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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.

Miso paste Types

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 paste, and yellow miso paste. When looking to purchase this paste at the store, you’re most likely to encounter white miso paste.

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.

Best Miso Substitute

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 substitute for miso 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 miso paste replacement. 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.

5. Tahini

Tahini is most often used in Mediterranean and Asian dishes. This creamy, thicker sauce is created from toasted sesame seeds. Once these seeds have been toasted, they are ground with oil and salt to create a well-known paste.

You will find a taste difference when using tahini over miso paste. Tahini is known for the nutty flavor that it adds to dishes. However, it has a very similar consistency to miso paste.

If you’re seeking a replacement only to account for the texture, tahini works well. Tahini is best used as a replacement in small quantities due to the difference in flavor. Use tahini for salad dressings or sauces where miso paste is not the main ingredient.

Pros
Consistency-wise, tahini is a close contender to miso. It will create a similar thickness in sauces and salad dressings. It’s a tasty alternative that adds nuttiness to dishes.

Cons
The difference in flavor will be noticeable, especially in recipes that use higher quantities of miso paste. Tahini is also quite pricey and not always available at local stores.

Cooking Tip:
Use tahini in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement.

6. Tamari

Tamari works well as a swap due to its consistency and taste. Tamari is similar to a thicker soy sauce so that you can expect a delicious umami flavor in dishes. The color also mimics that of soy sauce – it is typically a darker brown.

If your sauce is intended to be a lighter color, you may want to skip this swap. However, if the color of the dish does not make a difference, tamari will provide a pleasant miso-like flavor.

For those who are unfamiliar with tamari, it is a soy sauce that originates from Japan. It is considered one of five favored shoyu sauces used for cooking. Soybeans are processed by using fungus and brine to ferment them, which turns into a shoyu sauce.

Pros
Tamari is an excellent swap in terms of consistency and flavor. It’s readily available in the grocery store in the international or Asian food section for purchase. You can use tamari in place of soy sauce in any recipe.

Cons
The main noticeable difference between tamari and miso paste is the color. Again, keep this in mind if the dish color is important.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio when replacing tamari with miso paste.

7. Chickpea Paste

Chickpea paste is created by crushing/grinding chickpeas into a paste. This mimics the consistency of miso paste and makes it easier to incorporate into miso recipes. You’ll find some similarities in flavors as chickpeas also provide an earthy taste. However, chickpeas have a more robust taste with additional flavor notes.

Expect to find a nutty and beany taste when utilizing chickpea paste. Even though the flavor is more apparent, chickpeas are known to absorb flavors well.

This swap will work well in most, if not all, recipes that contain miso.
You’ll also find that the color is similar to that of yellow miso paste. This replacement can be used when the color of the dish is essential.

Pros
Chickpea paste offers a similar color and texture to any dish. Cans of chickpeas can be found at any store easily and used to create chickpea paste. As there is an earthy taste, you’ll find your dish to be somewhat similar flavor-wise.

Cons
While cans of chickpeas are easy to find at the store, chickpea paste is not as common. You will likely need to purchase whole chickpeas and mash them yourself, adding time to your recipe. The flavor difference is noticeable in dishes, mainly due to the more pungent taste of chickpeas.

Cooking Tip:
Chickpea paste is another alternative that can be used in a 1:1 ratio.

8. Anchovy Paste

Using anchovy paste as a replacement works well for dishes that mesh well with a fishy taste. In terms of similarities, this paste provides a meaty flavor like miso paste. It also has a similar consistency that allows it to be incorporated easily in recipes.

There is a taste difference as anchovy paste is much saltier, and as noted above, it provides a fishy taste that is not provided by miso paste. Anchovy paste also offers a darker color than miso paste – it has a medium brown tint.
You can find anchovy paste in the Italian section of grocery stores.

Pros
Anchovy paste is easy to find in most stores and provides an umami flavor. The texture of this paste is similar and easy to mix into dishes. Use anchovy paste in marinades or other recipes that require a small amount of miso.

Cons
It can be easy to use too much anchovy paste – this will overpower the dish and provide an overly salty taste. This paste is not a good substitute if you have family members that don’t enjoy the taste of fish.

Cooking Tip:
Use ½ tablespoon of anchovy paste for every tablespoon of miso paste in your recipe.

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 her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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