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Miso Paste Substitute


Miso paste is an exciting ingredient to cook with – especially if you’re diving into the world of Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, not everyone is fond of the fermented flavor included in miso paste. Take a look at the miso paste substitute list below for some tasty swaps that you can use in your recipes.

What is miso paste?

This Japanese paste is created from fermented soybeans. Salt and Koji (a fungus) are used to ferment the soybeans. Other types of beans can also be used to make miso paste. It works well in soups (like miso soup), sauces, and a flavoring for meat and seafood.

Miso paste was initially highly sought after. It was often given as a gift and was consumed by the spoonful or as a spread. As miso popularity grew, soybean production increased, and miso shops came into play. Once miso shops became popular, those who were not royalty began eating miso more frequently as well.

In the early 1900s, there were reports of miso being brought, produced, and consumed in the US. From there, the consumption of miso spread like wildfire.

What types of miso paste are there?

You may be surprised to find out that there are eight different types of miso paste available. A few of the most common types of miso are white miso paste, red miso, and yellow miso. When looking to purchase this paste at the store, you’re most likely to encounter white miso.

The differences between these common varieties of miso paste range from the production location to the length of aging; this affects the taste. White miso, aka Shiro miso, comes from Kyoto, Japan, and provides a sweet and subtle taste, while red miso has a strong, salty flavor due to the longer fermentation process.

Top Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is usually the first substitute for miso paste that comes to mind. As noted below, soy sauce shares a similar flavor to miso paste. Soy sauce has a sweet, salty, umami taste that mirrors the taste of miso.
You can easily swap this sauce can easily most dishes that typically incorporate miso paste into them.
Pros
The flavor profile is very similar to miso paste due to the sweetness and meatiness. Use soy sauce in cooked and uncooked recipes. Soy sauce works well for flavoring soups, sauces, and seasoning meat/poultry/fish. Check the Asian aisle at your local grocery store for this product. It is also an excellent option for vegans.

Cons
Soy sauce is quite salty – much saltier than miso paste. If you use too much, it can overpower a dish and make it unconsumable.

Cooking Tip:
Use less soy sauce when subbing for miso paste. Start with ½ the amount of soy sauce that the recipe calls for and adjust as needed.

2. Vegetable Stock

This option is an excellent miso substitute if you’re seeking to create soups. It adds saltiness and flavor and works with all ingredients commonly incorporated into soup like vegetables, tofu, and spices. Of course, it lacks the umami flavor since no meat is used to create vegetable stock.

Pros
Vegetable stock is an excellent base for soups. It provides a similar salty flavor to miso paste normally would in soups and stews. Depending on the vegetables used to create the stock, it can also offer sweetness as miso would.

Cons
This alternative can not be used in other dishes beyond soup. It also lacks the umami flavor and often needs additional seasoning or herbs to create a full taste.

Cooking Tip:
You will need much more vegetable stock in place of miso paste since its use is as a soup base. Use vegetable stock in place of the water or broth needed for the soup in a 1:1 ratio.

3. Fish Sauce

The fish sauce also works well as a substitute for miso. It adds saltiness, sweetness, and a meaty, umami flavor to any dish. Where you’ll notice the taste difference is in the fishiness that is present.

Miso paste does not offer a fishy taste since it’s created out of grains and soybeans. On the other hand, fish sauce brands use salted anchovies, which provide a bold and noticeable flavor. Suppliers also use other fish to create this sauce. When making fish sauce, the fish are generally fermented for a few years first.

Pros
The fish sauce works well for flavoring dishes because of its similar taste. This condiment is another substitute that can be used in place of miso paste in all recipes. If you enjoy a slightly fishy flavor in your meals, this is a great alternative.

Cons
This is not a good alternative for those who are vegan since it is created out of fish. It also adds a fishy taste to any dish you use, which may not work well with everyone’s palate.

Cooking Tip:
Use ½ tablespoon of fish sauce for every tablespoon of miso paste in recipes. If more flavor is needed, increase the amount slowly.

4. Dashi

Not familiar with dashi? This flavoring broth is also commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It works well as a white miso substitute due to the umami flavor that is present. It has a light flavor that matches that of miso paste.

Dashi is created by incorporating sea vegetables and fish that have been dried. These ingredients are boiled and simmered until they turn into a light-colored broth full of flavor. Opt for dashi when making soups or sauces.

Pros
Dashi provides the highly sought-after umami flavor to any dish. It also incorporates a saltiness and light flavor, making it an excellent choice for any Japanese-inspired meal. Dashi works best with dishes that include a higher amount of liquid like soup.

Cons
Unfortunately, dashi is another broth that uses seafood making it unsuitable for vegans. It also does not work well with dishes beyond soups and sauces. It can be tricky to find dashi at stores unless you live near an Asian supermarket.

Cooking Tip:
Use dashi as a replacement for broth or water in soups – match the amount of liquid needed.

FAQs

What is miso paste made of?

Miso paste includes multiple ingredients that are fermented twice to provide the complex flavors most commonly found in miso paste. The process begins with grain-like barley which is fermented with fungus to create Koji. After the first fermentation, this mixture is combined with soybeans, salt, and water to ferment again.

What does miso paste taste like?

You can expect miso paste to have an umami flavor which typically means you can expect a “meaty” and salty flavor from any dish it’s included in. Other flavor notes that you’ll taste in miso include sweetness and even acidity – depending on which type of miso is consumed.

Can I substitute miso paste for soy sauce?

Yes, you can use miso paste as an alternative to soy sauce. Both provide a similar umami flavor as well as a saltiness. To use miso paste instead of soy sauce, you’ll need to thin the paste to create a similar consistency. You can do this by adding water, so it’s more like a sauce than a paste.

What spices pair with miso?

Since miso has a complex flavor already, you won’t need to add too much additional seasoning, if any at all. If you still feel like your dish is lacking, there are a few spices you can use. Try including seasoning like garlic, ginger, and black pepper to give your recipes an extra oomph.

Summary

Miso paste is an ingredient that luckily has quite a few options that provide a similar flavor. Soy sauce is number one since it is the most versatile and has the closest taste out of the provided miso paste substitutes. If you’re creating a soup – choose dashi as your flavoring agent. 

Even if you enjoy the taste of miso paste, swapping it out for the above list of substitutions will help you create new flavor combinations. Each alternative is worth a try!

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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