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Miso Paste: Everything You Need To Know

Mmmmm, Miso paste! If you’re not already using this umami-packed condiment in your cooking, you need to start. It will add deep, intense, and delicious flavor to everything you cook.

Overhead shot of miso paste in a ceramic bowl.

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When we use the word umami, we’re talking about the fifth of the five basic tastes (the others being salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). Umami flavor is a bit harder to describe than the others.

It’s flavorful, meaty, nuanced, deep, and delectable. Aged cheeses, mushrooms, red meat, and soy sauce are all umami-rich foods. Miso paste is another ingredient that packs a powerful umami punch.

Miso paste has been a mainstay in Japanese cuisine for generations, and now it’s now gaining popularity in Western kitchens as well. This fermented paste is a flavor bomb.

What Exactly Is Miso Paste?

Miso paste is a traditional Japanese condiment made from soybeans fermented with salt and a fungus known as koji. The fermentation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the type of miso. Darker miso pastes have a longer fermentation time.

The end product is a thick, flavorful, umami-rich soybean paste. Miso paste can range from white to dark brown and its flavor can range from sweet to salty and everything in between.

How to Cook with Miso Paste

Miso paste can be used in a number of foods, including soups and stews, marinades, and dressings. It is a great way to add depth of flavor and umami to your cooking. Because miso can be quite salty, start with a small amount and add more as necessary.

Overhead shot of a bowl of miso soup. There are 3 Asian style soup spoons on the side filled with green onions, tofu cubes, and miso paste.

Best Recipes with Miso Paste

Here are some of my favorite miso paste recipes:

  • Miso Ramen Tare: This is a flavor base that gives ramen broth its flavor.
  • Spicy Miso Ramen: A hearty and comforting noodle soup that uses spicy miso tare for flavor.
  • Miso Glazed Salmon: A quick and easy and way to eat salmon.
  • Miso Eggplant: A savory and satisfying vegetable side dish.
  • Roasted Carrots with Miso Butter: A delicious and healthy way to enjoy carrots.
  • Miso Salad Dressing: Serve it with basic green salad or on cold soba noodles.
  • Miso and Butter Popcorn: A savory take on a traditional snack.
  • Miso Caramel: Miso paste makes an unbelievably delicious vegan caramel. Use it in place of traditional caramel. I love it added to a latte or Matcha Milk Tea.
overhead shot of different types of miso paste on a white plate.

Types of Miso Paste

There are many different types of miso paste. These are some of the most common ones you’ll find in recipes.

  • Shiro miso: Also called white miso, this light colored miso paste is a little sweet and mild because it’s made from soybeans that have been fermented for a shorter period of time than the darker pastes.
  • Shinshu miso: This yellow miso paste is fermented slightly longer than white miso, and ranges from pale yellow to light brown. The flavor is a bit stronger than shiro miso, but milder than aka miso.
  • Aka miso: This red miso paste is a darker, saltier miso paste that is made from soybeans that have been fermented for longer.
  • Awase miso: Awase miso is a “mixed miso” that blends white and red misos for a versatile, all-purpose miso.
  • Genmai miso: This is a miso paste that is made with brown rice, giving it a nuttier flavor than traditional miso paste.
  • Mugi miso: This miso paste is made with barley, making it both sweeter and mellower.

Best Miso Paste Substitute

If you don’t have any on hand, there are several good miso paste substitutes. Here are my favorites:

  • Soy sauce or tamari: While it doesn’t have the same depth of flavor as miso paste, soy sauce also comes from fermented soy beans, so it makes a good miso paste substitute in a pinch.
  • Tahini: A paste made from raw or lightly toasted sesame seeds, tahini paste has a similar texture and nutty flavor making it a good substitute for white miso paste.
  • Sesame paste: Japanese sesame paste and Chinese sesame paste are both made from golden brown toasted sesame seeds. The flavor is like a cross between tahini and peanut butter. It is deep, nutty, and rich. It’s another great miso paste alternative.
  • Peanut butter: Like sesame paste, peanut butter adds a nutty richness. Use a smooth, all-natural peanut butter without added sugar if you’re using it as a substitute for miso paste.
  • Hummus: I know this one sounds like a stretch, but if you’re really in a pinch, try substituting this chickpea-based spread. It usually contains tahini, which gives it that backbone of umami, and it has a similar texture to miso paste.
Low angle shot of a small dish with light colored miso paste and a spoon in it.

Where to Buy Miso Paste

You can buy Miso paste in the many supermarkets and natural food stores. You can also find miso paste at any Asian grocery store. Japanese markets will have the widest selection. Or you can buy miso paste online.

How to Store Miso Paste

Store miso paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator after opening. You’ll be able to keep it for up to 6 months in the fridge.

The Final Word

The possibilities for incorporating miso paste into your cooking are endless. This versatile ingredient should be a staple in any cook’s kitchen.

By on January 27th, 2022


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 50 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners5 Ingredient Cooking for TwoSushi at HomeThe Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. → More about Robin

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