Miso vs soybean paste (doenjang): 3 odd ways to tell the difference

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  April 22, 2021

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You’re probably wondering what the difference is between miso paste and soybean paste (doenjang).

These both are fermented soybean pastes that are very similar in flavor and texture.

However, they are not exactly alike.

Doenjang vs miso paste

Soybean paste, called Korean doenjang or Chinese Doujiang, has a more pungent smell and stronger taste than Japanese miso. Soybean paste doesn’t use grain as the fermentation starter and uses three fermentation processes to get a finished paste, whereas miso uses rice or barley with koji mold to start fermentation.

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I’ll get more into each of these pastes, but to sum it all up, here’s a list of the main differences between soybean and miso paste.

Soybean Paste Miso Paste
Made purely of soybeans and saltwater Uses rice or barley with a koji mold as the base
Has three fermentation stages and is fermented in the open air at all stages Fermentation occurs on the grain first and has two fermentation stages where the second stage occurs without oxygen present
Boiled and mashed soybeans are added right from the start and are the base of fermentation Boiled and mashed soybeans are only added at the second stage after the rice or barley has had time to ferment

A lot of people often get confused between Doenjang and Miso. Both are Soybean pastes, with one originating in Korea (Doenjang) and the other coming from Japan (Miso).

Despite both being from different cultures, the method of preparation and the main ingredients are similar. However, there are a few key differences.

Differences between doenjang and miso paste

While both these foods are made using fermented soybeans and salt, a few ingredients set them apart and give different flavors.

Typically, traditional Korean doenjang is made using only soybeans and salt. Whereas, in the case of miso, it’s made by adding a koji starter to rice along with the soybeans. As a result, miso tastes sweeter.

That’s not the only difference; however, depending on the grain used, there are several different kinds of miso.

There’s black miso, which has an almost fudge-like texture, and then there are lighter, creamier shades as well.

Whereas Doenjang has a more robust, sharper, and more complex flavor profile!

Korean Traditional Doenjang paste

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Hikari red miso paste

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Benefits of each

Thanks to Miso and Doenjang being fermented soybean paste, they’re perfect for the gut. Both foods have anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Doenjang

Doenjang has been a staple of Korean food for centuries. It’s now becoming increasingly popular due to its many health benefits.

The presence of histamine-leucine amino acid in doenjang is very effective at enhancing the activation of proteins. That helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Traditional doenjang is known to play a role in detoxifying the liver, reducing the activation of glycosyltransferase.

Any kind of fermented food is really good for the gut and helps aid digestion. A traditional Korean remedy for indigestion is having thin doenjang soup.

Miso

Miso is a good source of various vitamins, including B vitamins, Vitamins E, C, K, and folic acid. It’s a staple in Japanese cuisine thanks to its nutritional value!

Thanks to the fermentation, miso provides the guy with loads of beneficial bacteria that help keep you healthy.

Also read: does miso expire and how do you store it?

How to use doenjang and miso paste

Doenjang

Doenjang is used in various Korean dishes and is used as a dipping sauce for both meat and vegetables. It’s also used as the main ingredient in a variety of different soups. When it comes to Korean BBQ, you simply can’t have it without Doenjang.

Miso

Similar to Doenjang, Miso is also widely used in a wide variety of dishes. Miso soup is incredibly popular, and Miso-glazed meats are starting to increase in popularity!

What is Miso Paste?

Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans mixed with salt and koji, a mold used to make sake.

But it also contains barley, rice, or other grains.

The mixture ferments for a long time, anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years.

The longer it ferments, the richer the flavor becomes.

Different types of miso

There are mainly three different types of miso.

They vary according to the amount of time they are left to ferment.

Most people associate miso paste with miso soup.

When mixed with dashi, it makes a delicious soup that is nutritious and flavorful.

However, the paste can also be added to dishes to provide a rich, umami flavor that is great in dressings and marinades.

It works well with fish and it can even add a unique richness to chocolate and caramel desserts.

No miso paste at hand, but a recipe that calls for it? Read: Miso Paste Substitute | 5 options you could add to your dish instead.

Miso Paste Nutrition

Miso paste is high in vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, vitamins E and K, and folic acid.

Because it is fermented it works as a probiotic with beneficial bacteria that improve gut health which can boost mental and physical wellness.

The fermentation also makes sure miso paste does not expire that quickly.

What is Soybean Paste?

Soybean paste is most commonly called doenjang, and it’s a fermented bean paste made of soybean and brine.

Soybeans are soaked overnight and then coarsely ground and shaped into a cube. The cubes are cooled and dried.

Once they harden, they’re left to ferment for several months in earthenware pots but, unlike with miso, the lids are kept off so air can get to it. This is the second round of fermentation.

After about 90% of the moisture is removed from the paste (which is used to make a light soy sauce), it’s put back into the pots to ferment for a third time.

How to use soybean paste

Soybean paste is commonly used to produce soybean soup and it can also be used as a relish.

It’s eaten as a condiment for vegetables and for dipping.

It can also be mixed with garlic and sesame oil to produce ssamjang which is traditionally eaten in leaf vegetables and often served as a complement for popular Korean meat dishes.

Soybean Paste Nutrition

Because soybean paste is fermented, it is beneficial to the digestive system.

It is also rich in flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, and plant hormones which are known for being anti-carcinogenic.

Soybean paste is also rich in the essential amino acid lysine and the fatty acid linoleic acid, which play an important role in the normal growth of blood vessels and the prevention of blood vessel-related illness.

Recipes with miso paste and soybean paste

Miso paste vs soybean paste

Miso Soup Recipe

Joost Nusselder
Miso can be used to make a wide variety of dishes but miso soup is the most common. Here’s how you make this traditional Japanese dish.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine Japanese

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups vegetable broth (or dashi for a more authentic taste)
  • 1 sheet nori (dried seaweed) cut into large rectangles
  • 3-4 tbsp. miso paste
  • ½ cup green chard chopped
  • ½ cup green onion chopped
  • ¼ cup firm tofu cubed

Instructions
 

  • Place vegetable broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer.
  • While broth is simmering, place miso into a small bowl. Add a little hot water and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
  • Add chard, green onion and tofu to soup and cook for five minutes. Add nori and stir.
  • Remove from heat, add miso mixture and stir to combine.
  • Taste and add more miso or a pinch of sea salt if desired. Serve warm.
Keyword miso soup
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

 

Looking for more miso paste inspiration? We also have a great recipe here: Vegan miso soup with noodles: make dashi & miso from scratch.

 

Miso paste vs soybean paste

Pork Belly & Soybean Paste Recipe

Joost Nusselder
Let’s see what we can do with soybean paste in this fried pork belly recipe.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 slices pork belly cut into big pieces
  • ½ potato thinly sliced
  • ½ zucchini cut into thin slices
  • ¼ cup white onion chopped into small pieces
  • 2-3 slices ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • 2 stalks green onion chopped for garnishing
  • ¼ tsp. sugar
  • touch of sesame oil

Instructions
 

  • Pan fry pork belly for 3-4 minutes until brown and crisp. Set aside.
  • Add potato, onion and zucchini into pan. Stir fry 4-5 minutes under medium high heat until soft.
  • Toss in ginger and garlic and pour 1 cup of water into pan and stir to mix well.
  • Once water starts to boil, add soybean paste and sugar and stir to mix well.
  • Turn flame to medium low heat and simmer about 10 minutes with the lid on stirring occasionally.
  • Add pork belly to pan and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from pan and transfer to large serving bowl.
  • Drizzle with sesame oil, sprinkle with green onion and serve.
Keyword Pork
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Now that you know the difference between soybean paste and miso paste, which will you be adding to your dishes?

Also read: these are the differences between Japanese and Korean food

 

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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.