All About Miso

January 22, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Tips and tricks on how to differentiate, use, and store miso.

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Not too long ago, you couldn't find miso at your local grocery store. Now it's practically everywhere, hanging out in the tofu section and snuggling up in your cheese drawer. You might be a miso expert -- or you might know nothing about it other than the fact that it's dense, brownish, and not really edible with a carrot stick or cracker.  Either way, here's where you can start:  

Miso Basics

Miso paste is essentially a mixture of cooked soybeans, a fermenting agent, some salt, and water. Think of miso as similar to beer; ranging from ivory to a deep chesnut, the taste can vary from mild to full-bodied and rich. There are many kinds of miso out there. A general rule of thumb: richness intensifies as the color gets darker. 

White miso, one of the more familiar types of miso, has rice as its main ingredient and a small percentage of soybeans. Its fermentation time is also the shortest, making it a mild and slightly-sweet miso -- perfect for tasty dressings and light marinades

Yellow miso is the middle ground miso -- not too strong and not too mild, this type is fermented with mostly barley and a small amount of rice, and does well with almost everything, including soups, marinades and glazes. 

Red miso has been fermented the longest, and can range from a red to a deep brown color. The flavor is concentrated and intense -- a little goes a long way. Use this miso with heartier dishes and meaty, sturdy vegetables like eggplant and asparagus

How to Use It

Miso can be whisked into dressing, made into soupdrizzled on kale, blended into butter, and even incorporated into caramel sauce -- the options are endless. 

How to Cook with Miso

Very rarely will you use miso alone because of its high salt content and potent flavor. Think of it as a piece rather than a whole, and keep in mind -- miso doesn't blend seamlessly into oil, so a blender is your best friend if you prefer an extra smooth consistency. 

Avoid boiling miso directly, which is said to "spoil" it, killing some of the aroma and flavor (this goes with melting it, too). If you are adding miso to a simmering liquid, gradually add the paste a little at a time and continue stirring, keeping the heat at a low temperature.  

How to Store it

Like cheese, miso does best when stored properly. After opening, the surface should be covered with plastic wrap, or the seal from the package should be touching the surface.  

For dinner tonight: Start with a no-frills miso dressing.  

Do you have any tips or tricks for using miso? What's your favorite kind? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Honeybun411
  • Jen S
    Jen S
  • Pamela_in_Tokyo
  • J C Hotchkiss
    J C Hotchkiss
  • thomas A
    thomas A
Writer, Fooder, Blogger. New Yorker turned Cape Coder.


Honeybun411 February 4, 2017
This is not a comment, but a question! I was wondering if this "miso" is what people use to dip meats, vegetables etc. to cook a bit and eat? Or would that be some type of Chinese soup??
Jen S. June 21, 2015
I made the ranch w/the brown. Tangy and tasty. I will be experimenting w/this recipe. I added dill, which the recipe did not call for, but I thought...ranch and all...lesson learned is dill+miso=not so much. It was still a nice dip for crudite, however.
Pamela_in_Tokyo June 20, 2015
White miso here is japan is almost like mashed beans with salt added. It is that un-misolike. The red will be much stronger and saltier. Add less of it.
J C. June 20, 2015
I keep both the 3 year barley and South River's white around all the time, and value each for its own special qualities. The 3 year is mellow and rich, and so perhaps a bit heavy as a substitute for a "ranch" style dressing. That said, I'd certainly give it a try. It might make a fine - stronger, richer - variant. Definitely less salt.
Jen S. June 20, 2015
I'm excited to give it a shot! and I really should pay more attention because I have a jar of their brown in there, which is milder and would probably be great w/this.
Jen S. June 20, 2015
I am a crazy miso fan, and available locally to me is South River three year barley, which I'd say is somewhere between a yellow and a red...? It's darker than a yellow but nowhere near the dark red/brown varieties. I'd like to try a new recipe, a non-dairy ranch dip that calls for white. Can I sub what I have and go by taste? I would assume that would work but hoped for some insight here. Thanks!
Joy B. June 20, 2015
that sounds like it could work! i might dial down on the salt (if it's included) because miso can be quite salty p.s. that dressing sounds delicious.
Jen S. June 20, 2015
I can't wait to try it. I'm making that along w/roasted carrot and red lentil hummus for a family thing tomorrow. I feel like I'll be loading up on dips and salads...who needs BBQ?? I'll have to update :)
thomas A. February 28, 2014
Been loving Miso for the past two decades. For those who do not know....The best source for it in America is South River Miso(google them up). They make amazing authentic unpastureized Misos with variety of flavors, grains, beans, ages,. Their Red Pepper and Garlic is most wonderful
Kate February 4, 2014
Having a hard time finding white miso live in k c mo Would like some help
Joy B. February 5, 2014
Is ordering some online an option for you?
camille April 14, 2015
I don't know about kc mo specifically, but I just picked some up in overland park from 888 market (on the west side of 69 on 119th st
Cheryl January 27, 2014
Miso is a live culture food. The indication not to boil miso is to preserve the living enzymes.
deb O. January 26, 2014
I have some tempeh in the oven with the tahini/miso mixture right now!! Thanks to all who have shared. I really like the simple- oh I can remember that! - tips. This is great info for someone who knew next to nothing about it.
Joy B. February 5, 2014
Thanks so much, deb!
Pamela_in_Tokyo January 26, 2014
Here are some miso links!

Miso recipes:

Japanese cooking site in English with lots of good recipes:

More recipes:

Absolutely, hands-down best book about miso:
The Book of Miso by William Shurleff
How to make miso & use miso which includes hundreds of recipes. There is a paperback and Kindle version, I understand.
Pamela_in_Tokyo January 26, 2014
People who make their own miso, which is not difficult, will often NOT keep it in the refrigerator. But it will continue fermenting and get darker and darker and darker. Basically miso is cooked ground soybeans and salt. Some things are added to certain kinds of miso, rice or wheat, both of which have to be cooked first. That changes the flavor significantly. The lighter, white miso, really should be used as soon as possible even if you keep it in the refrigerator. Japanese people will often add a teaspoon or more of miso straight into western dishes like stews or casseroles. Partly in place of salt and also to add a kind of Japanese flavor. The flavor change is not strong but it is interesting.

I often make a savory oatmeal in the morning using Japanese katsuoboshi stock instead of water and miso. It's a really good variation to the sweet oatmeal we often have. I wouldn't add milk to this at all. It's more like an oatmeal miso soup.
I_Fortuna January 26, 2014
The most important reason for NOT boiling live miso or heating it to high temperatures is that it kills the beneficial lactobacilli bacteria, a probiotic, and digestive enzymes.
It is best to wait until the boiled liquid is off the burner and into the bowl and then stir in the miso. This preserves the benefits. The less heat the more the benefits.
I make oat milk from hatcho (dark) miso. It has been aged the longest and has the most benefits.
I cook 2 cups of oatmeal per package directions, let it cool to warm, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of hatcho miso (or any live, unpasteurized miso), stir until it is dissolved well, let it sit on the counter overnight and strain out the solids in the morning. Miso enzymes will liquify the oatmeal mixture and the liquid can be refrigerated for a few days. None of the miso taste remains and it can be sweetened with a sweetener of choice.
The fiber that has been strained out can be used in baking bread, making soups, or stews.
BTW, I have had packages of live miso (still good) in my fridge still in sealed airtight packages for over 6 years. It is a fermented food full of salt. If you think about it, miso is aged in large barrels for years. I am not suggesting anyone keep theirs that long, but it has been fine for me. : )
I suggest checking out this cultured food blog:
JJ January 26, 2014
Do you have any information on non-soy miso for those of us with a soy allergy. Types and sources.
JJ February 16, 2014
Thank you. I wasn't having any success tracking it down. Will ask our local health food store to order it.
Chickenfog January 26, 2014
Equal parts miso/tahini, water to thin a bit, add chopped scallions and cover over tofu slices. Bake about 15-20 mins. Snacky and tasty.
Joy B. February 5, 2014
That sounds delicious - trying it today!
deb O. February 5, 2014
I have made this 3 times in the last 3 weeks- once with tofu and 2 times with tempeh, WOW is this ever good. AWESOME flavors
Terri M. January 26, 2014
Thanks! Lovely article.
Missing the "why." Why Miso? What does it add/how do we benefit?
Joy B. February 5, 2014
Terri, such a good question. Why Miso? I'd say because it's a delicious condiment that deserves some loving! It's quite versatile, and has a wonderful salty, rich flavor. I've read that it has some health benefits as well... : )
J C. January 25, 2014
I've found the artisanal miso(s) from South River Miso Co (in Conway, MA) to be a revelation. They create simple traditional pastes that some folks from Japan think are the very best, as well as complex original takes on the tradition: like garlic and red pepper, and one with dandelion greens and leeks. I've started using some of these as sandwich spreads: with a slice of cabbage or turnip on crusty country bread. Astonishingly simple and satisfying. oldpondmind
Katie O. January 23, 2014
My grandmother taught me to thoroughly blend a scoop of miso to 1-2 scoops warm or hot water (or broth, dashi, etc.), and then mixing this slurry to the larger pot, whether it's soup or something else. This is a lot faster than gradually dissolving the paste directly into the pot! Also, mixing such a slurry with mirin and a little sugar and then brushing it on eggplant halves before broiling to fall-apart softness is absolutely delicious.
Joy B. January 23, 2014
Wonderful suggestions, Kate. Thanks! Now I want that eggplant....
deb O. January 23, 2014
I've got 2 different kinds in my frig and I never quite know what to do with them! Looking forward to seeing some more ideas!!
Jackie G. January 22, 2014
How long does miso last once it's been opened?
Joy B. January 23, 2014
Properly stored and kept in the fridge, miso can last quite awhile. I use the lighter miso within 9 months-- but if you have a dark red miso it can last for up to a year! Just make sure the container is airtight.
Karla W. January 22, 2014
I love mixing miso+butter, spreading it on cauliflower slices and roasting...SO delicious!
deb O. January 23, 2014
That sounds AWESOME!