Miso is the funky soybean paste that adds the salty, savoury, sweet, earthy, and umami flavours that add sought-after depth and character to Japanese cooking.
Learn all about miso and how to use it in our whistle-stop guide below, and you'll soon be reaching for it to elevate everyday soups and simple meat and fish dishes to new levels.
What is Miso?
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning and a culinary staple of Japanese cuisine.
It's a thick and textured paste made by fermenting a selection of soy beans, with salt and kōji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae) and sometimes rice, barley wheat or seaweed and other ingredients together.
It's commonly used in sauces, spreads, pickles and soups.
Types of Miso
Interestingly, no two miso pastes are made exactly the same way, as they can contain all of the key ingredients in different combinations and ratios.
The most common types of miso are red and white. Before you get started cooking with miso, it's helpful to know more about their differences to know how to use them.
Here's Thomas Joseph from Kitchen Conundrums to explain more:
What is White or Shiro Miso?
White miso has a light and slightly sweet taste, making it ideal in soups, dressings and fish marinades. It's made from soybeans and a high percentage of rice, which are fermented for less time than its more powerful cousin, red miso.
What is Red or Aka Miso?
Red miso is made from soybeans, barley and other grains and has a longer fermentation process which results in a more intense, salty and mature taste than white miso, that's rich in umami. Red miso is robust enough to take on hearty soups, stews and marinades.
What is Awase Miso
Awase miso is approximately half and half, red and white miso, which makes it very versatile and suitable for all types of Japanese cooking.
The list doesn't stop there, there are even more nuanced flavours of miso to be discovered, in rice miso, barley miso and soybean miso.
How to Make Miso
The large scale production of miso is fascinating to watch. See how it's done in Japan in the clip below.
How to make Homemade Miso
With miso readily available commercially making your own homemade miso takes some extra effort, but the end satisfaction is worth it.
All you need is the right equipment and time; the fermentation process can take weeks to years.
Here's Brad from Bon Appetit to explain how to get started on making your own miso at home.
How to Use Miso
Aside from traditional Japanese dishes, miso can add a twist to salad dressings and vinaigrettes, glazes and marinades, glaze vegetables and even inject some umami depth to your mayonnaise. More and more people are using miso, so let's take a look at how to use it.