoon per person. You should use a wooden or plastic spoon, not metal. Mix it first with a little hot water, which has been taken from the soup pan, to make a smoother paste before adding it to the soup. Lastly, add some chopped raw spring onions, the green part as well as the white bulb, and then serve.

In Japan, miso soup isn't just eaten at dinner or suppertime. Many people have it as the first meal of the day. All you need to prepare this healthy and delicious meal is a small sieve and a pot.

Dengaku is one of Japan's oldest types of miso cuisine. It consists of grilling various types of skewered foods, coating the food with a thin layer of sweetened miso and then grilling it again.


Miso Recipes

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