Miso soup is a staple in Japanese diets. It is estimated that approximately 75% of Japanese people enjoy miso soup daily. Perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity is its versatility. Miso soup is a basic dish that can become as complex as you want to make it (more on that later) or as simple as dissolving miso paste in hot water.
But where did this enduring dish come from?
Soybean fermentation originated in China and began to appear in Japanese cuisine in the 700s. Fermentation has long been used as a means of preserving food, but the fermentation of soybeans into miso paste not only helped the food remain edible, it also resulted in a savory, umami flavor that miso soup has since become known for.
Types of Miso
The main three types of miso are Shiro (White Miso), Shinshu (Yellow Miso), and Aka (Red Miso). These types are categorized by their color, taste, saltiness and aging duration. There are more types of miso paste and they all have their own unique flavor profile. Today we are going to cover the three main types and a couple of other options Miso Master offers.
White Miso (Shiro)
This variety is lower in salt, mild and delicate in flavor, and aged for shorter periods of time. Mellow White or Sweet White Miso are the two varieties typically found in this category. Made from soy beans, rice, water and koji (rice that is fermented using Aspergillus oryzae).
Because of the mild flavor these miso varieties are very adaptable and can be used in dressings, warm weather soups, sauces and as a dairy replacement or as a salt replacement in any recipe. Try adding Sweet White Miso to your next smoothie!
Yellow Miso (Shinshu)
Yellow miso is the mature sibling to white miso. It is aged a bit longer and has a deeper color, stronger flavor and is slightly earthy. Often made from the same ingredients as white miso, but in different ratios. It can be used in much the same way as white miso. Do a simple taste test of the two and you will find the subtle differences.
Red Miso (Aka)
Red miso paste is also made the same ingredients as white and yellow miso, but the soybean content is much higher. The higher content of soybeans requires a longer aging period to break down the soybeans in red miso. The result is an umami flavor bomb with a deep, rich red color.
Red miso can be used in hearty soups, glazes, stews, and marinades – just to name a few.
Barley miso is similar to red miso with the main difference being that instead of soybeans and rice, it is made using soybeans and barley. The barley is inoculated with aspergillus spores to create barley koji. Aged longer like red miso, it has a deep color that is reddish brown with a bit more texture than the other types of miso. The flavor is very similar to red miso paste and can be used interchangeably.
Brown Rice Miso
Brown rice miso is another miso that is aged a bit longer with a strong umami flavor. Just like barley miso it is made with the same ingredients as red miso. Brown rice miso made using brown rice instead of white rice that is used to make brown rice koji.
Not a traditional Japanese style of miso, but here at Miso Master, we make it using the same traditional methods. The flavor of brown rice miso is by far the strongest of the long term aged miso types. It can be used in the same way as red or brown miso.
Chickpea miso is unique because it does not use any soybeans. Another type of miso that while not a traditional Japanese type of miso, we make it with same traditional methods using chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rice koji, water and salt. Aged for a shorter period of time with a light brown color and a slightly sweet, slightly salty, mild flavor. This type of miso is soy free so it is a great option for anyone needing or wanting to avoid soy.
One of the most versatile types of miso it can be used in dips, sauces, dressing, soups and stews. Anywhere you might think of adding chickpeas or hummus, try using chickpea miso instead!
How to Make Miso Soup
There is no one right way to make miso soup. That’s what makes it so fun to experiment with. Follow the steps below to create your own unique umami experience.
Step 1. Pick your broth base.
- Dashi: traditional fish-based broth used in traditional Japanese miso soup
- Vegetable broth: great for versatility because it won’t add a strong flavor, also good for vegans or vegetarians
- Water: excellent choice if you are making a soup with lots of other flavors, the added miso will create your broth
- Tempeh Broth: try something new and find another way to use tempeh at
the same time!
Step 2. Pick your miso paste.
- Mellow white: great for a traditional miso soup, or a simple soup with mild flavors like a creamy cauliflower soup
- Sweet White: lower in salt so might be the best choice if you are using other ingredients that are salty, slightly sweet so pairs nicely with sweet peas, peanut butter, or coconut milk
- Chickpea: a soy free option for traditional miso soup, also good for simple soups, pairs nicely with a tomato, pumpkin, sweet potato or squash
- Brown rice, Barley or Red: these three have very similar taste profiles and can be used in the same types of soups; any hearty flavors like a French onion, beef stew, Cajun, Latin , or anything spicy will stand up nicely with these deep, rich miso types
Step 3: Add more flavors.
- Garlic or Ginger: these aromatics add a nice element to any broth, try using a puree and mixing it into your miso paste before dissolving it in water. Let it sit together for a little while and they create a nice flavor combination.
- Vegetable puree: this is a great option for the base of your soup; try using tomato, pumpkin, butternut squash or even sweet potato.
- Spices: don’t forget to add some spices; cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, basil, and the list goes on and on. Adding this to your miso paste along with garlic or ginger is another option to meld all these flavors together. these flavors together.
- Mirepoix: this is a classic soup base consisting of onions, carrots and celery. You can also use shallots or any combination of these elements. If you are going to use them then you will want to saute these ingredients first with oil or a even a bit of your chosen broth and once they are soft (about 5 minutes at medium high heat) then add in your miso paste mixture with spices and aromatics, saute another minute or so and then add in your broth base and other ingredients.
Miso Soup Ingredients
There is really no limit to what you can add to miso soup. We have covered the traditional Japanese style of the soup, but don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment with other flavor or ingredients.
Some suggested additions:
- Mushrooms (dried, fresh or ground powder)
- Peppers (hot, sweet, dried)
- Tofu (added raw at the end or on top after being baked, fried or sauteed)
- Tempeh (crumbles, sliced and pan fried, braised, or made into meatless meatballs)
- Vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, green onion, bell peppers, zucchini, crispy potatoes)
- Noodles (udon, lomein, rice, soba)
- Rice (white, brown, wild, jasmine, etc)
Using Miso for Soup
Traditionally, miso soup is made by adding miso paste to dashi stock , along with seaweed such as wakame, small cubes of tofu, and green onion or other vegetables. To use miso for soup, you’ll want to follow a couple of general tips:
- Before adding the miso paste to your soup, dissolve it in a small bowl with a bit of your hot stock and stir until smooth. Add to the soup prior to serving.
- Avoid bringing miso to a boil. Boiling miso can damage the beneficial bacteria that develop during fermentation.
Seaweed for Miso Soup
Wakame is the seaweed most often used in miso soup, but often Kombu is also used to create a briny flavor to the broth. Arame is a great option as well because it softens up and becomes like a thin noodle and does not have the briny flavor that some people dislike. Nori sheets or nori flakes are also a nice addition to top off your miso soup.
Is Miso Soup Healthy?
Miso soup is very healthy, however there are some considerations you may want to take into account when choosing your miso type. If you need to avoid gluten then barley miso will not be a good choice. If you want lower sodium then the sweet white or mellow white will be your best option.
Gluten Free Miso Soup
All of the Miso Master miso types, except the barley miso are all certified gluten free. If you want to use noodles, then choose a wheat free, gluten free noodle like a rice noodle, zucchini or sweet potato noodles or try using arame or wakame instead!
Vegan Miso Soup
Making your miso soup vegan is really easy! Don’t use the fish based version of dashi it's not vegan, but you can use this version which is vegan. Miso paste is made without any animal or animal by-products so it is vegan friendly.
Miso Soup Recipes
Simple & Traditional Miso Soup Recipes
These all vary slightly, but if you are looking for a simple and easy version of this classic soup, we have you covered!
Original Miso Soup Recipes
Here are three miso soup recipes that are anything but traditional. We have three different types of miso in three very different types of miso soup. Try something new and different – it may sparks some creative ideas for your next miso adventure!