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 from 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 the 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.
There is no appropriate substitute for miso.
You can keep the miso for up to one year in the refrigerator or freezer.
- ¼ cup = 75-80 grams
- 1 cup = 300-320 grams
- 1 tablespoon (20 g) of miso per one miso soup bowl (200 ml dashi)
- 15 Delicious Miso Recipes
- Homemade Miso Soup
- Miso Cod
- Miso Ginger Pork
- Miso Chicken
- Homemade Miso
- Miso Salmon
- All-Purpose Miso Sauce
- Miso Ramen
Full Disclosure: 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.