Miso 101: Types, Benefits, Recipes & More!

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Assortment of types of miso for comparing their flavor

Miso is a magical ingredient and one we always have on hand. It’s versatile, provides incredible umami flavor, and is rich in probiotics. So we wanted to share more about it, including its origins, how it’s made, the different types, health benefits, and how to use it (including recipes!).

About Miso

It’s believed that miso originated in China and was introduced in Japan more than 1,300 years ago by Buddhist priests. It was made with fermented mixtures of salt, grains, and soybeans and used as a way to preserve food during warmer months.

It has since become a staple in Japanese cuisine and is made with a variety of ingredients including rice in the north, sweet white miso near the once-capital of Kyoto, soy in the central Aichi prefecture, and barley in the south (source). Fun fact? In Japan, there are over 1,500 miso factories (source).

In the US, miso can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores and Asian markets.

How Miso is Made

Before we explain how miso is made, it’s important to know it has three components: soybeans, salt, and koji. You’re probably familiar with the first two, but what’s koji?

Koji is made from a type of beneficial fungus called Aspergillus oryzae that grows by breaking down the starch in rice, barley, or soybeans. Most commonly, rice is used.

The koji is then mixed with boiled, mashed, cooled soybeans, plus salt and warm water. It’s stirred until it resembles a soft dough. And then it’s covered, sealed, and allowed to ferment in a cool, dark place. Once fermented, miso will keep for up to several years.

Spoonfuls of different types of miso paste

Types of Miso

There are different types of miso available and products vary in flavor by brand. This is due to differences in the ratio of soybeans, salt, and koji as well as how long the mixture is fermented.

Based on our research and personal experience, here’s what we’ve found in terms of how they vary:

  • Shiro (white) miso – sweetest, mild-tasting, and usually less salty
  • Aka (red) miso – stronger flavor and usually more salty
  • Mugi (yellow) miso – earthy, mild-tasting, fermented with barley
  • Chickpea miso – to our knowledge, this is not a traditional preparation of miso but is a soy-free alternative. The flavor resembles shiro (white) miso.

Our favorite brand/type is Miso Master Chickpea Miso because it’s mild, perfectly salty, and umami. Our second favorite is Shirakiku White Miso, which is slightly more bitter but has nice umami flavor. We didn’t prefer the more bitter taste of Miso Master Red Miso or the acidic taste of Miso Master White Miso.

Tubs of white, chickpea, and red miso

Health Benefits of Miso

Miso is rich in minerals like zinc, copper, phosphorous, and manganese, as well as vitamin B2, vitamin K, choline, and omega 3s. Soy miso also contains phytonutrient antioxidants (source).

As a fermented food, the Aspergillus oryzae in miso aids digestion by helping break down food into smaller molecules. Consider it your digestion sidekick. Some products also contain other friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus or Bacillus subtilis that may further support digestive health (source).

Research also suggests that daily miso consumption may contribute to a lower risk of stomach cancer and heart disease.

Mixing vegetable broth and miso in a bowl

How To Use Miso

Miso is delicious added to soup, ramen, sauces, marinades, or any time you want to add salty-umami flavor. It goes well in many Asian-inspired dishes.

How Long Does Miso Last Once Opened?

Opened miso is best stored in the refrigerator, where it should keep for anywhere from 3-6 months (sometimes much longer). You’ll know it’s gone bad when the smell, color, or taste is off or unusual, or there is visible mold. Because it is “alive” with enzymes and probiotics, it’s always best to use it as close to opening as possible for best flavor and health benefits.

Can You Freeze Miso?

Yes, you can freeze miso, but we don’t find it necessary since it keeps for such a long time in the refrigerator (at least 3-6 months, sometimes more). However, if your miso is nearing its expiration date or you know you won’t be able to use it in time, simply scoop it into an ice cube tray for easy-to-use, pre-portioned amounts, cover, and freeze. It likely won’t get entirely firm and will retain some malleability. Then store in an airtight container to ensure freshness. It will keep its flavor and most of its probiotic integrity for up to 3 months.

Miso Recipes

Bowl of Simple Miso Soup made with greens and tofu
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15-Minute Miso Soup with Greens and Tofu
An inspired take on Japanese miso soup with tofu, green onion, and loads of greens. Just 15 minutes from start to finish, and so flavorful and comforting.
Make The Recipe
Bowl of our Miso Tonic made with homemade vegetable broth
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Gut-Calming Vegetable Broth (+ Miso Tonic)
When an upset stomach has you down, this is just the remedy: 1-Pot Gut-Calming Vegetable Broth with ginger, spices, and seaweed. Plus, a 3-ingredient miso tonic for a kick of flavor and comfort.
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Skillet of Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Miso Glaze
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Miso-Glazed Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Quick and delicious roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and a savory-sweet miso glaze. Crispy edges, tender center, and BIG flavor! Just 30 minutes and 8 ingredients required.
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Bowl of Easy Vegan Ramen made with tofu and vegetables
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Easy Vegan Ramen
Amazing, 10-ingredient vegan ramen made with 1-pot mushroom broth, crispy tofu, and miso-roasted vegetables. A hearty, satisfying, and delicious plant-based meal.
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Using chopsticks to pick up a bite of delicious Coconut Curry Ramen
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Coconut Curry Ramen
Savory vegan ramen infused with curry and coconut milk. Serve with sautéed portobello mushrooms and gluten-free noodles for the ultimate plant-based meal.
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Bowl of roasted butternut squash, miso brussels sprouts, and millet next to tahini sauce, garlic, and vegetables
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Butternut Squash & Miso Brussels Sprouts Nourish Bowl
A vibrant and versatile nourish bowl with roasted butternut squash, caramelized miso Brussels sprouts, and stir-fried grains and greens. Top it off with our rich and complex garlicky tahini sauce for the ultimate plant-based meal. Just 30 minutes required!
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Bowl of Ginger Garlic Miso Tahini Dressing with a swirl of toasted sesame oil
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Quick Ginger Garlic Miso Tahini Dressing
Creamy, rich tahini dressing infused with fresh ginger, garlic, and miso paste. Perfect for topping salads, bowls, and more. Just 10 minutes and 8 ingredients required!
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Gluten-Free vegan Crispy Miso Chickpea Bowl with fresh vegetables and brown rice
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Crispy Miso Chickpea Bowls with Garlic Sesame Dressing
Wholesome, satisfying bowls with warm cooked grains, crispy miso chickpeas, fresh veggies, and a tangy garlic sesame dressing! Just 10 ingredients and simple methods required.
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Using salad tongs to pick up a serving of our delicious Kale Caesar Salad with Crispy Chickpeas
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Chickpea Caesar Salad
This Chickpea Caesar Salad is ready in just 30 minutes! Kale provides a hearty base while the zesty cashew Caesar dressing brings the whole dish to life. The perfect side to any main!
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Bottle of homemade Vegan Fish Sauce on a blue linen with ingredients used to make it
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5-Ingredient Vegan Fish Sauce
Need a plant-based substitute for fish sauce? This is it! Just 5 ingredients required, ready in less than 30 minutes, and perfectly salty and tangy. Great for Thai-inspired dishes and beyond!
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Using a spoon to smooth the top of a bowl of Korean-Inspired homemade Gochujang sauce
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Easy Gochujang Sauce (Korean Chili Paste)
Easy-to-make Korean-inspired Gochujang sauce that’s vegan, gluten-free, naturally sweetened, and soy-free! Just 5 minutes, 5 ingredients, and 1 blender required.
Make The Recipe

If you give any of these recipes a try, let us know! Leave a comment, or take a picture and tag it #minimalistbaker on Instagram.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. DeeDee says

    I was just trying to figure out what kind of miso to try, so I’m glad I found this article! I hope I can find the chick pea one in my area – it sounds perfect for me. I appreciate the recipes too!

  2. sherry says

    i’ve only just found out recently that miso can be made from other things than soy beans. I bought a trio of misos – one made with garlic, and one with peanuts. very tasty!

  3. Jennifer says

    Thank you for the info on the different miso’s. I’m definitely going to try some of these recipes this week. We love your recipes and often recommend you to friends who are vegan and vegetarian.

  4. Christine says

    Thank you for this information on Miso. I was afraid to even try it since I really didn’t know exactly what it was – I avoided all recipes with miso.
    Now I can branch out a bit and see if I like the stuff.

      • Kristi says

        Truly enjoy all your posts. The ones on ingredients like miso and vegan fish sauce are really helpful. I bought matcha and moringa after your post and now have a new morning ritual. Thanks so much! I send out a newsletter to a small group of vegan or aspiring vegan friends and I always credit or reference you. Keep up the good work!

  5. Lynne says

    Thank you so much for this MISO education! I never knew what it was before, but I see it in many recipes. Because the recipes usually just call for a small amount, I’ve just left it out because I didn’t want to buy a container that would be mostly wasted. Good to know that it lasts several months once opened. Could you please suggest a substitution for MISO if I don’t want to buy a container when I only need a small amount? Thanks! Oh, and I enjoy your recipes!

    • Support @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Lynne, we’re so glad it’s helpful! It will depend on the recipe, but coconut aminos or tamari can sometimes work, but isn’t quite the same flavor profile.

      • Hirono says

        You can keep miso relatively fresh by putting it in a sealed container and placing a piece of cooking sheet just big enough to cover the surface of the miso. This will significantly prolong the time it takes miso drying out and changing color/taste.

      • B says

        Miso lasts a VERY long time once opened in fridge as it is a fermented product. It lasts MONTHS . Using it in Miso broth/soup is a good way to use it up faster, OR, Minimalist Baker’s Gochujang sauce is AMAZING!!!

    • Support @ Minimalist Baker says

      It will be in a refrigerated area. We’ve seen it near the produce section, but also near tofu and hummus!

  6. Kathi says

    I would think that cooking a dish after adding miso will destroy the beneficial probiotics, so I mix with a little water and add to partially cooled soups/stews. Do you know at what temperature the probiotics are destroyed?

    • Support @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Kathi, yes! We like to do that as well. Based on our research, they seem to survive up to 115 F.

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