Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at different types of miso

[From the archives. This miso primer was published here last September (2008). I’ve added some notes about miso-based blends, especially sumiso or miso with vinegar.]

This is a post that has been a long time coming. I kept on holding it off until I had a good variety of miso on hand to show photos of. I can’t say I have a comprehensive selection to show you, but I hope you will find this article useful anyway.

Miso (味噌、みそ), as you probably know already, is a naturally fermented paste made by combining cooked soy beans, salt, and often some other ingredient such as white or brown rice, barley, and so on. The texture can range from smooth to chunky, and the color from a light yellow-brown to reddish brown to dark chocolate brown, and the flavor ranges from mildly salty and sweet to strong and very salty. It is packed with umami and protein, not to mention all sorts of nutrients.

Miso-like fermented bean products and pastes exist all over Asia, but here I will mainly limit myself to the most commonly used Japanese misos.

Some general rules of miso

The color can be a fairly good indicator of the strength of flavor, age and saltiness of the miso. Generally speaking, the lighter in color of the miso, the sweeter (less salty) it is. Light colored misos are also younger than dark colored ones in general.There are exceptions to this rule, but if you are confronted with a selection and don’t know which way to go, it’s useful to remember.

The longer a miso is aged, the deeper in flavor it gets, though it can get a bit odd if aged too long. Commercially available miso is usually aged from 6 months to 2 years. (Note: Many misos made by health-oriented companies (e.g. Eden Foods in the U.S., Clearspring in the UK) do not seem to be aged too long, and therefore lack depth of flavor. If you’re just eating miso for health reasons you may not care, but otherwise you are forewarned.)

You can keep unopened miso at room temperature indefinitely. Once opened, store well covered in the refrigerator - though it won’t go ‘off’ that fast really. Ideally you want to consume it within a year of purchase. (I’ve kept miso for 3 years in the fridge without any ill effects, but I don’t really recommend you do that!)

Major types of miso by color

  • Shiromiso (白みそ)or ‘white’ miso is the generic term for golden-yellow to medium brown miso. It is milder than other kinds of miso, with a slight sweetness. It’s the most versatile one for cooking purposes - you can use it for miso soups, miso marinades, and so on. If you can only afford one kind of miso budget-wise or space-wise, get a good shiromiso that is labelled ‘medium sweet’.

  • Akamiso (赤みそ)or ‘red’ miso is the generic term for miso that is a dark reddish-brown in color. It is usually (but not always!) more salty and assertive in taste than shiromiso. If you see a red-brown miso that is labelled a inakamiso (田舎味噌)or ‘country’ miso, you can be pretty sure that it will be strong in flavor and fairly salty.

  • Awasemiso (合わせ味噌)or ‘blended’ miso is just that, miso that combines two or more different types of miso together. This is also a good general choice if you don’t want to assemble a miso collection.

With or without dashi?

Since miso is so often used in conjunction with dashi stock, some misos already have dashi added to them. These are usually labeled dashi iri (だし入り). If you want to add your own homemade dashi, or you are a vegan and want to avoid any fish products in your miso (see vegan dashi), look for additive-free or mutenka (無添加)miso. If you can’t tell from the label whether it has dashi or not, look at the ingredient list - an additive free miso should only have soy beans, salt, rice or barley if they are used, and perhaps some fermentation ingredients (usually listed as koji (麹)).

Organic/not-GM?

If you want to be sure to get miso that is made from soy beans that are organically grown and not genetically modified, look for ones that say yuuki (有機). Most if not all miso that say mutenka (無添加)or additive-free are also non-GM . You may also encounter miso that says it’s made from kokusan (国産)or domestic (Japanese) soy beans; this usually (thought not always - so check!) means it’s made from non-GM, happy soy beans. (See above note about misos made by Western health-oriented companies.)

Gluten free?

Unless the miso contains barley (麦、mugi) or wheat (小麦、komugu) it is gluten-free, unless it has some not-traditional additives.

Some misos to look for by name

You may see a number of ‘brand’ names for miso, such as Shinshuu, Yamato, etc. Most of these names don’t really mean much except to indicate where the miso comes from - the differences are too subtle except for a diehard miso connoisseur. There are a couple that stand out though.

  • Hatcho miso (八丁味噌)is a type of miso made in the Tokai region (now the 3 prefectures of Aichi, Mie and Gifu). It was traditionally said to have been served to the emperor and is held in high regard. It’s an all-soybean miso, which is about medium on the sweet/strength/saltiness scale, and is a good general purpose miso.
  • Saikyo miso (西京味噌) is a golden yellow miso that was traditionally made in the Kyoto/Kansai region. It is naturally sweet - the sweetness comes from the sugar produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process, similar to amazake (甘酒). Makes a good dipping sauce or condiment, and is used as a sweet flavor in baked goods and so on by some Japanese vegan cooks. Does not keep as well as other miso types since it’s lower in salt, so you must refrigerate it. It’s very expensive! (I noticed that the Nobu restaurant group has a recipe online for ‘saikyo’ miso, but it uses white sugar! That’s just sweet miso sauce, not Saikyo miso.)
  • Moromi miso (もろみ味噌)is a mildly salty, chunky miso, usually with added grains of rice or barley that is meant to be eaten as a condiment rather than in cooking. It’s used rather like a dip on raw vegetables and things like that. (One of my teachers used to insist that moromi miso on raw cucumbers would make us smarter.)

Miso based sauces or blends

These are not pure misos, but are sauces or blends with miso.

  • Sumiso (酢みそ)is miso with added vinegar, sugar and mirin. It’s used as a condiment, marinade, and so on.
  • Miso blend for marinade, or misozuke (味噌漬け)is miso with added mirin, soy sauce, konbu seaweed, and so on. Commercial blends often have MSG or “flavor enhancers” in them.

How to get a good miso?

As with many things in life, generally speaking the more expensive a miso is, the better it’s going to taste. Do be sure you are comparing like-to-like when looking at prices though. Generally, special misos like Saikyo miso, or ones with special additives like brown rice miso, tend to be more expensive than general white, red or blended miso. Also, organic/additive-free misos tend to be a bit more expensive.

The only way to really know if a miso is good or not is to taste it. So, if you are trying out a new to you miso, try to get the smallest package possible and try it out.

You may think me prejudiced, and I probably am, but I do think that miso made in Japan generally tastes better than miso made elsewhere. Not to name names, but I’ve tried some non-Japanese brands, and they are lacking in depth of flavor, even if they are sometimes more expensive!

Making miso at home

I have not tried this myself yet, so I have nothing to show you, but you can make miso at home. All you need is soy beans, salt, some ko-ji (麹)(a sort of fermented rice starter), a big bucket, space, and patience - since you need to age the miso for 6 months to a year. You can find instructions on the interweb. (Maybe one day I will try making my own…)

What I have in my kitchen now

misomosaic.jpg

The top row shows the three misos I use the most: two types of shiromiso, and an awasemiso. One shiromiso is a big chunkier in texture and has brown rice in it; the other shiromiso and the awasemiso are both all-soy bean types. I use any of the three for most if not all the recipes here on Just Hungry or over on Just Bento. There’s no good reason for me to have two shiromisos and an awasemiso - I just like trying out stuff.

The second row shows misos I use a lot less. On the left is a Saikyo miso, and in the middle is some quite salty-strong akamiso. I use Saikyo miso in some baking experiments and as a sauce to go with stewed daikon radish and such. The red miso is used for some marinades and some miso soups.

Lastly, since I had a square to fill and I only have 5 kinds of miso on hand at the moment, I’ve included some Korean gochujang (or kochujang as it’s pronounced in Japan), although it’s not a miso at all. It is however a fermented soy bean paste with added wheat, spices and so on.As you can see much redder than the ‘red’ akamiso - since I use it almost as much as miso because I love it so much.

The basics of Japanese cooking and all that

What actually prompted me to finally post this was an article I saw elsewhere that was titled What Is Miso Paste? It stated that miso and rice for Japanese people are like ‘meat and potatoes for Americans’. Heh?

Sure, miso is part of Japanese cuisine. But you do not always eat miso, or always have miso soup, with a meal, if that was the analogy they were trying to use. Sure, soup is often served with a meal in Japan, but it can just as well be a clear soup as a miso soup. The real basis of Japanese cooking is rice, dashi and sa shi su se so. If you whittle it down to the bare essentials, a bowl of plain, white rice and something salty to go with it makes me feel Japanese through and through.

But enough of my whinging. If you have any questions about miso that I haven’t answered here, ask away!

See also

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Great info. Thanks for such

Great info. Thanks for such an excellent article.

Fuji Mama | 25 September, 2008 - 17:26

Aha!

Thank you for this long-awaited article! Halfway through reading it, I had to pull my new bag of miso from the refrigerator to compare the label with your list of types. Mine is shiromiso, from Japan, repackaged in San Francisco. My previous bag had a darker color and, after more than a year in the refrigerator, I tossed it out. While following your suggestion for making miso soup for bento use (heat water, mix in bowl with miso carried wrapped in a bit of plastic wrap) I also found out by experimenting with quantity that for me more miso is not better than less miso in a cup of soup. And, I had thought that kochujang was just another chili paste. Thanks for the useful information on your site.

SBS | 25 September, 2008 - 17:33

Re: Aha!

I know this post is really old but. . .I am shocked you threw out precious miso. : ( I have had mine in the fridge for literally years. Not only is it preserved by the large amount of salt in it, it is rather self-preserving. Only super high heat is able to destroy the enzymes and cultures as I understand it. I have never seen miso with mold or any problems but others may have. I get my organic miso from Natural Import Company online. Think about how it is and was made in Japan for centuries. No refrigeration and fermented for years in wooden vats! Just sayin'.

Fortuna | 13 June, 2013 - 02:52

Homemade Miso

Heh, ironically I was just thinking about miso because I am just about to start my own miso fermentation experiment. Oddly enough, I was able to obtain koji (the aspergillus starter) at one of my local Chinese markets and now I’m just trying to get a suitable container for the fermentation. Not sure how well this whole thing is going to turn out as it’s rather dry here in Arizona but lately the weather is getting slightly cooler so at least I don’t have to worry about frying my microbes! I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Reiko | 25 September, 2008 - 17:39

Which Chinese market di the koji come from?

Which Chinese market did you get koji from? I would love to get some here in SF. The only place I know is mail order through g.e.m. culture. Thanks!

Shane | 28 December, 2008 - 20:16

Great post.

When I first started cooking with miso, I didn’t really know the difference and was overwhelmed at the supermarket. Without knowing it, I ended up buying some shiromiso. Since then, I read up on it and have tried various kinds of shiromiso (there is a brand that we prefer), and other brands of miso not made in Japan (including two which are made in USA, one has chickpeas in it). I have read info about saikyo miso but have not been able to find it yet at the store. There are just so many brands of miso out there, the best like you said it to experiment with them.

Wakkun | 25 September, 2008 - 19:00

I loved your article, along

I loved your article, along with the great photos.
There are thousands of miso brands out there and sometimes its hard to decide just which one to buy, it really helps a lot to have some guidelines!

Miso is for the Japanese like what MEAT and POTATOES is for Americans?? Thats an audacious comparison!
I once read something where miso was being compared to butter. that makes much more sense to me, after all Miso is a basic seasoning in Japanese cooking,..it can be used to make soups, marinades, dressings,sauces, etc. Its a very versatile ingredient! Just like…butter! But then!! you could say that a cucumber for a japanese is the equivalent to bread for someone in France. (Maybe I should stop making analogies)

I´ve got a question. I´ve found that some makers label their miso as NAMA (生) or RAW. What is that supposed to mean?
I once tried NAMA Soy Sauce and it was good beyond words!
NAMA BEER is also good.

Capsai | 25 September, 2008 - 19:19

namamiso

Namamiso means that the miso has not been heat-treated to stop the fermentation process (many manufacturers do this to stop the miso from ‘breathing’, which can make the container swell up and things). So it’s ‘living’ miso - which means you do need to use it up a bit faster since it will continue to ferment and change.

maki | 25 September, 2008 - 20:31

Thanks!

I see! So…Nama Miso continues to ferment once you open it.

That probably explains why some miso I’ve had in my fridge for some time has started to develop alcohol aromas.
Its still edible, but doesn’t taste as good.

Capsai | 27 September, 2008 - 22:27

Thank you!

This is great! Thank you so much for this. I’ve ALWAYS wondered about the differences in miso and have never known. I’ll be bookmarking this thread for sure! Thanks!

Caroline | 26 September, 2008 - 00:56

Re: Thank you!

Wow! This is everything I ever wanted to know about miso... and many, many things I never wanted to know. Those Japanese really know what they're doing, don't they? chris brown

Mary Brennan | 27 October, 2009 - 12:37

Thank you

This is really great information. thank you for sharing this.
foodista fan

Alisa | 26 September, 2008 - 16:22

How sad I am to know that

How sad I am to know that you can keep miso that long without ill-effect. I just threw a big pack away because I had had it open in the fridge for over 18 months!

I’ll be keeping an eye out for moromi miso too. My host mother used to serve that with cucumbers all the time, but when I have tried to do the same with regular akamiso, the taste was far too strong. I guess I know what to look for now!

Peter | 26 September, 2008 - 23:52

Reporting Back

Maki,

Thanks again for this post. I went to the asian grocery store today and spent more time than I usually do in the miso section. Yay….I found the saikyo miso. Now, gotta get me some black cod when I get a chance and try making that sweet miso black cod. The brand of shiro miso that we like is not stocked at this particular store. I gotta go to another one later on to get me more shiro miso since I have only about a tbsp of it left in the fridge. I also could not make up my mind on what kind of awasemiso to get so I will look for that in the other store when I go….

Wakkun | 27 September, 2008 - 00:49

Any kind of firm, thick fish

Any kind of firm, thick fish would work instead of black cod too. Have fun with your miso :)

maki | 29 September, 2008 - 12:56

bakke miso?

great post, thanks for the info. Have you heard of bakke miso? I was in Tohoku near Kurikoma in Miyagi, and had something with this name inside onigiri. But none of my Japanese friends seem to have ever heard of it. Perhaps i heard it wrong, but i thought that’s what it was called. Any thoughts?

thanks much

bc | 28 September, 2008 - 18:52

ばっけ味噌 bakke miso

I didn’t know of it either, so I googled it and there it is! You learn something new every day :) Bakke miso is apparently is a Miyagi prefecture speciality made in the spring, by cooking butterburr sprouts (fukinotou) in a sweet miso-based sauce. Here’s a recipe in Japanese with photos: Sounds delicious!

maki | 29 September, 2008 - 13:01

looks great indeed! thanks

looks great indeed! thanks Maki-

bc | 30 September, 2008 - 18:25

Bakke Miso

Thanks for that informative link to the recipe. I tried making bakke miso from a Kyou no Ryouri recipe before but missed the precooking of the fuki no tou stage. It was terribly bitter and not very edible, even with extra sugar. It seems so obvious now… Do you know any other ways to prepare fuki no tou? I haven’t seen many ideas for it.

Malia | 1 October, 2008 - 09:18

fuki no tou

My mother likes to blanch fuki no tou, then cook it in the standard dashi-sugar-soy sauce combination. You do need quite a lot of sugar to counteract the bitterness though.

maki | 1 October, 2008 - 11:17

Storing Miso

Most of my favorite misos come packaged in heavy plastic bags. This is fine when they are almost full, but by the time you get to the middle or bottom, it’s a mess to measure out. And no matter how careful I was to scrape the sides, I’d end up with dried bits inside the bag. Cutting the bags down and then sealing in a ziplock bag helps, but now I just re-package the miso into plastic containers with the label stuck on top.

I use Saikyo miso to mix with other saltier misos.

Tess | 28 September, 2008 - 19:15

Very good idea, re-packing

Very good idea, re-packing into a plastic container! I often see in articles about being frugal in Japansese women’s magazines that cutting the bag carefully and them plopping the whole contents into a container is the best way to ensure you get every bit of it out.

maki | 29 September, 2008 - 13:15

Tokkara miso?

Hi Maki,

Interestingly, I was just reading a recipe that calls for a type of miso called tokkara and I was curious about it. I live in Boston and we have a good variety of Asian (and even specifically Japanese) grocery stores, but I’ve been unable to locate it. I’ve heard that it’s a specialty of a certain region of Japan, which may explain why it’s difficult to find. In any case, is there something similar that might be easier to find? Or could I make something that’s similar?

Thanks! I’ve read your blog for a long time and made many wonderful meals as a result (I am loving the pumpkin miso muffins right now!), but this is my first comment.

Best,
Jessica

Jessica | 29 September, 2008 - 03:36

とっから味噌 tokkara miso

Ah, another regional speciality miso! :) This time though it seems it is one that is aged with the added ingredients (green chili peppers, plus often yuzu) and it’s a speciality of the Shinshuu (信州)region (modern day Nagano prefecture and environs). Regional specialities like that unfortunately aren’t sold much outside of Japan…you’d have to get someone to smuggle some home with them if they go there.

maki | 29 September, 2008 - 13:12

hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. thanks for the information! i was at the asian grocery and i wanted to buy some miso, so your info came in handy! hahaha.

anyway, while i was there i saw this seasoning, which was in liquid form, it started with ryo and i dont know what it ended with. but anyway, i was interested in what it was, because it was in a liquid form! do you know what it is, and what its used to cook with?

anon. | 29 September, 2008 - 07:09

hmm…this time I’m

hmm…this time I’m stumped. Ryo could be a lot of things…how did the liquid look and what were the ingredients?

maki | 29 September, 2008 - 13:13

hmmm, well the brand i was

hmmm, well the brand i was interested in came in a clear green plastic bottle, but other brands had clear bottles and their liquid was coloured like white wine. but i’ll remember to write it down the next time i go to the supermarket!

anon. | 30 September, 2008 - 13:39

Re: hmmm, well the brand i was

Perhaps 料理酒 (ryōri-sake), which is simply seasoned sake for cooking? I have some that comes in a clear green bottle, and sake is about the color of white wine.

marnen | 24 August, 2011 - 05:56

Storing the miso

I read the previous comments about putting the opened miso in container or zipbloc bag and just wanted to share what I do. I used to leave the miso in the plastic bag and it dried out a bit and I got some wasted miso. Now, whenever I buy a new package, I open it and plop all the miso in a glass container with plastic lid. Once the miso is in the container, I smooth it and also before putting the lid, add a plastic saran wrap film and then close the lid. Have not had any miso wasted that way.
Am really enjoying the saikyo miso by the way. I ate some the other day with raw carrot.

Wakkun | 29 September, 2008 - 16:52

Storing the miso

I read the previous comments about putting the opened miso in container or zipbloc bag and just wanted to share what I do. I used to leave the miso in the plastic bag and it dried out a bit and I got some wasted miso. Now, whenever I buy a new package, I open it and plop all the miso in a glass container with plastic lid. Once the miso is in the container, I smooth it and also before putting the lid, add a plastic saran wrap film and then close the lid. Have not had any miso wasted that way.
Am really enjoying the saikyo miso by the way. I ate some the other day with raw carrot.
Thanks.

Wakkun | 29 September, 2008 - 16:52

Thanks for the informative

Thanks for the informative post! What varieties do you typically use to make miso soup?

It may be worth noting explicitly that the Korean gochujang (고추장) is actually a red pepper paste closer in taste to hot sauce (which you know because you use it a lot). For those yet to be initiated into the joys of Korean cuisine, this spicy and slightly sweet paste is unique to Korean cooking and bears little resemblance to miso, except perhaps in viscosity and in the fact that it also happens to be fermented. It’s the red stuff that comes in the bowl of bibimbap. Yum.

Korean varieties of miso are usually called doenjang (된장). I have had doenjang jigae, Korean miso stew, but I haven’t yet tried to cook with doenjang. I’m an American and that’s all I know, so I’ll stop here…

What do you use your gochujang for?

anon. | 2 October, 2008 - 05:17

I mostly use a midrange

I mostly use a midrange white miso for miso soup, since we have it fairly often and miso is expensive here!

I use kochujang/gochujang in stir-fries, in bibimbap of course, in soups, noodles…just out of the container… :P I really love it!

maki | 4 October, 2008 - 03:59

Just thinking...

Thanks for the post. I was just at the store last week staring at the shelves of miso trying to figiure out which to buy. I did narrow it down to non-gmo, non-msg, and low salt but I was overwhelmed b/c there were several like that. I honestly stood there for 5 minutes trying to figure it out. My little 3 year old patiently waited. I bought some shiro miso in the mid-priced range and it’s good. I love your site b/c it provides so many recipes using miso.

  • Kaori
koala brains | 4 October, 2008 - 03:46

Good, I thought I was the

Good, I thought I was the only one still digging into that tub of miso three years on from opening it!

Bdizzy | 21 October, 2008 - 12:45

Re: A Japanese miso primer

Your article is useful, thankyou, and friendly too. I came across your writing whilst searching for a recipe for Miso Potatoes. I still haven't found it but feel much more informed about the ingredients. Would you have a receipe up your sleeve?

anon | 30 January, 2009 - 01:52

Curious about Pre-Packaged Miso specifically for Soup.

Ever since I got to Japan, we went through some organic "Made in Japan Only" miso snobbery. ;) My husband really loves red miso, so we'd use that and add homemade dashi for soup, but it finally got to the point where the flavor, for me, was not the kind of sweet flavor I had come to love from restaurant style miso soups (which I guess are probably horribly cheap, mass produced misos, but I still love the sweet flavor!).

Today I went shopping for a specifically miso-soup-ready mix and found something that looked mass produced enough to possibly get me the flavor I wanted. A brand called Marukome. It's most definitely got dashi-iri and katsuo written all over it, so I'm going to hope this is the stuff, but if you had to recommend a ready-mixed miso, perfect for soup, which brand would it be? I sometimes don't have time to mix up a batch before my husband comes home from work, so it would be a nice thing to have a decent quality pre-mix in a pinch! ^_^

Saitoko | 20 February, 2009 - 06:13

Re: Curious about Pre-Packaged Miso specifically for Soup.

I really can't recommend a pre-mixed brand, because I don't use them. You're on your own there I'm afraid. (It's just as easy to use some dashi granules with regular miso in a pinch.)

maki | 20 February, 2009 - 11:48

Re: Curious about Pre-Packaged Miso specifically for Soup.

Check with Natural Import Company online. They have great miso of all kinds and all organic and live as I recall. I buy from them all the time and have never been disappointed.

Fortuna | 13 June, 2013 - 03:09

Re: A Japanese miso primer

I recently made and posted a picture of my results and a link to your recipe of the miso marinated asparagus.

A friend of mine on LJ who is allergic to soy posted back she made the recipe, only she used a miso paste made with adzuki! I had no idea such a thing existed, I'm wondering what that tastes like. I know adzuki can be kind of bitter unless you get rid of the skins and add sweetener....have you ever heard of this adzuki miso?

Rhiannon | 8 May, 2009 - 11:28

Re: A Japanese miso primer

I have heard of it, though I've never tried it. It's sold mainly by mailorder in Japan, as an alternative to regular soy and rice based miso. I don't know if it's available outside of Japan yet, but it's likely a natural food type of store will pick up on it sooner or later. It's said to be not as sweet as regular miso, which is not surprising if it doesn't use rice (fermented rice = kouji accounts for much of the underlying sweetness of regular miso).

maki | 8 May, 2009 - 12:04

Re: A Japanese miso primer

VERY INFORMATIVE
Thanks so much!
Wondering if you can help with a question, kinda vague :

I had some great BBQed Harami Beef strips recently that were marinaded in a Red Miso paste with sugar and I wanted to create this myself. I recall the marinade had more of a liquid texture so was wondering if something may need to be done to the red paste to make it more of a liquid marinade texture or it will break down on its own. Just wondering if any suggestions since new to working with red miso paste.

It was soooo good, it was a nice sweet and salty combo and am wanting to try and recreate

thanks much for anything you can suggest, i know it lacks details

Eric | 5 June, 2009 - 23:33

Re: A Japanese miso primer

You might want to mix some sake and/or mirin, or if you don't have those sherry, with the miso and sugar. The moisture in the meat will come out (due to the salt in the miso) and make the marinade more liquid too. Also see my recipe for miso marinated pork on Just Bento.

maki | 6 June, 2009 - 01:53

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Thanks for the info, I've just recently purchased my first shiromiso.

Although, I do wonder at what it is about GM foods you dislike?

deep | 23 October, 2009 - 17:57

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Very nice article. Definitely going into the bookmark list.

One question though. Do you have any ideas or suggestions as to what would be good for a newbie to miso? I've never, knowingly, had it before and am looking for a way to ease into trying it, as I've heard before that it can be a bit of an acquired taste.

Myrgon | 25 October, 2009 - 02:50

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

I hesitate to confess this, but I last year I finished the last of one of those plastic bags of miso that was over 15 years old. I had snipped off the corner of the bag and squeezed it out as needed, then it got lost in the back of the fridge. It was very しおっからい red miso, so I suppose that's why it hadn't changed much. Not that I'm recommending this...

anon. | 31 October, 2009 - 04:50

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

wonderful infos about different types of miso, thanks!

3hungrytummies | 3 November, 2009 - 10:28

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi Maki,

I went to Japanese restaurant, and tried raw salmon salad with miso dressing.
The dressing taste a bit spicy like tobasco and red in color.
Do you know what kind of miso is it, perhaps the recipe?

I really love it!!!!

cindy | 15 November, 2009 - 13:02

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Very useful article.

When I was in Amsterdam last week I bought a package of miso, but I'm not quite sure what kind of miso it is.. The label on the back says shiromiso, yet it looks a bit darker in colour to me. It looks like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoosvanrobin/3387915659/ (not my photo, but it's the exact same packaging.)

I haven't tasted it yet, either. But I WILL, using one of your awesome recipes. Thanks!

Emil | 25 February, 2010 - 14:11

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Did you know someone posted a song onto the internet asking exactly this same question?
http://www.timothyweber.org/miso
"shinshu honzukuri miso shiro"
The only place I could find it online in Japanese has this lighter version described as sweet white miso
http://www.tottoku.net/ie/guest.php?s=sn_goods_detail.html&t=sn_goods_de...
The photo on flickr shoes a slightly different kind which is described as "medium sweet"

Loretta | 25 February, 2010 - 20:22

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Guess mine's just a really dark kind of "white miso" then. I saw the lighter one you linked to as well as a very dark, reddish one in the store where I got mine, but bought the medium one because I needed a good, all-purpose mise, and don't use enough miso to have several big packages in use at once.. I do wish I had bought the lighter one, though, as I really want to try a sweeter, less salty kind of miso, and miso isn't all that easy to find here in Denmark..

The package I'm using right now is labelled as "Marufuji miso" in roman letters. Google told me there's a wrestler called Marufuji, but I found nothing about a kind of miso called Marufuji, unless it's named after the wrestler, I guess. :b It looks rather like the new one I got colour-wise though, so I guess it's a medium-sweet shiro miso as well.

Thanks for the help. ;]

Emil | 26 February, 2010 - 12:34

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Man oh man!

After recently moving to London, where there are surprisingly few Asian people and next to no good asian grocers, I picked up a bag of that Clearspring miso mentioned here, from the one sad shelf of "Japanese" food at my local branch of Whole Foods. I was a little skeptical, having never purchased a non-Japanese Japanese ingredient. Now I'm NO miso connoiseur, I'm not Japanese, but even to me... wow! I had no idea what I was getting into as I made my first miso soup with this stuff, adding the amount I normally would of my good old brand back home. I can only describe it as literally painful. Salt soup! No flavour whatsoever, just salt pain! And I love salt! The whole bag went right in the trash and I made the hour and 15 min. trip to Japan Centre to rectify the situation. I wholeheartedly urge all who read this to never venture down the sordid lane that is Clearsprings miso. What a disgusting product!

anon. | 12 March, 2010 - 03:35

Gochujang

おげんきですか。
I love all your blog posts and japanese... Everything!
This article made me want to try the 西京味噌 so badd.
By the way gochujang is a Korean condiment but it's red pepper paste, not fermented soybeans... I think you were meaning to say dwenjang.
I wanted to try typing 日本語 and couldn't resist.. :)

anon. | 18 September, 2010 - 20:43

Re: Gochujang

Hmm, I thought that gochujang was a combination of red peppers and soy beans fermented? Maybe I'm wrong... (I guess I should not really have included it in a roundup of miso in any case ^_^;)

maki | 24 September, 2010 - 20:24

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

I had chance that a friend of mine went to Oohara country, near Kyoto and bring me back a pack of miso that looked really great, goldyellow and the pack says it's a 2 years fermentation miso. After a month on the shelf left unopened, the miso color has changed into a ruby one. Has this spoiled?? I'm feeling very guilty of having waited long before eating it and that I have to throw it away :(((

Apest | 24 September, 2010 - 12:27

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Well, the best way to see if it has spoiled is to open it up and sniff it. If it tastes rotten or off in any way it probably has spoiled; if not, give it a taste and see if it's edible! I have no idea why it changed color since I haven't seen it myself.

maki | 24 September, 2010 - 20:18

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Thanks a lot, I'll try this evening...
Let you know tomorrow, if i'm still alive :))

Apest | 27 September, 2010 - 14:28

MSG in Miso?

Hi Maki,
I already experimented with miso a little bit and wanted to have some shiromiso to compare to the akamiso I had used previously. I didn't think about it a lot since I thought that most Japanese products are rather naturally made and that I had to try several brands to get an idea how good miso should taste for me. So I bought some "light" shiromiso in my local Asia store.
At home I read the list of ingredients: Besides "normal things" like salt etc. there is MSG and color in there as well. Is that an indicator for a "bad" miso?
I enjoy reading your blog a lot and I never came over any too salty or tasteless recipes (when I thougt there lacked salt, soy sauce etc, I just added it; maybe this is why). I'm really glad that someone makes such an effort to bring Japanese cooking to the world. Thanks a lot!

anon. | 1 October, 2010 - 11:07

Re: MSG in Miso?

The miso you have is most likely the type that has added flavorings and is sold as 'ready to use' without adding dashi stock. That accounts for the MSG. Not all Japanese products are good and 'natural' - you still have to look at the ingredients I'm afraid.

maki | 3 October, 2010 - 01:01

Re: MSG in Miso?

Organic miso that I get from Natural Import Company has no MSG. Organics don't use it.
My hubby is very sensitive to MSG and has a very bad effect if he has it in his food. Good aged miso needs no MSG.

Fortuna | 13 June, 2013 - 03:05

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi Maki, I've a tub of 西京味噌 that is going to expire end of Feb. As I only cook once every two weeks, I need to find a way to quickly finish it up. Do you have any recommendation of how to use the miso up quickly? Perhaps something like a sauce etc which I can make first and freeze it up and keep till after Feb? Many thanks for your help!

mei | 8 January, 2011 - 17:02

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

First of all the miso will probably be perfectly fine after the expiry date - which is more of a 'best by' date rather than 'eat at your own risk beyond this point' date. But if you want to use it up anyway, make it into a marinade for fish filets or meat (pork or beef filets). Use the method described here. You can omit the ginger if you like, and the sugar too since saikyo miso is already pretty sweet.

maki | 9 January, 2011 - 05:19

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Excellent post!
I've been eating/cooking all kinds of miso without paying much attention to them. I knew they can be light, dark, sweet, less or more salty but that was about it.

Last week I bought organic namamiso for the first time and made miso soup at home amazing flavors with an almost grainy texture! I think I found my favorite miso :)
Good to learn that nama means raw
Cheers,
Heguiberto

weirdcombos | 8 February, 2011 - 00:42

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi. I live in a small country where too find Japanese related stuff is really really hard. I was really lucky to find some kind of miso paste in a small Asian store. It was the only miso that they sell. The whole package was in Japanese with a white sticker on the back. On the sticker was explanation of the miso in my language. But still, not enough information for me.
In the ingredient list it was written: 60% rice, soy beans, salt, water, alcohol. I fought that it was a strange ingredient list. I've wrote some Kanji on a paper (how to read from what soybeans it is made, and does it have MSG or dashi in it) and went the other day. But I couldn't find any of them on the package. I really wanted to make miso. But I am a bit afraid to buy it. Don't really know what to do. Maybe you could help me? I was even thinking of taking a photo of the package.

Anna | 2 July, 2011 - 14:28

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

I made my first miso soup today. I have had the 'flu and lost a bit of weight and felt this was really the time to re start my attempt at an Okinawan diet. I did not have any fish stock so as a basis for my first miso soup I used a pack of chicken noodle soup, added mushrooms, wakame seaweed, sugar snap peas, tofu, and a tablespoon of shiro miso in probably .75 liter of soup.
I found it very salty, but maybe because I started with the chicken noodle soup that would have had salt in it too.
Anyway, my question is, how long can I keep the made up soup now? I understand it would normally be made in bulk and used over time, but not sure if that is after the miso is added?
Thanks.
Angela.

Eurpax | 23 August, 2011 - 21:56

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Thanks a bunch for the informative article! I've recently started cooking with Miso, and this gave me a lot of good information about it and a place to start. Hope you don't mind, I linked your article to my blog so my readers could get a lot more info than I'm able to give them. Cheers! :)

Rachel | 31 August, 2011 - 19:20

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

What percentage of miso sold in the states are unpasturized? If my miso doesn't say Nana, or otherwise indicate if it is raw vs pasturized, is it a good bet it has been pasturized, or is it just the other way around. I ask because I love whole foods that are still microbiologically active. It's a problem in the USA with the tough pasturization regulations.

Randy | 3 January, 2012 - 00:12

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Just found your wonderful article on miso through a link left by a reader of Mark Bittman's miso article today in the New York Times. He offers some inspired recipes using miso.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/magazine/miso.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=gen...

For all you who wonder about miso that is past dated: my miso has sat neglected in the fridge since 2008! Now, with Bittman's article and this one, it will be put to good use. It looks, smells and tastes fine due to being stored in well sealed containers.

Kathleen | 10 March, 2012 - 17:01

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Yum! Great article. I've been making and enjoying miso for years.

We had a big pot of miso soup the other day with tofu, scallions, wakame seaweed, and soba noodles. At the table, I added a dash of sesame oil.

I also enjoy miso on bread or crackers. I've recently been buying a more expensive, lighter, and sweeter variety. It doesn't matter as much for soup, in my opinion, but otherwise it's a huge improvement.

In SF, we're so lucky to have Asian markets, Rainbow Grocery, and Cha-Ya (a vegan Japanese restaurant). As a vegetarian, I don't eat miso soup in restaurants very often, because it's typically non-veg.

cyberbrook | 15 March, 2012 - 06:19

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

A bought a plastic package of Mitoku Brand Marukura Organic White Miso at a Macrobiotic conference almost 3 years ago. Sorry to say I've never opened it and it has been stored in the cupboard. I can't remember what color it was when i bought it but now it is a dark brown. After reading a lot of the posts it seems that since it is unopened it should be Okay to use but I am just wondering if white miso is sometimes brown or if it has changed color...any ideas?

Diane | 18 March, 2012 - 23:58

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

'White' miso is a misnomer really...it is usually a medium to light brown. If the miso hasn't been opened it may be ok. Open it up and take a good sniff; if it smells moldy, or sour, throw it out, otherwise it's probably fine. (And refrigerate it after opening!)

maki | 19 March, 2012 - 23:46

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Great article thank you. But I have a health question. I read that longer miso ferments are healthier and since I'm fighting autoimmune disease I'd like to know which brand you would recommend for me. I have a shiro style by Cold Mountain (miyako oriental foods) and it says nothing about how long it's been aged, but we love the flavor. So if you could recommend a yellow aged miso id be grateful.
Thanks

Michelle. | 11 December, 2012 - 02:48

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hello,

I live in Japan and have recently bought two miso pastes. One is light red in colour and says something in Kanji with 100%. The other is darker brown and says 15%. I like the brown, 15% one better. Do you know what these numbers mean? I'm having a hard time matching the kanji.

Thanks so much!
Lindsay

Lindsay | 16 January, 2013 - 16:51

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Upload a picture of the miso somewhere and I'll take a look! Better than guessing at what the numbers might be.

maki | 16 January, 2013 - 19:55

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi. I live in South Africa and I've been looking for miso for months and finally found some last week. I can't read most of the package, but the ingredients are non-gmo soybeans, rice and salt. I found it on their website and there's a bit of information, but I don't know what type of miso it is. It looks like the ones at the top right of your photos. Could you look at the link and tell me if you know, please? Could I possibly email you a photo of the back of the package because there seems to be quite a lot of information with pictures of different foods? Thank you. http://www.kongyen.com.tw/en/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage...

Natasha Venzke | 5 February, 2013 - 14:51

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

It's not a Japanese brand of miso, although it seems to be a Japanese type miso. All the descriptive text (the small text) is in Chinese. Since it's a Taiwan site I guess it's made in Taiwan. Sending me the back of it probably won't help at all since I can't read Chinese ^_^ But you can probably use it as an all-purpose miso for soups, marinades and such. (Taiwanese people eat quite a lot of Japanese dishes.)

maki | 5 February, 2013 - 19:28

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi Maki; I've been enjoying your blogs and learning new cooking techniques. Yum yum Japanese food! Thanks for all the work you've been sharing with us. I often get the "health food store" chickpea miso because its made without soy. Very mild stuff. It is great on toast instead of butter! Next time I visit the Asian market I will look for organic Japanese miso...thanks for the info about that. Last year I made my own Gojuchang. Pretty easy and wow is it delish! A friend made some miso last year; it is tasty....on my list of things to do! Thanks again for your wonderful blogs.

Be Grim | 29 March, 2013 - 19:20

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

This post really helped out when I went to the grocer looking for some miso the other day! I bought some awase type miso to try first since it seemed like a pretty good all-purpose choice. I didn't notice until I had brought it home however that it also had dashi in it (I guess I should read the labels more closely next time). So is there a different way to make miso soup if the paste already has dashi? Or do I still need to make the bonito dashi for the base? Sorry if this is a 'duh' question. :)

Brnn | 31 March, 2013 - 10:09

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

I know this is a late post but. . .You can add dashi if you want but it has probably been made so you don't have to. It is noted on the package for those people who don't want fish in their miso or are vegan. I sometimes make my own dashi just because I like it. Anyway, it is personal taste.

Fortuna | 13 June, 2013 - 03:17

organic chickpea miso supplier in southeast asia

Does anyone know of a company in Southeast Asia (especially Thailand), that produces organic chickpea miso? Thanks.

anon. | 20 February, 2014 - 15:09

Learning about miso

Dear Maki
Our family of three spend enough time and traveled with in Japan to know culture,food habits and much more.Our friend the wonderful Maki Ukawa native to Osaka,found and rented a place for us to stay. the next day she brought us a miso and few other things to start.That was about 25 years back. Last week I was at H mart looking at miso section,it was so many brands and confusing. buying is simple,use few times to recollect the past time we spend in Japan, but miso will stay in the refrigerator for a year or two, good to know it's basics what to look for and all the information. Pleasure to read good article, Maki your article is more than good,if one wants to educate about miso, certainly your article impressed me to buy miso again. Thanks Best wishes. Paramasivam

Paramasivam | 25 February, 2014 - 21:20

Re: Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at ...

Hi. :)
I'm a newb--and therefore somewhat clueless, BUT
it sounds to me like miso is just another form of soy sauce.
Other than being thicker, how is it different?

Byron | 16 March, 2014 - 16:52

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