Your Complete Guide To Miso Soup: Wait? There Are Types?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 19, 2022

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Miso soup or Miso shiru (みそ汁) in Japanese is the country’s most famous soup. 

Some Japanese people love to eat this healthy soup for breakfast to start the day, while others prefer it as a quick lunch. It’s even suitable as a warming dinner option when you crave comfort food. 

While some people think there’s just one type of miso soup, but there are many varieties and interesting miso soup recipes.

Miso soup types

There’s a small difference between the homemade miso soup and the kind you get at a restaurant.

One of the most sought-after miso soups is the vegan version because it’s healthy and extremely delicious! Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to make it but I’ll also share all the other types of miso soup out there. Making miso soup is super easy

In this post, I’m going to talk about the various kinds of miso soup and how they differ.

What is miso soup?

Miso soup 味噌汁 is Japan’s traditional hot soup. It’s cooked with three important components: dashi stock (can be made vegan too), miso soybean paste, and your favorite ingredients & toppings. 

It’s not your usual Japanese clear broth, but often looks a bit cloudy, almost like it’s moving (here’s why that is).

The broth is made with a fermented miso paste, combined with dashi stock which uses kombu and bonito flakes to make

The most common ingredients in the soup include tofu cubes, wakame (seaweed), spring onion, and regional or seasonal vegetables. 

In the US, miso soup is usually served as an appetizer before a main meal at the restaurant. They like to pair the miso soup with another appetizer like a salad. 

In Japan, you are served the miso soup as a main dish and it is served with a side of steamed rice.

Popular ingredients added to miso soup

You can add all kinds of tasty ingredients to the miso soup broth, including root vegetables, tofu, seaweed, and more! Just take a look at this list. 

Some ingredients have to be added to the dashi before you begin boiling it, while others are added after the stock has boiled. 

Top miso soup ingredients to add before boiling the dashi stock:

  • Carrots
  • Daikon radish 
  • Kabocha squash
  • Clams (including Manila clams)
  • Turnip
  • Potato
  • Onion
  • Other root vegetables

Ingredients to add after the dashi starts boiling:

  • Cabbage & Napa cabbage
  • Bean sprouts
  • Tofu (medium-firm or silken tofu)
  • Deep-fried tofu pouches (aburaage)
  • Egg
  • Eggplant
  • Yuba (soybean curd)
  • Mitsuba (Japanese herbs)
  • Scallions/spring onions
  • Negi (leeks)
  • Mushrooms (shimeji, nameko, enoki, shiitake, maitake)
  • Okra
  • Somen noodles
  • Wakame
  • Natto beans
  • Sesame seeds

Also learn: How to dissolve miso so it melts into your soup or sauce mix

Different types of miso paste

Did you know that there are 3 main types of miso paste? These are mild, medium, and strong and which one you use will definitely impact the soup’s flavor. 

The three types of miso are:

  • White (shiro) is the mildest miso with a sweet and salty flavor and only a very slight pungent taste. The flavor is lightly umami.
  • Yellow (awase) is a mix of red and white miso with a medium pungent taste and is predominantly sweet and creamy in texture. Its flavor is best described as sweet, salty, lightly smoky and a bit pungent. 
  • Red (aka) is the most pungent, salty, and strong miso because it is fermented for the longest time. It has a smokey, nutty, salty, and umami flavor. 

I explain more about the differences between the miso types and how to substitute them in this post here.

What color miso is best for soup?

Different miso soup recipes call for a different type of miso paste. But, most people prefer to use white or Shiro miso paste for homemade soup

So, when making miso soup at home, Japanese people like white miso paste because of its mild flavor.

Since it is only fermented for about 3 months with a high rice content, the white miso paste is milder and has a pleasantly sweet taste that pairs well with the soup and other ingredients. 

In fact, white miso for soup is an excellent choice, especially for beginners because you can’t ruin the soup’s flavor if you add a bit too much. 

Restaurants might also use white miso paste, especially in the US because it doesn’t overwhelm the soup with the pungent flavor which many people don’t like. 

But, if you ask the Japanese, they like to use awase (yellow) miso paste in restaurants because this mixture of white and red miso makes the broth a lot more flavorful. 

Wondering if you can have miso soup on a keto or gluten-free diet? I explain it here

Different types of miso soup and how they differ

So you are probably getting a sense right now that miso soup is not just one thing, it’s almost a whole world!

Let me show you some of the many different ways miso soup can be made.

Instant miso soup

Just like instant ramen noodle soup, instant miso is popular at offices and workplaces when people need a quick lunch. 

In Japan, miso soup is sold in single-serving packets either as a dehydrated powder you can make with water or as a paste. There’s even a freeze-dried version you find in the freezer aisle of the supermarket.

These instant soups aren’t very fancy and usually contain basic dehydrated ingredients like tofu, wakame, and soybeans which rehydrate when you add hot water.

Here’s an easy instant miso soup recipe for breakfast with white rice & furikake

Homemade miso soup

Making miso soup from scratch is quite simple actually. The traditional way to make miso soup involves cooking up the broth with your choice of ingredients. 

Most people in Japan like to use traditional veggies, tofu, and wakame seaweed. 

For this type of homemade miso soup, you want to make the dashi stock first. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes and you can choose to make it with bonito flakes or use mushrooms to make the stock vegan. 

I have a dashi stock guide which will explain how to make it in minutes but also gives all kinds of substitutes you can use. 

Once you’ve got the dashi, you can add your tofu, seaweed, and other ingredients (if you want). 

Finally, you add the miso paste of your choice depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. 

Amami home-style miso soup

For those of you who love onions are going to love making this rich oniony miso broth. It’s perfect for cold winter nights when you want a healing hot broth. 

To make this kind of miso soup at home, you need to finely chop some onions and add that to your dashi stock. Boil the onions until they become tender and melt in your mouth with each spoonful. 

The onion, combined with dashi and a milder miso paste takes on a delicious sweet flavor and fragrance, called amami (あまみ).

Vegetarian miso soup

The vegetarian miso soup is almost the same as the vegan version and made with seasonal vegetables.

Most vegetarians prefer kombu dashi. But, there are some store-bought vegetarian dashi options you can try. 

One of the most popular combinations is a veggie dashi broth without bonito flakes, combined with miso paste (of your choice), snap peas, and aburaage (deep-fried tofu pouches).

In the springtime, one of the most popular ingredients is fresh bamboo shoots. Combined with the wakame seaweed and miso paste, the soup will have a light, fresh, and umami flavor. 

Turnip is another popular vegetable and you can get some Japanese turnip (kabu) and boil it with the broth. Then, add the turnip leaves and some aburaage for a crunchy miso soup.

Asari miso soup (clam soup)

If you love seafood, you’ll love the umami-packed Japanese clam miso soup (あさりの味噌汁).

This type of miso soup is definitely a tasty upgrade. It’s made with any kind of clams but it’s best to use them as the only ingredients besides the broth.

Clams have a yummy delicate flavor and combined with regular dashi or kombu dashi and awase miso, the soup takes on the perfect umami taste. 

Most restaurants serve asari miso soup with clams only, so no tofu and no vegetables except spring onions (for topping) are added. This way you can taste the great flavor of fresh clams. 

Tonjiru (pork and vegetable miso soup)

Meat lovers sometimes complain that miso soup is too bland but did you know you can get a very delicious pork miso soup?

Tonjiru 豚汁 is a miso soup with pork and some root vegetables. It’s very packed with ingredients and full of healthy vitamins. 

The best meat cut for this recipe is pork belly because it’s a bit fatty. The pork is sauteed first then boiled in the dashi broth alongside vegetables, which are usually root veggies like gobo (burdock root), taro, daikon radish, and carrot.

Vegetables are sliced into the same sized bits and pieces so they cook at the same rate. You can use other veggies like potatoes, bean sprouts, cabbage, and mushrooms too.

Some Japanese recipes skip the dashi for tonjiru because the pork belly already has a sweet and savory taste but if you want the full umami experience the dashi will make it taste more like traditional miso soup. 

Tonjiru miso soup is often served with onigiri rice balls and it becomes a filling meal for lunch or dinner. 

Miso soup with somen noodles

If you don’t like plain miso soup but love the flavor of Japanese noodles, the somen noodle miso soup recipe is the one to try.

Technically, you can add any noodles of your preference to miso soup but Japanese people prefer somen noodles because they are long thin white flour noodles and they are easy to slurp up in the soup.

Think of this soup like a chicken noodle soup with a miso twist. It’s the ultimate comforting broth and you can use whatever veggies you have in your pantry or fridge to add great flavors.

To make it, you make your classic dashi broth (you can use a vegan one too) and then combine it with water and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, add the soba noodles and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add in the miso paste (usually white miso) and then some peppers, onions, ginger, and tofu.

You can add pre-boiled chicken, beef, or pork too if you want to make the soup meaty.

Simmer for another 3 or 4 minutes and your soup is ready. You can add a boiled egg if you want or scallions and chili pepper flakes to garnish it.

Origin of miso soup

Miso soup is a Japanese soup that has been around for centuries. The word “miso” actually refers to the fermented soybean paste that is used as the base of the soup. It is thought that miso soup was first created during the Nara period in Japan (710-794).

The earliest recorded recipe for miso soup appears in the “Konnyaku Ruiju,” a book of medical knowledge written in 1185. This book recommends drinking miso soup as a way to prevent and cure various illnesses.

Miso soup became more popular during the Edo period (1603-1868), when it was eaten on a daily basis by the Japanese. At this time, miso soup was made with a variety of different ingredients, including tofu, vegetables, and fish.

Miso soup began to be exported to other countries in the early 20th century. It is now enjoyed all over the world and is considered to be a healthy and delicious part of the Japanese diet.

How to serve and eat miso soup

Miso soup is typically served in small bowls or cups. It is usually eaten as part of a larger meal, but can also be enjoyed as a light snack or starter.

In Japan, the soup is served either with the other dishes of the main course, often numerous side dishes, or after the meal and is used to clear the palate and improve digestion.

Miso soup vs wonton soup

Miso soup and wonton soup are both clear soups that are popular in Asian cuisine. Although they are similar in appearance, the two soups are quite different.

Wonton soup is a Chinese soup that is traditionally made with pork dumplings, vegetables, and chicken broth. The broth is typically flavoured with ginger, garlic, and green onion.

Miso soup, on the other hand, is a Japanese soup that is made with a fermented soybean paste called miso. Miso soup can also be made with tofu, vegetables, and fish. The broth is typically flavoured with seaweed or bonito flakes.

Miso soup vs miso ramen

Miso soup and miso ramen are both Japanese soups made with miso paste.

Miso soup is a clear soup typically made with tofu, vegetables, and fish. The broth is typically flavored with seaweed or bonito flakes.

Miso ramen, on the other hand, is a noodle soup that is made with miso paste, noodles, and typically a protein such as chicken or pork. The broth is usually flavored with soy sauce, mirin, and sake.

Miso ramen has a lot more flavor going on and is used as a main dish, while miso soup is more subtle in flavor and used as a small side dish to clear the palate.

Is miso soup healthy?

Miso soup is a healthy meal option because it has many nutritional benefits. It is full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

In Japan, miso paste has been a dietary staple for centuries because it is a probiotic which strengthens your immune system and improves gut health.

It can also lower levels of bad cholesterol and offers the essential B12 vitamin which is hard to get from other types of food.

Miso is also full of antioxidants and contains 20 essential amino acids.

According to studies, miso soup can lower the risk of heart disease, lower the risk of cancer and improve the health of your digestive system.

There’s no doubt, having a cup of miso soup per day is a great option because it’s low in calories and full of healthy probiotics.

Conclusion

Miso soup is by far one of the healthiest Japanese soup types and since it’s so easy to make, there’s no reason not to eat it as a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

As I’ve explained, there are many ways to improve or alter the taste by adding all kinds of vegetables, tofu, clams, noodles, and meat.

Making the broth only takes about 15 minutes so when you’re having a really busy day, miso soup is a quick meal to enjoy.

That’s what I like about miso soup – the prep time and cook time is short and you can get the ingredients at the Asian grocery store for a low price.

Ever since trying miso soup with noodles, I’ve been a huge fan of this soup and I’m sure you’ll love it too!

Wondering how to actually eat miso soup? Get your spoon and chopsticks out!

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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.