What is Miso? The Secret Ingredient That Will Pack Your Recipes with Flavor

With a helping of miso paste, you can transform any dish into something exquisite.

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You might know miso from a quintessential Japanese appetizer—miso soup. But there’s so much more you can do with miso paste! It’s savory with rich umami flavor and has many an application in the kitchen. Let’s take a closer look at all the things miso has to offer.

What Is Miso Paste?

Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans. The soybeans are mixed with salt and koji, a mold that’s also used to make sake. The blend might also include barley, rice, rye or other grains. To get its unique flavor, the mixture ferments for anywhere from a couple months to years! The longer it ages, the miso paste gets darker and more complex in flavor.

Just a tablespoon of this go-to Japanese ingredient can add some serious flavor to tofu or a bowl of ramen. Not only does miso add a savory element to your dish, it’s also good for you. Because it’s a fermented seasoning, miso paste contains probiotics, healthy bacteria which may boost your immunity, promote a healthier gut and help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Ready to look for miso at the grocery store? Here are some of the different types you’ll come across:

  • White miso or shiromiso. This is the lightest miso and has the mildest flavor. (Buy it here.)
  • Red miso or akamiso. Red miso sees a longer aging time and has a more pronounced taste and higher salt content than its white counterpart. (Buy it here.)
  • Mixed miso or awasemiso. Red and white miso come together in this style, yielding a bold flavor. (Buy it here.)

Find more secret ingredients that will make you a better cook.

How Do You Cook with Miso Paste?

Miso paste is wonderfully easy to cook with. As an ingredient with a high umami factor, a little miso goes a long way to adding a satisfying, savory flavor to your dishes, much in the same way as bacon or mushrooms. There are obvious choices, such as slipping a couple of tablespoons of miso into a dressing, like in this ultra-tasty steak with Asian slaw. The salty paste also makes a killer contribution to meat marinades, especially when paired with other Asian condiments like rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and sesame seed oil. You can also use miso as a solo flavoring, like in this stunning miso-buttered succotash.

What exactly makes miso an essential in your pantry? Because of its savory profile, you can get creative with flavor combinations. You can’t go wrong with miso and ginger with fish. If you have a sweet tooth, a tiny dollop of miso serves as the perfect salty foil to a decadent chocolate or caramel dessert.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro in the kitchen or want to learn a few new tricks, miso paste is an essential ingredient to stock in your kitchen cache!

Camille Berry
Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director. This hospitality experience has given her a wealth of first-hand knowledge about how to pair all manner of drinks with food—plus some serious kitchen skills. These days, she's hung up her wine key in favor of a pen and covers all aspects of food and drink.