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Facts About Miso, With Tips, Health Benefits and Recipes

Image Credit: Cyclonebill/Flickr

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that is produced by fermenting rice, barley, and/or soybeans with salt and a fungus known as kōjikin.  Miso itself is a Japanese word that translates to “fermented beans”.  The most typical miso seasoning is made with soy.  It is usually found in the form of a thick paste, and the beans used during fermentation are often soybeans.  During the soybean fermentation process, grains such as barley, buckwheat, and rice might be added to achieve a certain flavor or other desired outcome, but in most situations, as is the case with tofu, soybeans serve as the main basis for miso fermentation.  This basic role of soybeans in preparation of miso can sometimes be overlooked because many varieties of miso may take on the name of their added ingredients, such as “barley miso” or “rice miso.”  Yet nearly all of these miso varieties will contain soybeans as a basic ingredient.

The texture of miso is often paste-like and relatively thick, not dissimilar to peanut butter.  However, the taste and color can vary widely, depending on many factors related to fermantation.  When it comes to colors of miso, the lightest tends to be white or beige, and this is often due to inclusion of a large amount of white rice during the fermentation process.  White miso is also fermented for a much shorter period of time than darker miso, sometimes as short as several weeks.  Dark miso can undergo the process for many months or even several years.  In terms of taste, white miso is also the sweetest variety of miso, and some people also consider it the most versatile for cooking, since it lacks the stronger flavors found in darker varieties.

Yellow (or sometimes a very light brown) can result when soybeans are fermented together with barley.  This is often called “mugi miso”, as the Japanese word “mugi” is used to refer to the general category of cereal grains, including barley and wheat.  Sometimes a small amount of white rice is also included during fermentation of yellow miso.  One very popular yellow miso is Saikyo miso, traditionally made in the south-central Kansai region of Japan.

The next major category of is red miso, sometimes called “akamiso” as “aka” is the Japanese word for “red”.  Red miso can actually be a very dark brown or reddish brown in color, and is usually more salty than white or yellow miso.  While barley, rice, and other grains may be used in the production of red miso, it is mostly characterized by a very high percentage of soybeans, and because of this is sometimes referred to as “mame miso” (“mame” meaning “bean” in Japanese).  Dark brown and red miso usually get their strong flavors from longer periods of fermentation.  Sometimes, fermentation of dark soy miso may involve three years or longer.

Health Benefits

While research on soybeans and their overall health benefits is rather abundant, research specific to miso is much less common.  The research is complicated by the fact that human intake of miso can be difficult to measure in isolation, since miso is often eaten as part of a soup, stir-fry, or other dish.  Still, as an overall observation, some believe that intake of soy miso shows a preponderance of health benefits, possibly even stronger than those of soy foods in general.

Soy miso is a very good source of manganese, zinc, phosporous, and copper as well as a good source of protein and dietary fiber.   In addition to these conventional nutrients, soy miso is also an important source of phytonutrient antioxidants, including phenolic acids such as ferulic, coumaric, syringic, vanillic, and kojic acid.

Miso is considered to be a high-sodium food, as one teaspoon can contain 200-300 milligrams of sodium.  However, recent research has shown that in spite of its high-sodium content, miso does not appear to affect our cardiovascular system in the way that other foods with as much sodium content sometimes can.  Recent human studies on miso intake among Japanese adults have also shown that miso-containing diets tend to lower risk of cardiovascular problems, despite the high-salt content of miso.  Reasons for this unique relationship between miso and our cadiovascular systems are not year clear.  However, some researches speculate that the unique soy protein composition of miso is one of the key reasons for the cardiovascular support provided by miso.


  • Miso soup is quick and easy to prepare.  Heat miso paste and water over low-medium heat.  Eat as is or add some fixings, such as shiitake mushrooms, tofu, scallions, carrots, and daikon radish.
  • Combine a little miso with olive oil, flax seed oil, ginger, and garlic to make an Asian-inspired dressing for use on salads and cold grain dishes.
  • Miso-tahini sandwiches are quick and simple to prepare.  Just spread miso on a piece of bread and then top with tahini.  Add sliced avocado for an extra kick.
  • One of the easiest ways to eat Miso is to make a Miso Gravy and just pour it on any greens, salds, etc. Here is the BEST Miso Gravy Recipe ever!

Check out our 5 favorite Miso-based recipes below! 


1. Carrot Miso Soup

Recipe: Carrot Miso Soup


2. Miso Roasted Pumpkin and Grilled Tofu Over Udon Noodles

Vegan Miso Roasted Pumpkin and Grilled Tofu Over Udon Noodles


3. Kelp Noodles in Peanut Miso Sauce

kelp noodles in peanut miso sauce


4. Asian Slaw Salad with Miso Ginger Dressing

Recipe: Asian Slaw Salad with Miso Ginger Dressing


5. Raw Creamy Mushroom Soup with Avocado + Miso

Recipe: Raw Creamy Mushroom Soup with Avocado + Miso

5. Roasted Garlic, Miso and Greens Soup 

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