Miso is a paste made of soybeans that have been boiled, crushed, and mixed with a culture made of wheat, rice, barley, or beans. The mixture ferments for up to 3 years. The paste is used for soups, ramen, sauces, marinades, and even dressings. While there are about 200 varieties of miso paste, the most common are red, yellow, and white versions. The darker the color of the paste, the stronger the flavor. There is also one other popular paste called awase miso, which is a combination of white and red paste. Read more about types of miso, miso history, how it is made.
While there is no "perfect flavor match" substitute for the pure flavor of miso we can offer some excellent alternatives.
White miso paste is the mildest of the three main types of paste. It is the lightest in flavor, salt, and sweetness and is commonly called for in recipes. If you usually make soups, dressings, and marinades, then this would be an excellent miso to stock at home. Another versatile option, if you only want to stock one paste, is to look for awase miso, which is the white and red pasted combined into one. If your recipe calls for white miso, you can use awase miso; just use a little less of it. (See where to buy below).
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1 cup canned refried beans
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons Marmite, Vegemite
1 tablespoon beer
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed for about 2 minutes, stopping the machine, to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula.
When the mixture is blended, to a uniformly smooth paste, transfer the contents of the blender to a shallow plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate until needed.
This substitute was suggested by a reader who swears by it. Source: Jennifer Brennan "Cuisines of Asia" Tumon., Guam 1984
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. You can purchase the very versatile awase miso paste online at Amazon.com: Awase Miso Soybean Paste.
Additionally, Amazon carries other varieties of the dough, including red, white, and yellow. You'll see that some come in smaller resealable pouches that are very convenient if you just use a small amount at a time. Look for organic and non-GMO products.
Miso has a very long storage life if kept in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Over time the flavor will deteriorate. The darker the miso paste, the longer it can be stored. Store red miso up to 9 months, and yellow and white up to 3 months, refrigerated.
Miso has been made in Japan for over 1000 years. Miso actually comes from China, where it is referred to as "Djan." 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 paste can be traced back to the 12th century. Originally, miso was a seasoning called hishio, which was a preserve made from salt fermented with various grains and beans.
The three types of miso are categorized by strength, flavor, and color.
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) is used for dipping sauces and soups or combined with other types of miso for a lighter result.
Miso will lose 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.
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 dependent 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.
The most common varieties of Miso found in the U.S are referred to as red miso, white miso or mixed (awase) miso. While there are over 200 varieties in Japan, we have pictured a few of the more popular types.
Shiro Miso (Saikyo Miso)
Used in Yuzu miso, karashi miso and Saikyo yaki