What Is Miso Paste? and The Easiest Miso Paste Substitute

Last Updated on March 7, 2024 by Lindsay Delk, RDN

Miso paste is a staple ingredient of Japanese cuisine, used in many dishes such as soups and stews. It has a savory taste and can vary in color from white to red. Miso paste isn’t hard to find, but if you’re in need of an alternative, I’ll tell you the easiest miso paste substitute and how to use it.

This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider. 

Red miso, white miso, and soy sauce in dishes on a table scattered with soybeans

What Is Miso Paste?

Miso paste is a traditional Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans, grains (such as rice or barley), and salt. It can range in color from white to red depending on the type of grain used and length of fermentation time.

Miso paste is an incredibly versatile ingredient you can use in many different types of dishes such as soups, sauces, marinades, dressings, and much more. Not only does it lend a unique and complex flavor profile to any dish, but it’s also full of essential vitamins and minerals along with probiotics.

You can also make miso at home using fermented soybeans (called natto), koji (a type of fungi used for fermentation), salt, and any grain you choose (such as barley or rice). Homemade miso paste takes several months to make, so it is often easier and more convenient to buy pre-made paste.

Miso Paste Nutrition

One tablespoon of miso paste contains about 30 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat. It has very small amounts of some vitamins and minerals, but 560 mg of sodium (23% DV).

Miso paste is a fermented food, which means it contains probiotics (beneficial bacteria). This makes it an excellent addition to your diet (unless you are on a low-sodium diet) because it can help promote digestive health and balance the gut microbiome.

Eating psychobiotic foods, such as miso, can support the gut-brain axis and promote mental wellbeing. Studies show that the probiotics in fermented foods can have a positive effect on your mental health.

Miso soup in a white bowl

Nutrition in Miso Soup

Miso soup is a traditional Japanese soup made with miso paste, dashi broth, and various ingredients, such as tofu, seaweed, vegetables, and fish.

While the nutrition of miso soup will depend on the recipe and ingredients, a traditional miso soup with the ingredients listed above is very healthy. It is low in calories; high in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids; and rich in vitamins and minerals.

The fermented miso paste used to make the soup also has probiotic benefits, which can help improve gut health. High temperatures will destroy the probiotics, so add the miso paste at the end of cooking after the soup has cooled a bit. This will ensure that the probiotics will remain alive and healthy during the process.

But be careful to watch the amount of sodium in your overall diet because miso soup is typically high in sodium.

What Does Miso Taste Like?

Miso paste has a unique umami flavor that is salty, nutty, and slightly sweet all at the same time. The flavor also varies depending on the type of miso. Umami is a distinct, savory flavor that is one of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). Miso paste adds depth of flavor to many dishes.

The tongue mapped with the 5 tastes including umami

Red Miso Vs. White Miso

The subtle difference between red and white miso comes down to what it is made from and the amount of time it has been fermented.

> White miso paste

White miso paste is made from lighter colored soybeans or rice and is fermented for a much shorter period of time, usually about two months or less. White miso is sweeter than red miso and often used in soups, glazes, and salad dressings. It has a milder umami flavor and aroma compared to the more robust profile of red miso.

> Red miso paste

Red miso paste is made from darker colored soybeans and can be aged up to two years. Red miso is saltier and has a stronger umami flavor compared to white miso. Red miso is often used in stews, braises, sauces, as well as to season grilled dishes such as fish or chicken.

The Easiest Miso Paste Substitute

If you don’t have miso paste or can’t find it in your local grocery store, there are several other ingredients you can use as an alternative miso paste substitute. But soy sauce is the easiest, cheapest, and most widely available miso substitute.

Soy sauce is also a fermented seasoning with a similar flavor profile to miso with umami and salty notes. Soy sauce makes a good white miso substitute and red miso substitute.

When substituting soy sauce for miso paste, start by using half of the amount of soy sauce. If your recipe calls for one tablespoon of miso paste, start with one-half tablespoon of soy sauce. Since soy sauce is saltier than miso, adding too much may alter the saltiness of your dish.

A bottle of soy sauce as a miso paste substitute

Where to Buy Miso Paste

You can buy miso paste in Asian supermarkets, health food stores, and some regular grocery stores. You will usually find it in plastic tubs or packets.

Trader Joe’s miso paste was available at the beginning of 2023 but hasn’t always been available since then. You could also try this recipe for Trader Joe’s miso soup. Whole Foods miso paste is available along with several other brands and types of miso. You might even be able to find miso paste at Walmart or other large chains.

Miso Powder and Miso Sauce

> Miso powder

Miso powder is a type of seasoning made from fermented soybeans that have been dried and ground into a fine powder. While you will get the miso flavor from miso powder, you will not have the same benefits from the probiotics in miso paste.

> Miso sauce

Miso paste is sometimes called miso sauce. But miso sauce also refers to a condiment that includes miso paste along with other ingredients, such as sesame oil, maple syrup or another sweetener, ginger, and/or garlic.

Red miso paste in a bowl on a grass mat

Miso Paste FAQs

Where is miso in the grocery store?

Miso is often located in the refrigerated section near the tofu and other Japanese ingredients. It is usually packaged in plastic tubs or containers, though some brands may also be available in cans or sachets.

Does miso have gluten, or is miso paste gluten free?

As long as the miso paste is made from fermented soybeans or rice, it is gluten free. Read the label to make sure it is not made from a gluten-containing grain.

How long does miso paste last? Does miso paste go bad?

Since it is fermented, miso paste can last for a very long time if stored properly. Refrigeration will help keep the paste fresh for up to one year or until its expiration date. But you should always use your own discretion when deciding whether miso paste has gone bad or not. If it smells off or appears discolored, discard the miso paste.

Does miso need to be refrigerated?

Yes, miso paste with probiotics is a perishable product, so you need to refrigerate it. You should also check the expiration date on the packaging so you know how long it will be safe to consume before needing to replace it.

Can you freeze miso paste?

Yes, you can freeze miso paste for long-term storage. Freezing the paste will preserve it even longer than refrigeration. The paste remains slightly soft when frozen, so it’s easy to remove little spoonfuls as needed.

Does cooking kill probiotics?

Most probiotics are heat-sensitive, so high heat will kill probiotics. It’s important to be mindful of how you prepare miso paste and other foods that contain probiotics. Add the miso after the cooking process to retain the probiotic benefits.

Bottom Line

Miso paste is a versatile ingredient with a unique umami flavor that adds depth to your dishes. It’s also packed with probiotics, making it a nutritious addition to your diet. If you don’t have miso paste, soy sauce is an easy miso paste substitute. What are your favorite ways to use miso paste?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top