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. Being a white miso, Shinshu Shiro Miso has a a light, slightly sweet and salty flavor. It can be used to make a mild soup, and works very well for miso dressings.
Hiraki Shinshu Aka Miso- This red miso variety is similar in texture to the white miso above, but features a much more robust umami flavor. This particular one is fairly mellow as far as red miso varieties go, but would still be better suited to hearty soups and glazes, as it’s stronger flavor could over power more delicate dishes.
Marukome Boy Awase Miso- This miso contains a blend of barley, rice, and soybeans along with dashi stock to make for a complex, deeply umami flavor. The inclusion of dashi stock (a broth made from dried bonito flakes) makes it ideal for use in miso soup, which relies on a combination of miso and dashi as the basis for the broth. If miso soup is what you’re looking to make, Marukome Boy Awase Miso is the way to go.
Ryotei no Aji Dashi Iri Miso- Ryotei no Aji is Marukome’s best-selling line of miso in Japan, with a name that translates to “premium restaurant quality taste”. The Ryotei no Aji line has a flavor that is mild enough to not overpower anything it is put in, but simultaneously robust enough to stand well on its own. This particular variety contains dashi, making it ideal for miso soup. We also carry it in a lower sodium variety, which contains 20% less salt than the original.
Hatcho Miso- This miso is unique in that it is made completely of fermented soybeans, without the use of grains. This gives the miso a much stronger salty and umami taste, with significantly less sweetness than other miso varieties. Use it sparingly in soups, sauces, or broths, as the flavor is strong enough to overpower more delicate flavorings in a dish.
Kaiseki Ama Miso- This light, white miso has a delicately sweet flavor and is featured prominently in Japan’s kaiseki ryori (think haute-cuisine, but Japanese) style of cooking. The lightness of this miso makes it perfect for use as a marinade or sauce for fish, meat and vegetables.
Hikari Koji no Hana Miso- This is an organic, white miso which contains 12% rice koji (a type of fermented rice grain) by volume. It is naturally lower in salt than other miso types, and its sweetness and texture makes it ideal for use in soups and more western-style pasta dishes.
Marukome Nama Koji Miso- This one is very similar to it’s Hikari brand counterpart. Naturally lower in sodium, and mildly sweet from the presence of rice koji, this miso is ideal for use in soups and sauces.
*Lower sodium miso pastes contain on average 20-25% less salt than their fully salted counterparts. This still adds up to about 500mg of sodium per 1tbsp, making it definitely NOT a low-salt food.
[Upated: April, 2021]