Which Miso Do I Need?

Here’s a scenario: you’ve got your recipe picked out and all of your ingredients in order. Except one-- miso paste. So you head into the store to pick some up, but upon arriving, you see roughly ten different varieties on the shelf! What now? Which one do you choose? Will choosing one over another ruin your recipe? The answer to that is most likely not, but some types of miso are better suited to some uses than others. To understand this better, it helps first to understand a bit more about what exactly miso is and how it is made.

For a very quick definition, miso is a traditional Japanese condiment made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a specific type of mold that is commonly used to create a wide variety of fermented foods in Japan. Often, additional ingredients, such as barley, rice, seaweed or even dashi are added to influence and introduce complexity to the flavor. The result is a thick, somewhat granular paste that is quite salty, and somewhat savory, with an ever-so-slightly sour fragrance. Miso is most often added to soup broths to give them a sense of body, but is also found as a component in marinades, salad dressings, and sauces. It has a fairly strong flavor, so in whatever way you choose to use it, a little goes a long way.

Due to its nature as a fermented food, there is a fairly large amount of variance in the specific flavors miso can have. Exact production varies depending on region and are influenced by available ingredients and local taste. With that in mind, there are three main subtypes of miso. They are red, white, and awase, or mixed. White miso is the result of miso made with a large percentage of rice, which results in a milder taste and lighter color. Red miso has more soybeans and is often fermented for a longer period of time, which gives it a darker color and stronger flavor. Awase miso mixes red and white miso together for a product that combines the delicateness of white miso with the robustness of red. Due to this combination of properties, awase miso is highly versatile and can be used for any purpose.

Now that we know a little more about miso, let's take a look at some of the varieties we carry here at Maido:

Marukome Organic Miso- This is perhaps the most basic miso paste that we carry. It is made with five organically sourced ingredients: rice, soybeans, alcohol, filtered water, and salt. This miso is fairly mild in taste and a reliable staple for things such as miso soup, miso based salad dressings, and miso marinades. We also carry a lower sodium variety for those trying to watch their salt intake.*

Hikari Shinshu Shiro Miso- This one is a nice mild white miso paste