Ultimate miso paste taste or how to get it with 5 easy substitutes

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  July 19, 2021

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A very important part of my kitchen is the spicy, umami flavor of miso paste.

It’s mainly used for soups, but you can add it to a great salad dressing or even a marinade for your meat.

A lot of you asked me what a good miso substitute was for their gluten-free diet, and even one asked for a soy-free one because miso is often made of soybeans and barley or other grains.

So I’ve got all of that for you here, including some of my favorite brands of miso paste and I’ll look at the top five alternatives to miso paste you probably have in your kitchen right now!

5 best miso paste substitutes for your dishes

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When you’re looking for a specific type of miso to use in a recipe you found, you should take care to use the right alternatives.

Miso is typically produced through the fermentation of soybeans with grains and salt. There are numerous variants with various levels of strength, color, and flavor.

Alternating one type of miso with another doesn’t always taste the same, so even just swapping out white for red miso can ruin your dish!

Check them out in my video so you can see the substitutes and how I use them, or read on for a super in-depth guide.

Gluten-free and soy-free miso

Sometimes, it might just be that you or the person you want to cook for can not eat gluten or soy and there are some gluten and soy free miso options out there:

My favorite brands for these are:

Soy- and gluten free miso Images
Best gluten-free miso: Hikari miso Organic gluten free miso

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Best soy-free miso: South River Azuki Bean miso South River soy-free azuki bean miso

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Best authentic miso paste brands

If you take a look at the most popular Miso pastes on Amazon, you’ll notice that customers are increasingly searching for organic and healthy options.

Non-GMO, organic, and additive-free varieties are common miso pastes that people buy. Here is a list of the best selling miso pastes on Amazon.

Hikari Organic Miso Paste, White, 17.6 oz Organic Miso

Hikari organic white miso

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Hikari is the most popular brand of miso, used by many restaurants. It is Japan’s #1 organic miso paste brand.

Hikari is known for the great value it offers. Their pastes cost about $14 and are sold in tubs of 17.6 oz.

This product is a bestselling miso paste on Amazon. It is popular with customers because of the light, flavorful taste. It is also an organic product, with no MSG, no harsh additives, and it is gluten-free.

Check prices and availability here on Amazon

Hikari ORGANIC Mild Miso Paste

Hikari organic mild miso paste

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This is a mild miso paste with low sodium content. It is excellent for those on a low salt diet. It gives all the great taste of dark miso.

It is a high-quality paste at a low price, and that is why customers love this product.

Check it out here

Aka Red Miso Paste Soybean paste NON-GMO No MSG Added 35.2oz Miko Brand

AKA red miso paste

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Miko is part of the Miyasaka USA brand, best known for instant miso soups. They also sell different varieties of miso paste.

This is a very popular brand of red miso. It has an intense taste, well suited for soups and stews.

Customers love this miso because it is made from NON-GMO soybeans and has no unhealthy additives like MSG.

Check the latest prices here

Shirakiku White Miso Soybean Paste (Shiro Miso) – 2.2 Lb

Shirakiku shiro miso

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Shirakiku is a popular Western brand, specializing in Asian food. It has become a staple in grocery stores across America.

This is a white, light-flavored miso paste. This is a large family size pack for those who use miso often.

Shirakiku brand miso paste is gluten-free and less salty than other brands.

Buy it here from Amazon

Yuzu Miso – Aged 3 Months by Namikura Miso (17.6 ounces) Chunky Miso

Yuzu miso

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Namikura is a family-owned Japanese brand with a long tradition in manufacturing miso paste.

This type of miso paste is uniquely flavored. It is made with yuzu fruit and fermented for only three months.

It has a light, slightly floral, and sweet flavor with a hint of tartiness. It is chunky miso, to be used in a smaller quantity than others.

Check the latest prices here

What are the different types of miso?

Different types of miso

The most commonly used miso are white, yellow, and red. These are the basic types of miso; however, there are various other misos used for different types of Japanese dishes.

You’re probably wondering, “what is the difference between the various types of miso?”

Miso manufacturers can play around with the flavors, so there are actually dozens of miso flavors. It depends on the amount of koji, soybeans, rice, or barley is in the mix.

In this section, I’ll explain all of them and what they’re good for.

White miso

White miso or Shiro miso is the miso you’ll often see being used in soups and salads. It’s made of fermented soybeans and rice, and despite being called the white miso, the paste actually carries a slight yellow tinge.

Unlike the other types of miso, white miso is usually only fermented for a short period and has a mild sweet taste.

Due to its light taste, white miso is considered the most versatile type of miso in the market and can be found in most recipes.

How to cook with white miso: The best way to cook with white miso is to use it as a marinade or in salads. If you’re looking to make miso soup, white miso would also be the ideal pick as it isn’t overpowering to taste.

Want to try white Miso? Check out Miso Tasty Organic Shiro Cooking Paste

Yellow miso

Yellow miso is also known as Shinshu miso and is what you’ll often see in many pictures. Like the white miso, the name yellow miso does not completely reflect the miso’s true color as it looks more like a brown paste.

Yellow miso is usually made by using fermented soybeans and barley. Dishes made with yellow miso typically carry a stronger umami flavor because they are left to ferment a little longer than the white miso.

How to cook with yellow miso: You can use yellow miso when preparing salad dressings or sauce glazes. As yellow miso’s taste is stronger than white miso, some chefs or family cooks may also opt to use yellow miso to prepare soups.

Red miso

Red miso is the most pungent of the various types of miso in the market. It’s also known as Aka miso and is perhaps the only miso that is true to its name because you’ll see it in the form of a dark brown or red paste.

Red miso is usually made using fermented soybeans and barley or other types of grains. Red miso is usually left to ferment for a longer time than those of white and yellow miso to achieve this color.

Due to the fermentation length, red miso is also very salty, so you’ll have to use it with care in your cooking. Most home cooks would only use a little red miso for a meal that is packed with flavor.

How to cook with red miso: Red miso typically carries strong umami, making it great to use when cooking meats or vegetables. Unlike the white and yellow miso, red miso is not always suitable for use in soups.

Check out Red Hikari Organic Miso

Black Miso

It’s a bit unclear what the exact recipe for black miso is. Some people make it entirely out of soybeans, while in some parts of Japan, it’s made with fermented soybeans and dark grains, usually buckwheat.

This type of miso is very flavorful and strong.

How to cook with black miso: It’s powerful in taste, so use it sparingly and add it to soup and fish, or other meat dishes for extra-strong umami flavor.

Barley Miso

Although less popular, barley miso is still flavorful and tasty, especially in soups. The flavor profile is in-between the red and white miso. It has a yellowish brownish color.

This miso paste is most popular in two regions: Kyushu and Shikoku.

How to cook with barley miso: This type of miso is perfect for soups and marinades. But many people love to include it in salad dressings. As well, it complements many vegetables, so you can use it as a seasoning.

Popular Unique Miso Flavors

Kome Miso

This is the most common and most beloved type of Japanese miso paste. It’s made of white rice and comes in several different colors.

Genmai Miso

Genmai is another popular type of miso. But, this one is made with brown rice instead of white. Therefore, it has a nutty flavor, similar to nutty cheese. It’s popular in Japan and gaining popularity in North America too.

Mugi Miso

This type of miso requires a very long fermentation period compared to others. It is made of barley grains, and it has a dark red color. This one has a powerful earthy flavor that’s hard to miss if it’s in your dish.

Mame Miso

Mame is also called Hatcho, and it is a dark-colored miso paste. It’s made from soybeans and only a minimal amount of grains. It has a rich, deep flavor; thus, it’s a Japanese favorite.

Soba Miso

Like soba noodles, soba miso is also made out of buckwheat. The flavor is similar to soba noodles, too, but it has a similar fermentation process to the white and yellow varieties. Although it’s tasty and flavorful, this type of miso is less popular than the others.

What is the best type of miso?

There are many types of miso. The most popular one is Shiro (white) miso since it has the mildest flavor. It also happens to be pale in color which is what gave it its name.

The darker the color of your miso, the stronger the taste. You can substitute different kinds of miso pastes for one another, just prepare to use less of it if you use darker or red paste. You can always add more to it along the way.

Depending on what you’re looking to cook your miso with, the yellow miso is a highly versatile miso paste to have in your kitchen.

You can often use it in place of red miso, although you may need to scoop a little extra for stronger umami flavors. Thus, many home cooks would regard the yellow miso as the best type of miso.

This, however, may depend on your preference. So, it’s a good idea to try out each type of miso to see which you prefer best in your cooking.

Best Substitutes for Miso Paste

5 Miso paste substitute you can find at home

Soy Sauce

If I don’t have any miso paste left, the first thing I grab is just plain soy sauce as it delivers a salty / umami /savory hit close to that of miso.

The only drawbacks are that soy sauce is much saltier than miso, so you should add a bit less and work my way up as required.

Miso also has a more creamy structure than the soy liquid, so you might want to add something else with that creamy texture, depending on the dish you’re making.

Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from seeds of soil sesame. This looks a bit like white miso paste and has a similar texture to replace it in recipes where you want to avoid miso paste.

If a recipe uses large amounts of miso, tahini probably won’t work as the flavor profile is more smooth and nutty compared to the salty/savory taste of miso.

Salt

If a recipe only needs a small amount of miso and has plenty of other ingredients, you might just need to add a little salt.

Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is similar to soy sauce, adding salt and umami. Nevertheless, a little goes a long way, so start small.

Vegetable Stock

For soups, instead of miso, a full-flavored vegetable stock will work.

What is Miso Paste?

It’s a fermented soybean paste. I read somewhere that Japanese monks invented miso and soy sauce to incorporate great flavors into vegetarian meals (also called ‘umami’). So it’s a very useful ingredient to add a lot of flavors.

There are at least one thousand varieties of miso paste, with different colors, flavors, and textures.

It’s time to explore: what is this miso paste actually made of, and why is it popular?

Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans, rice, and other grains like barley or buckwheat. It is very popular in many Japanese dishes, especially soups and sauces. It has an ‘umami’ flavor – translated as ‘savory’ in English.

Miso paste is versatile, and the Japanese use it in a variety of dishes. Think of it as a type of condiment.

Miso is made with the help of a fungus called koji. This fungus is used to make a variety of fermented dishes.

Koji is a fungus also called Aspergillus Oryzae, and it’s used as the base or starting fungus spore to create fermented foods.

To start making the miso paste, people add koji to steamed rice or soybeans, and in some cases, a combination of the two.

As the Koji starts to develop and incubate, it releases glutamate. This is a result of starches turning into sugar. As a result, the paste gets that umami flavor.

The koji is mixed with rice, soybeans, and barley (or other grains) to make the miso. This mixture undergoes a fermentation process.

The flavor of the umami depends on how long the fermentation process is. The longer it ferments, the stronger the miso’s flavor and the darker the color.

What is in miso paste?

Learn more about miso paste

Miso paste can be made of a selection of ingredients to achieve three types of miso. The basis of all miso paste is soybeans, salt, koji (fungus), and either rice, barley, or buckwheat (grains).

The essential ingredient in miso paste is Koji (Aspergillus oryzae), which is the Japanese word for fungus and mold.

Miso is a cultured food, dependent on bacteria and fermentation. The three main types of miso paste are:

  1. White miso – shinomiso – has a very light yellow color and a mild taste.
  2. Yellow miso – shinshumiso –yellow color and a stronger flavor than white – it is usually made with barley instead of rice.
  3. Red miso – akamiso – dark color – the most intense flavor, very salty and pungent.

In North America, there is also a fourth mini category called awase, which is a mixture of the white and the red miso paste.

The shelf-life of miso paste is at least one year, even more, if it is stored in the refrigerator, once opened.

The best way to store miso paste is in its original container in the fridge. Once you use it, place some plastic wrap over it to prevent oxidization.

Gourmet miso paste

Since there are so many varieties of miso, there are also some options that have added ingredients. Here are four popular miso varieties:

What does miso paste taste like?

Most people agree that it tastes like umami – one of the five tastes or flavors in Japan, considered to be a “savor” taste.

When you first taste it, it’s going to seem salty, combined with a hint of tanginess, sweetness, and earthiness.

Depending on the intensity of the paste, it will taste either slightly sweet or very meaty and salty.

The texture is similar to peanut butter, some miso is very pasty and smooth, while some are chunky.

When cooking with miso, you only need a small amount because it’s such a savory and flavored food, a little goes a long way.

How is miso made?

The ingredients are left to ferment naturally for varying lengths of time. The longer the mixture ferments, the stronger the flavor of the paste and the darker to color.

The manufacturing process is quite simple:

First, the fungus (koji) must be made. You have to add some spores to a small portion of your grain and soybeans.

You can use steamed rice, mix it with the soy, and let the culture develop. The fungus will start to form, and the starch in the mixture will turn into sugar and glutamate.

This is what gives it that specific umami flavor.

The ingredients (grains, soybeans, salt, fungus, and any additional unique ingredients) are mixed and left to ferment for a period of a few weeks for light miso and a couple of years for very dark miso.

What foods do you use miso paste in?

Miso paste is most commonly used in soup. Miso soup is a very common dish in Asian countries and North America.

In Japan, it is a tradition to have miso soup for breakfast. Thus, miso has become a staple in Japanese households, restaurants, or for takeout.

The paste actually has many uses. Here is a list of the most popular types of foods you can add miso to:

When you use miso paste, you want to make sure you never put the paste into boiling dishes. You want to add the paste into a dish at the end of its cooking period.

If you boil it too much, the heat will destroy the healthy bacteria and cultures of the miso, and you’ll be left without the health benefits of this paste.

miso soup

When you buy a new ingredient to use in a recipe, don’t you hate to just end up with a big jar of ingredients that clutter your refrigerator? Me, too.

I’m a little obsessed about keeping the random bottles in my fridge to a minimum … or at least keeping them in the fridge door ‘quarantine’.

I go on a ‘mission’ when I get a new ingredient to find ways to use it in other recipes, quickly, and with lots of tasty discoveries … my kind of project.

Also read: use this healthy vegetable stock instead of chicken broth

Salad dressings

Miso brings to a vinaigrette a stunning, savory quality. Whisk 1 spoonful of sherry or wine vinegar, 2-3 spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil and 1 small teaspoon of miso paste together for a salad for two. Or try the recipe we’ll share at the end of this article.

Main course soup

Miso soup is probably the first thing you think about miso. The traditional presentation is usually a light broth with some seaweed and some tofu cubes.

Yet miso soups can also be beautiful meals on their own…

Bring 3 cups stock to a boil then stir in 1-2 tablespoons of white miso. To make it more meaningful, add veg, protein and/or noodles. This can serve 2 people.

In stir-fries

Miso tastes incredibly delicious in stir-fries. However, since it’s very delicate it’s better to finish cooking your stir fry and let it cool down a bit before adding the miso into the mix.

Onions for burgers

A super delicious way to bring your burgers to the next level. I pinched the concept from brilliant chef Dan Hong from Sydney.

In a little butter, cook your onions until they’re soft, then remove them from heat and stir in a little miso to season. Usually, one to two teaspoons are enough.

In marinades

Use miso in a marinade to get all these savory flavors really embedded. You don’t even need to wait for it to marinate overnight, 5 to 10 minutes can be more than enough.

Combining 6 tablespoons of white wine or mirin or Chinese Shaoxing wine with 2 tablespoons of miso is a good place to start. That’s enough to marinate meat for 2 people. Pan fry or barbecue.

As a sauce served on the side

In a little oil, cook the meat or fish. Remove the pan from the heat and put the protein to rest on the serving plates.

Add a tablespoon of wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of white miso, and a tablespoon of hot water to the pan juices, and sprinkle over your meat/fish.

Also read: different types of Japanese soups

Homemade Easy Corn and Miso Salad Recipe

Corn salad with tahini miso paste substitute

Corn salad with tahini miso paste substitute

Joost Nusselder
You definitely need to try this delicious recipe when corn season is in full bloom in your hometown. This is amazing enough on its own can be even tastier if you add some barbecued salmon or other types of fish to go with it.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people
Calories 72 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cobs Corn
  • 1 bunch radishes
  • 3 tbsp tahini (instead of white miso paste)
  • ½ tsp salt (to mimic the salty miso paste flavor)
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 bunch coriander (AKA cilantro), torn

Instructions
 

  • Start by preheating your oven to 200°C (400°F). Then place unpeeled corn on a tray, set it to bake for between 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure the corn kernels are hot and cooked.
  • While you wait for the corn to cool down, scrub the radishes and then finely slice them into small round shapes with the help of a mandoline if you have one. If you don’t, you can also use a sharp knife and your steady hand.
  • Combine miso, tahini, vinegar and 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large bowl. Test for taste and season with salt. Add extra miso if necessary.
  • Once the corn is cool to the touch, peel the ribbony silks and husks. Separate the kernels from the cob and toss them in the dressing. You can now discard the husks.
  • Add in the radishes and serve with coriander on the top.

Nutrition

Calories: 72kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 2gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 301mgPotassium: 91mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 135IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 19mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Corn, Miso, Salad
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

If corn season has passed but you can’t wait to try this recipe, frozen corn will work just as well. Just remember to take into account that you will need more miso to counter the corn’s sweetness.

This recipe can serve four when served as a side dish, two if served as a main dish. It takes between 30 to 40 minutes.

Variations

You can mix and match this recipe using the following variations as a guide.

Also read: learn how to make the dashi for miso soup yourself

Miso FAQs

There’s a lot of contradictory information about miso, but we’re here to shed more light on it.

Is miso healthy?

Fermented foods are generally healthy because of their high probiotic content. Miso is a type of ‘superfood’ with many health benefits. Since miso is a cultured and fermented food, it is great for the digestive system.

It contains good gut bacteria, which contributes to a healthy digestive system.

Miso is full of amino acids, copper, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and K vitamins, as well as manganese.

The one thing to be careful about is the high sodium content. Therefore, if you can’t consume salty foods, only consume miso in moderation.

To get the most nutritional benefits from miso, add it to the food when it’s not very hot.

Where did miso come from?

The precursor to the Japanese miso was a Chinese fermented paste called Jiang.

It’s believed that this fermented paste made of soybeans was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks from China.

Many Asian countries developed their own variations of miso but the paste still has similar ingredients and a familiar umami taste.

In Japan, the locals made miso with fermented rice and soybeans. Mass production began in the 17th century.

Since then, miso has grown in popularity because people realized how healthy and tasty it was. Miso gives any bland dish a deep earthy flavor.

There is an ongoing debate about the exact origins of miso paste. Miso is, in fact, not a Japanese invention. A similar paste was first used in China in the 4th century.

It was made by mixing soybeans, alcohol, salt, and wheat and letting the mixture ferment.

The name ‘miso’ first appeared in written form in the year 800, and since then, it has become a common ingredient in many Asian dishes.

Miso migrated to Japan via Buddhist monks sometime in the 7th century. It is there that it became ‘miso’ as we know it today.

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Some of the ingredients were changed, and the flavor was improved. The Japanese version of miso paste is the one that is most popular today.

What kind of miso do you use for soup?

The most popular miso for soup is yellow, white, and red. The yellow has a milder almost sweet taste, whereas the red miso has a strong distinct savory taste.

Does miso go bad?

Since miso is a fermented food, it doesn’t go bad too quickly. The miso is a preservative food because it is salty and full of cultured bacteria.

It doesn’t go bad as long as you keep it in the fridge. The taste doesn’t alter and you can keep the miso for approximately one year in the fridge.

The shelf life of miso is between 9-18 months.

Can you eat miso without cooking it?

Yes, you can eat miso without cooking it. You can take a spoonful and put it in salads or sauces without prior cooking. It’s a simple fermented paste, so you can use it for everything.

Is miso vegan?

Most miso varieties are vegan. The paste itself doesn’t contain ingredients derived from animals. However, miso soup is not always vegan.

The paste is added to the soup which may contain meat or other non-vegan ingredients. Some miso soup is made with dashi and bonito flakes, which are certainly not vegan.

How do you dissolve miso?

You can pour water into a saucepan and add the miso. With a whisk, start to blend it together until the paste dissolves. Don’t use boiling water or you risk inactivating the probiotics. You can also dissolve miso in dashi stock.

How do you store miso?

Miso paste has a long shelf life as long as you store it properly. After you open the miso, place some plastic wrap and cover it before putting the lid back on. Store the miso in the refrigerator.

Over time, the color of miso gets darker, but it doesn’t mean that it’s gone bad, it’s a natural process so you can use it. If there is mold formation or a pungent bad odor, then throw the product away.

Why is miso paste popular?

Besides the fact that it is delicious and flavorful, miso paste is also healthy.

Since miso a fermented food, it contains probiotic “good” bacteria, also known as healthy gut bacteria, which aid in digestion.

Miso paste contributes to the well-being of the digestive tract. It is also a good source of vitamins B, E, K, and folic acid.

Therefore, you can consider this food nutritious and healthy for the body. The only thing to be careful about is the high sodium content.

Miso is salty, but there are low-sodium miso paste varieties available, such as this one from the brand Honzokuri.

This paste is low sodium, meaning the salt content is much lower than in regular miso. There is also no MSG in the product. It is yellow miso with a medium flavor.

Also read: Miso vs. Marmite, How to Use Both + Differences Explained

Conclusion

Don’t hesitate to give miso paste a try because you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to cook with it.

If you’ve been hesitant to try it, keep in mind that miso paste is a healthy, active culture food, just like yogurt!

It contributes to a healthy gut, and it also tastes great, giving flavor to all kinds of foods.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.