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Miso sounds like a fancy foreign ingredient that chefs use, but it’s nothing to be intimidated by. Miso is a Japanese product made by fermenting soybeans, rice or barley with salt and a fungus called koji. Miso adds a savory flavor to foods that satisfies what is now known as “umami,” or our fifth taste sensation. Umami is what makes foods taste savory, complex and deeply satisfying. Miso can add the rich flavor that might be missing in meat-free dishes. Read more about it in The Missing Link: How to Add Umami Flavor to Your Vegan Meals. If miso is new to you, here are some tips on how to use miso to make savory, umami-packed dishes.

1. Health Benefits


Miso is considered a superfood because it is packed with healthy probiotics and vitamin B12. Studies have found probiotics to help protect against colon cancer and reduce intestinal problems. Probiotics can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Friendly flora can also help our immune and nervous systems, helping relieve headaches, fatigue, inflammation and other problems. When we have the right amount of healthy bacteria in our guts, we can absorb more nutrients from the food we eat. Learn more about the health benefits in Facts About Miso, With Tips, Health Benefits and Recipes and Fermented and Pickled Foods are Healthy and Delicious —Try These.

2. The Taste

How to Make Miso

Before cooking with it, of course, you want to know what miso tastes like? There are several varieties of miso so the taste can vary from mild to rich and intense. The darker the color of the miso, the more intense the flavor will be.

Light or white miso (shiro in Japanese) is made mainly with rice so the flavor is mild and slightly sweet. White miso has more koji than salt and is best used in sauces, marinades, and dressings. It’s also a good miso for beginners who aren’t sure they will like the taste.

Yellow miso is a bit stronger than white miso, fermented with mostly barley, and can be used for any recipe.

Dark miso, on the other hand, has more salt and ferments much longer so the taste of red (akamiso) and brown (awasemiso) miso is richer with more umami. Dark miso is best used with stews and soups and a little bit goes a long way.

3. Make Salad Dressings

Oil-Free Tomato, Kalamata and Miso Salad Dressing

Miso can add lots of flavor to salad dressings and vinaigrettes. All you need is one or two teaspoons of miso paste. Add it to your favorite salad dressing or vinaigrette recipe. White and light miso is used in this Oil- and Nut-Free Berry Miso Salad Dressing, Nori Wrap With Sweet Potato, Avocado and Miso Dressing and Asian Slaw Salad with Miso Ginger Dressing. Brown miso is used to make this Sweet Potato, Red Cabbage, and Kelp Noodle Bowl with Rich Miso Dressing and Oil-Free Tomato, Kalamata, and Miso Salad Dressing.

4. Add as Seasoning

Miso Roasted Eggplant [Vegan]

Instead of using salt or soy sauce for seasoning, try using miso paste. Miso gives foods a much more complex seasoning than salt alone. Add it to roasted veggies for lots of umami goodness. Try this Miso Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini, Miso Roasted Pumpkin, and Grilled Tofu Over Udon Noodles and these Miso Roasted Tomatoes and Spiralized Carrot Noodles.

5. Glazes and Stir-Fries


Miso can be used as a glaze for veggies, tofu or tempeh. Mix miso with oil, vinegar and whatever ingredients you like and brush it on food before grilling. Try miso on this Tahini Glazed Tempeh. Miso can also be used in stir-fries. Not only will it add salty, savory flavor but the miso paste can give the food a thick, sticky glaze similar to using a slurry. Check out all the Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Veggies Chinese Style and try using miso instead of salt in this Ultimate Teriyaki Stir-Fry or this Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry with Garlic Black Pepper and Chives.

6. Miso Soup

Roasted-Garlic-Miso-Greens-Soup (1)

Miso is most commonly known for making soup. Miso soup is a light broth that is usually served with tofu cubes and seaweed. Learn how to Make Miso Soup in 10 Minutes and then try Miso Soup with Garlicky Lentils, Kale and Mushrooms, Soothing Miso Soup, Vegetable Miso Soup, Roasted Garlic, Miso and Greens Soup, and Carrot Miso Soup.

7. Use in Marinades

Kale Avocado Wraps with Spicy Miso-Dipped Tempeh [Vegan]

Miso is perfect for marinades. The savory, salty flavor will be infused into tofu, tempeh or veggies. Try adding a couple of tablespoons of miso into your favorite marinade. Need recipes? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes. Try it in these Kale Avocado Wraps With Spicy Miso-Dipped Tempeh.

8. Use in Sauces


Just a spoonful of miso can add rich flavor to sauces. Miso can also thicken sauces when added near the end of cooking. Instead of the usual tomato sauce, try this Broccoli Rabe Potato Pizza with Carrot-Miso Sauce and Hazelnuts. Other recipes with savory miso-infused sauces include Miso Sesame Kale Bowl-ed Over, Healthy and Vegan Yam Noodles with Miso Sauce, Cold Soba Bowl with Lemon Miso Sauce, Unfried Cauliflower Rice in Ginger Miso Sauce, and Miso Sesame Spaghetti Squash.

The next time you’re at the market, pick up a tub of miso paste. It lasts a long time in the fridge so you can try it in lots of recipes and discover a new way to add complex flavors to your dishes.

Lead image source: Cold Soba Bowl with Lemon Miso Sauce

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