Miso (味噌) is a traditional fermented soybean paste used in Japanese cooking. Learn more about the common uses of miso, types, taste characters, and tips on buying and storing miso.
Miso (味噌), fermented soybean paste, is made from soybeans, grains (steamed rice or barley), salt, and koji culture (麹, a fermentation starter). It is left to ferment in cedar-wood kegs at ambient temperature for six months to five years.
The different colors of miso types are indicative of the different ratio of soybeans and rice used to make the miso and the length of the fermentation period. The longer the fermentation, the darker and richer the miso is. The taste, aroma, texture, and appearance of miso all vary by region.
Miso is usually categorized by 3 factors: ingredients, color, taste, and regions.
Miso Types by Ingredients:
1. Rice Miso (Kome Miso 米味噌)
It is made from soybeans, salt, and rice koji (米麹), and the majority of miso sold here in the US and Japan is this type.
2. Barley Miso (Mugi Miso 麦味噌)
It is made from soybeans, salt, and barley koji (麦麹), and has a very dark color and quite salty but very rich taste. Barley miso is naturally fermented for one to three years. These days this type of miso is not as popular as before. It is used in southern parts of Japan. It’s used for seasoning rich soups, stews, beans, sauces and spreads.
3. Soybean Miso (Mame Miso 豆味噌)
Soybean miso is only made from soybean, salt, and koji produced from soybeans. A special type of soybean miso is Hatcho Miso (八丁味噌). Hatcho miso has a distinctive soybean flavor and slightly sweet aroma. Hatcho miso should be aged for at least 16 months and it is reddish-brown, somewhat chunky. It’s used to flavor soups and sauce.
Miso Types by Color:
1. Red Miso (Aka Miso 赤味噌)
It is made from about 70% soybean and 30% rice or barley. The long fermentation period (about 1 to 1.5 years) produces darker colored, strong and salty miso. It contains about 13% salt by volume. Red miso contains the highest levels of protein of all types of miso.
Recipe suggestions: stir-fries, miso soups, and stews or to make marinades for meat, chicken, and vegetables.
2. White Miso (Shiro Miso 白味噌)
It is made from about 40% soybean and 60% rice or barley. It is a yellowish beige color and the fermentation period is shorter than for Red Miso. White Miso is slightly less salty and less robust in flavor than Red Miso. Of all miso varieties, the white miso contains the most carbohydrates and therefore tastes the sweetest and the texture is very smooth.
Recipe suggestions: light-colored soups, salad dressings, and marinades for fish.
3. Yellow Miso (Awase Miso 合わせ味噌)
It is a combination of Red Miso and White Miso and it’s all-purpose.
Recipe suggestions: almost everything
Miso Types by Taste:
The taste of miso is usually categorized into sweet (Ama Miso 甘味噌), mild (Amakuchi Miso 甘口味噌), salty (Karakuchi Miso 辛口味噌) based on the ratio of salt and koji used in miso.
Koji Miso (麹味噌)
This is my favorite type of miso. This miso is made with large quantities of koji, producing miso with a sweet and mild taste, a chunky texture, deep aroma, and rich flavor. Koji miso can be made of rice, barley, or soybean, but the ratio of koji used in miso is higher and koji grains are still visible.
Miso Types by Regions:
- Shinshu Miso 信州味噌 – Nagano area
- Saikyo Miso 西京味噌 – Kyoto area
- Hatcho Miso 八丁味噌 – Nagoya area
- Sendai Miso 仙台味噌 – Sendai area
Saikyo Shiro Miso has a light beige color and a distinctive sweet flavor. It’s sweet due to its low sodium content (about 5-10%). It’s made with more rice and fewer soybeans with a short fermentation period. Because of its mild flavor and less saltiness, it’s used to marinate fish and vegetables (Saikyo Yaki) and make a special New Year’s Soup called Ozoni (Kansai style).
Hatcho Miso is mostly consumed in Aichi prefecture (where Nagoya is in), part of Gifu prefecture, and part of Mie prefecture. You can purchase the miso throughout Japan, but it is rarely used in daily meals.
How to Store Miso?
The best way to store an opened tub of miso is to keep it in the refrigerator. Some unopened miso can be kept in a cool, dry place, away from lights and heat. Since there are so many different types of miso, always check the labels for storage instructions.
Either way, remember to seal the package tightly when not in use. Always use dry, clean utensils to scoop out the paste to prevent contamination and molds.
If you would like to store it in a freezer, the temperature must stay higher than 25F or -5C. At this condition, miso won’t freeze, but the taste and aroma are best preserved.
How Long Does Miso Last?
Since miso is a fermented food, you can generally keep miso for a long time. Once opened, make sure to store the miso in your refrigerator. As long as it’s good quality miso, the taste should be consistent for up to a year.
Miso doesn’t really go bad, but the color does turn slightly darker over time, especially in a warmer temperature. That is completely normal and doesn’t mean it has gone off. The taste does degrade if it has been kept for more than a year.
If you have stored your miso for over 1 year in the refrigerator, take a sniff, and examine the surface for molds. If it looks good, then the miso is still usable.
How to Tell if Miso Goes Bad?
If you notice any change in smell, color, or texture, or any spotty molds, it’s best to be safe and throw away the product.
There is no appropriate substitute for miso. If you’re allergic to soybeans, you can find miso paste made of other types of beans.
- ¼ cup (60 ml) = 72 grams
- 1 cup (240 ml) = 288 grams
- 1 tablespoon (18 g) of miso per miso soup bowl (200-240 ml dashi)
How to Use Miso (Recipes)
Miso is the key ingredient in miso soup, but it is also a very versatile seasoning. There are so many ways to enjoy miso! From marinades to sauces to baking, miso can so much more flavor to your dishes! Here are some of the delicious recipes using miso:
Make Your Own Miso Paste
Yes! You can also make your own homemade miso from scratch – with just 4 ingredients and a little patience! My simple step-by-step instructions on How to Make Miso will guide you through this process. Get the recipe here.
Best Brand For Miso Paste
I’ve been using miso from Hikari Miso® for over a decade and I’ve been partnering with the company for several years now. I use various types of miso from Hikari Miso® every day and I truly believe their miso is one of the best tasty miso available in Japan and in the US.
For more information about their products, visit HikariMiso.com.