Salty, umami-rich miso paste is a staple in my kitchen — for soup, of course, but also salad dressings, marinades, and more. So when I had to go gluten-free, and temporarily soy-free, I panicked, for miso is often traditionally made from soybeans and barley or other grains. Fortunately, there are alternatives!
Miso is generally made by fermenting soybeans with cultured grains and sult. There are many varieties with different degrees of boldness, color, and flavor. Even when food allergies or intolerances are not a factor, substituting one type of miso for another will not always taste the same. However, here's a general guide to what to consider if you or the person you're cooking for can't eat gluten or soybeans.
• Gluten-Free Miso: Miso frequently, though not always, contains grains. Check the label for gluten-containing grains like barley (mugi ortsubu in Japanese), wheat (tsubu), or rye (hadakamugi). Rice (kome or genmai), buckwheat (sobamugi), and millet (kibi) are gluten-free. Also, if you are purchasing ready-made miso soup, be aware that it is often made with soy sauce, which contains wheat; tamari can be a good gluten-free alternative.
• Soy-Free Miso: This one is a bit harder to find, but there are chickpea miso pastes from South River Miso Company and Miso Master, and South River also makes an adzuki bean miso. If you have the patience to wait a year, you can also go the DIY fermentation route (Sandor Katz is a good resource).
Do you have any great soy- and/or gluten-free miso brands to recommend?
(Images: Emma Christensen)