bowl of miso paste
photo credit: zkruger

About Miso

Even today miso soup is the breakfast of many people in Japan.  Miso is one of the oldest traditional ingredients of the Japanese diet.  According to author Emi Kazuko the ingredient can be traced back to the 12th century.  The early product, a seasoning, was called hishio which was a preserve made from salt fermented with various grains and beans.

Three Main Grades

The three types of miso are categorized by strength, flavor and color. 

  • Shiro Miso - White in color, light in strength and made from rice
  • Aka-Miso - Red color, medium strength, made with barley
  • Kuro-Miso - Black color, strong flavor, made with soy beans

Flavor Profile and Uses

Miso has a delightfully strong fermented flavor when used judiciously, provides flavor to soups, sauces, dressings, marinades and ramens to name only a few uses.  In many cases miso is combined with dashi (a fish stock) for simple soups.

The stronger flavored miso (kuro-miso) are used for dipping sauces and soups or combined with other types of miso for a lighter result.

General Cooking Notes

Miso will loose its flavor if cooked for too long so it is best to add it toward the end of the cooking process.  Use only a small amount in soups or the flavor may be overpowering. Avoid the use of salt in recipes that use miso.

Store Miso

Miso has a very long storage life if kept in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.  Over time the flavor will deteriorate.

How Miso Is Made

Miso has been made in Japan for over 1000 years.  Miso actually comes from China where it is referred to as "Djan". 


The manufacturing process begins by making the koji.  The koji is prepared by fermenting rice, barley or soybeans and adding the koji bacillus.  As the grain decomposes, it then recomposes to form a fermented mold-covered grain called koji.  Koji is also used in the production of sake and soy sauce.

The quality of the final Miso product is totally dependant on the quality of the koji.  During the fermentation process the grain starch and protein are converted into sugar.  Yeast (kobo) is added to facilitate the fermentation process.

The different types of miso are produced by using different grains as well as different bacteria found in different regions of Japan.  Miso is traditionally produced in Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Miso Varieties

The most common varieties of Miso found in the U.S are referred to as red miso,  white miso or mixed miso.   While there are over 200 varieties in Japan we have pictured a few of the more popular types.
shiro miso

Shiro Miso (Saikyo Miso)

Type: Rice
Used in Yuzu miso, karashi miso and Saikyo yaki

shunsu aka miso Shunshu Aka Miso

Type: Rice
Used in miso soup
shunshu miso Shunshu Shiro Miso
Type: Rice
Used in miso soup and miso sauce
aka miso Aka Miso
Type: Soybean
Used in Degaku miso and miso sauce
mugi miso Mugi Miso
Type: Barley
Used in miso soup

Nutrition Information For Miso

Serving Size
1 cup
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g
Saturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 10252mg
Total Carbohydrate 73g
Dietary Fiber 15g
Sugars 17g
Protein 32g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Where To Buy

Miso can be found in small sealed tubs at most well-stock grocery stores as well as health food stores.  Trader Joe's Markets, and Whole Foods carry miso.  Miso is easily found in Japanese markets.

Basic Miso Soup

  • 1/8 oz wakame (seaweed)
  • 10 /14 soft or silken tofu
  • 14 fl oz dashi stock
  • 1/3 tablespoon miso
  • 2 green onions
  • shichimi togarshi or sansho powder (optional condiments)
  1. Soak the wakame in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes.  Drain and chop into "stamp" sized pieces.
  2. Cut the tofu into 1/2" strips then cut horizontally into squares.
  3. Bring the dashi stock to a boil.  Put the miso in a small cup and mix with 4 tablespoons of hot stock.  Reduce the heat to low and pour two-thirds of the miso into the pan of stock.
  4. Taste the soup and add more miso to taste.  Add the wakame and the tofu and increase the heat until the soup comes to a boil, add the onions and remove from the heat.  Serve sprinkled with togarashi or sansho as desired.

Sources And Credits

Marukome - Manufacturers in Japan since 1854. Produces several varieties of miso.  All images of miso varieties are copyright of Marukome.

Japanese Cooking: By Emi Kazuko and Yasuko Fukuoka


Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.