What Is Miso, Exactly? Here's What You Need to Know About This Umami-Rich Ingredient

Miso is so much more than the name of a delicious savory soup.

You probably know umami as the insanely delicious, savory essence in many Asian dishes; and miso is one ingredient that's the epitome of umami flavor. Miso paste serves as the base for classic miso soup, as well as an unusual (but delicious!) ingredient in dishes like creamy smashed potatoes with miso and Seeded miso sweet potato bread. So how is miso made and what is it made of? We'll tell you, and offer our favorite recipes that highlight miso's intense depth of flavor.

What Is Miso?

Miso is a fermented soybean paste popular in Japanese cuisine. It's typically made by mixing soybeans with salt, koji (a specific moldy rice used for a variety of Japanese culinary purposes), and beans, chickpeas, or other grain. This mixture ferments for anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on how well developed you want the flavor to be.

Miso is known for being salty, a little tangy, and full of strong umami flavor. Because of its potency, most recipes call for no more than a couple tablespoons of miso paste. Fermentation extends miso's shelf life, so it can last in the refrigerator up to a year, as long as it stays covered. Readily available in Japanese grocery stores, you're also likely to find miso in gourmet food stores for between $5 and $10.

Miso is so much more than soup! While traditionally used in Japanese cuisine, miso is rising in popularity these days, especially in vegetarian and vegan dishes. It's delicious in roasted Miso eggplant dip, which blends the consistency of hummus with miso's warm, savory quality. Whisk it into an easy vinaigrette or glaze for a side like Miso roasted radishes, or transform a traditional French recipe like Pâte à Choux into Miso gougères.

Types

There are three main kinds of miso: white, yellow, and red. All are made with fermented soybeans, but vary according to the type of grain used. White miso (aka Shiro Miso), the mildest version, is made with rice; while yellow (Shinshu miso) and red miso (the strongest, saltiest flavor of the three) are usually made with barley. The longer miso ages, the more its flavor intensifies: White miso ages for just a few weeks, while the red type ages for at least a year, often longer.

Substitutes

While no ingredient exactly mimics miso's paste-like texture and flavor, traditional Asian ingredients like soy sauce and fish sauce offer that same salty, comforting essence. Other savory ingredients that come close to miso's signature umami flavor? Try anchovies, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes.

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