What’s the Best Type of Miso for Miso Soup?

published Jan 20, 2015
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(Image credit: Piyato)

Miso soup always seems like such a perfect start to a sushi dinner. The briny broth wakes your stomach without weighing it down, warms you up, and primes you for the rice and fish meal to come. Making miso soup at home is actually quite easy and requires just a few ingredients. But which miso should you buy, and is there really a perfect one for making miso soup?

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What is miso?

Miso is a peanut butter-like paste made by fermenting cooked soybeans with salt and a mold (called koji) that is cultivated from either a barley, rice, or soybean base. The miso is then aged and used as a base of flavoring in a lot of Japanese cooking.

(Image credit: yasuhiro amano)

What kind of miso do I use in miso soup?

You can actually use any kind of miso in soup, and which one you choose is up to a matter of taste. Here are the three main types of miso:

1. Red Miso

  • Japanese name: aka miso
  • Color: Dark red or reddish brown
  • How it’s made: Red miso is fermented for the longest amount of time (up to three years) with the highest percentage of soybeans.
  • Flavor: The saltiest of the misos with a pronounced, slightly bitter and pungent flavor.
  • What to use it in: Many Japanese restaurants use red miso in their miso soup since it has the deepest, richest flavor of all the misos. It’s great in marinades and braises, but should be used sparingly since it can overwhelm the flavors of other ingredients.

2. Yellow Miso

  • Japanese name: shinshu miso
  • Color: Golden yellow to light brown
  • How it’s made: Yellow miso is not fermented as long as red miso, about one year.
  • Flavor: Earthier, more acidic, and sweeter than red miso, but not as salty.
  • What to use it in: Soups, glazes, and other dishes where you want a more balanced punch of miso flavor. This is a great all-purpose miso.

3. White Miso

  • Japanese name: shiro miso
  • Color: Light yellow or beige
  • How it’s made: This is the most widely produced miso. It has the smallest percentage of soybeans and is fermented for the least amount of time, usually about a few weeks.
  • Flavor: The lightest and sweetest of all the misos.
  • What to use it in: Salad dressings, dips, lighter sauces and soups, and in place of dairy for some recipes.


A Japanese chef told me that you can actually blend misos to get the exact flavor you’re looking for, so don’t be afraid to mix up your own custom blend!