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What Does Miso Taste Like?

What does miso taste like? Chances are you’ve already tasted it, even if you haven’t used miso in cooking. After all, it is the star ingredient in the crowd-favorite miso soup.

Miso is a savory paste that many cooks use to give a savory flavor to their dishes. This article will discuss everything you need to know about this tasty condiment. We’ll tell you miso’s flavor, its varieties, and how to use it in cooking.   

Serving small dish with miso paste.

What Is Miso Paste?

Miso is a fermented paste that comes from soybeans. It hails from Japan, where it is a kitchen staple. Consistency-wise, this paste is thick, like peanut butter.

To make miso, manufacturers combine soybeans and salt. Then, they add koji, an edible fungus, to trigger the fermentation process. Sometimes, makers add steamed grains like rice and barley to the mix.

The fermentation process can take up to 2 years. Some miso varieties ferment for shorter periods and result in a milder taste.

Remember that miso is a culture mixture with live enzymes and bacteria. That said, it is best to add it toward the end of the cooking process. This will prevent too much heat from ruining the active bacteria in miso. Plus, it will still preserve that unique miso taste.

Types of Miso

The color of the paste varies, depending on its age and ingredients. There are brown, red, yellow, and white miso pastes. 

Brown Miso (Mame Miso)

Made from brown rice, koji, water, soybeans, and salt, brown miso has a dark hue. Miso makers age this kind for at least 2 years in wooden barrels.

It can alter the appearance of light dishes, so it is better used in dark recipes. 

Red Miso (Aka Miso)

People use white rice to make red miso. For this reason, it has a lighter color than the miso that comes from brown rice.

The fermentation process for red miso can last between 1-3 years. Like brown miso, it can make light dishes appear darker. 

Yellow Miso (Shinshu Miso)

Yellow miso uses the same ingredients as red miso plus barley. But it undergoes a shorter fermentation process of just a year, resulting in a lighter color.

Because of its light color, you can use yellow miso in light-colored dishes. Using it will not result in a change in appearance.

White Miso (Shiro Miso)

White miso is a young miso made with more white rice than soybeans. Miso makers age white miso for only 3 months so it does not develop a dark hue. Instead, this comes in a light beige color that complements most light sauces and dishes. 

People often combine this with red miso to create Awase Miso or mixed miso.

What Does Miso Taste Like?

Miso has a very distinct umami flavor. This taste is meaty and likened to mushrooms. It is sweet, salty, tangy, and savory all at the same time. 

Miso has an intense, concentrated flavor, so people do not eat it alone. Instead, cooks add it to almost anything where they want a savory burst of flavor. 

Brown Miso Taste

Brown miso has the strongest and saltiest flavor among the kinds we mentioned here. Due to its long fermentation period, it has a rich umami taste that can be overpowering. It can have some bitter notes as well.

You are better off with other miso kinds when cooking delicate ingredients. They work best in glazes and marinades.

Red Miso Taste

Red miso has a deep umami flavor. It is less salty than brown miso but saltier than yellow or white miso. Because of this, its sweet flavor notes are more evident.

Like brown miso, it can overwhelm ingredients with a mild flavor. You can use it in soups and stews where the key elements are strong-flavored meats like lamb.  

Yellow Miso Taste

Yellow miso tastes less intense compared to red and brown miso varieties. Because it includes barley, yellow miso also possesses a certain earthiness.

It still has a touch of umami and slight saltiness, but it is sweeter than the previous two. Because of this, it is more versatile and is a general, all-purpose condiment. 

White Miso Taste

White miso is the mildest of all kinds of miso on this list. Due to the large volume of rice in this variety, it has a noticeable sweetness.

White miso is not as salty as other kinds. Its mild and sweet flavor makes it even more versatile than yellow miso. 

What Does Miso Smell Like?

Like any other fermented food, miso has a funky smell. It has a tangy smell because of the bacteria and other live organisms in it that are responsible for miso’s unique flavor. However, this smell shouldn’t be that bad and off-putting. 

If your miso smells fishy or pungent, it probably has gone bad. It is better to discard it than risk food poisoning. 

How To Use Miso In Cooking

As mentioned, miso is an incredibly useful paste in the kitchen. You can use it to add an umami element to most of your savory dishes. 

It is an important ingredient in ramen recipes. It makes ramen more tasty and flavorful. Add this paste to salad dressings, gravy, and dipping sauces.

Miso is also a wonderful meat tenderizer, so you’ll never go wrong with adding it to marinades. 

This paste makes stir-fries, casseroles, and even pasta dishes taste better. It enhances your average soups and stews. You can add some miso paste to your mashed potatoes too!

Miso is a great addition to vegan dishes as well. This is because it can provide a meaty flavor without using meat itself.

Add it to baked goods if you’re comfortable with a little culinary adventure. You’ll have extra decadent cookies, cakes, and loaves of bread!

White bowl with miso soup and tofu, topped with greens.

What Does Miso Soup Taste Like?

One of the most popular recipes that call for miso is miso soup. A typical miso soup has a base of dashi stock.

Dashi stock is mainly from kelp seaweed and dried bonito flakes. Cooks then add the miso paste, tofu, wakame seaweed, and green onions. 

As a result, miso soup tastes hearty and boasts a rich umami flavor. Some miso soups can taste fishy, depending on other added ingredients.

You’ll definitely get hints of the green onion flavor, too! That said, miso soup is a filling treat that is comforting and warming.

What Does Miso Ramen Taste Like?

Miso ramen is one of the most famous dishes in Japanese cuisine. It is simply a noodle soup with miso as its main flavoring agent.

Chicken broth and ground pork are the mainstays in this recipe. And people add their vegetables of choice, too. 

Miso ramen is a tasty, savory and satisfying meal with a rich flavor that will ease your hunger. It never lacks the salty umami flavor, so you’ll also get a meaty experience.

Nutritional Benefits of Miso

Miso is not only delicious, but it is also nutritious. For starters, it has live bacteria that act as probiotics. It has Vitamin K, calcium, and zinc.

Miso contains B Vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate, too. You’ll get manganese and protein from eating miso as well. 

Indeed, miso has benefits, and adding it to your meals will help form a balanced diet.

Just a word of warning, though. Miso is unsuitable for those with soy allergies as its main ingredient is soybeans. Plus, it has a high sodium content, so those watching their sodium intake should take caution.

What Is In Miso Soup?

Miso soup has a dashi stock base and miso paste as a flavoring. It contains cubed tofu, green onions, and wakame seaweed too. However, the miso soup recipe is flexible; you can add more ingredients as you prefer.  

Miso Vs. Soy Sauce

People often compare miso to soy sauce. These two also have the umami taste – a prized flavor in the culinary world. But miso is a paste from Japan, while soy sauce is a thin liquid from China. Plus, soy sauce lacks the sweet notes you can find in miso. 

Red Vs. White Miso

Compared to red miso, white miso is milder and sweeter. This is because miso makers age white miso for only 3 months. Meanwhile, the fermentation of red miso can be as long as 3 years. The longer aging process of red miso gives it a saltier flavor than white miso.

Does Miso Taste Fishy?

Contrary to popular belief, miso does not taste fishy. After all, people don’t use fish or fish flavoring in making this paste. Miso soup, on the other hand, can have a slightly fishy flavor. This is due to the dashi stock, which contains dried bonito flakes.


Miso is a condiment invented in Japan but is now popular worldwide. It comes from fermented soybeans, so it has a paste-like consistency. People use this as a main flavoring to make miso soup and ramen.

It is a wonderful mix of salty, sweet, and tangy. But the most important flavor note in miso is umami. You’ll get a meaty taste from it even when it does not have meat as one of its ingredients. Isn’t that a treat?

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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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