The 6 Best Miso Substitutes

Chris Starks
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What is miso?

Traditionally, miso is made from fermented soybeans, rice, barley, wheat or legumes. Miso paste can be white, yellow, red, brown, or black. With some miso paste ranging from 5 to 18%, miso is an excellent source of plant protein and dietary fiber.

While you may not have as many varieties of miso paste available, depending on where you live, you can still use ingredients to create a miso substitute in many recipes. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the most common miso substitutes.

How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

If you shop at organic markets or health food stores, you’re probably aware of miso, a traditional Japanese paste used to flavor soups, sauces, and vegetable dishes. The word “miso” literally means “bean paste” in Japanese. Miso is made by blending fermented soybeans (edamame, soybeans, etc.) with salt imported from Japan. This salty paste is then blended with different grains (i.e., rice, wheat, or barley) and with different types of miso (i.e., sweet, white, or red).

Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient often found in digestive formulas because of the probiotics that give the food a strong aroma and flavor. Today, miso is becoming more popular in other types of food, and is used as a substitute for cheese and mayonnaise in salad dressings and sauces, and in place of fat in soups. It has a salty, earthy flavor with a hint of cheese.

But the problem with miso is that it contains a lot of sodium (from the fermented soybeans). Depending on the type and flavor of miso, it can pack quite a lot of calories. While the fermented ingredients in miso can be beneficial for your gut health, you’ll want to use it in moderation.

Nutritional Breakdown

Miso is a thick, savory paste, traditionally made with fermented soybeans, salt, and a koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae) that turns the soybeans into a rich and nutty tasting broth. It’s used as a flavoring agent and seasoning.

Miso paste is made by allowing beans to ferment with the koji mold spores and salt, and then kneading. Some people add water to make a thinner paste and others add grains to make a thicker paste … and while the basic approach is the same, variations are endless. Miso paste is typically sold in sealed containers and has a shelf life of about 6 months.

Because miso is made with fermented soybeans, it’s rich in probiotics and vitamins. It grows naturally in the home refrigerator and has a delightful texture and sweet aroma.

Because of its rich flavor and health benefits, miso has become a very popular ingredient in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Miso has a salty taste due to the amount of salt in its base. It has a rich flavor profile and it has a slight sweet taste with a little sourness and a hint of bitterness.

The different varieties of miso add a significant amount of flavor and texture to various dishes. Miso is used in soups, salad dressings, sauces and stir fries.

What recipes are miso used in?

Miso paste is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans, grains, salt and water. It's used as a flavoring and thickener in many dishes.

It comes in two varieties:

Red (aka) miso which is fermented at a relatively high temperature for two to three years, and white (shiro) miso, which is fermented for six months to a year.

Miso paste is used in many kinds of recipes (like soup, stew, dressing and marinade), and miso soup is a part of everyday eating in Japan.

Miso is not only used in food but also in cosmetics, to make miso paste soups, and medicines.

Why do we need miso substitutes?

Miso is a fermented paste made of soybeans. It is an essential part of Japanese food, but may not be familiar in other cultures. In addition to its flavor as a flavoring agent, miso's richness in probiotics (good bacteria) gives it a unique boost in nutritional value. In fact, some components of miso – like its high concentration of Vitamin K2 – are currently being studied for their possible role in preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

However, because of the high cost of miso, many people cannot afford it. In addition to saving money, using miso substitutes can increase the variety of flavors in your dishes. Japanese seasonings and ingredients are generally milder than Western seasonings, but the intensity of the taste can be adjusted in your recipes by adding more or less.

Below, we’ve listed six types of miso substitutes, along with how to use them in recipes.

Soy sauce🌱

Tamari🌱

Tamari is a byproduct of the process that converts soybeans into soybean oil. You’ll find it sold everywhere, from Whole Foods, to your local grocery store. You can purchase it either in a glass jar or in the store’s bulk bins.

Tamari has a richer taste than miso and contains wheat and a low amount of gluten. Its soy content is also lower than soy sauce, which makes it a good replacement for anyone living a gluten free lifestyle. Finally, it has a lower sodium content than soy sauce.

No Miso, No Problem.

You can substitute miso in many recipes to avoid buying more of it then you'll use.

If you don't use miso enough to justify buying a whole jar of it, you could make a smaller jar of vegetarian miso broth using a combination of vegetable broth and soy sauce. Or you could try some of the miso substitutes below.

Miso broth is a good and simple substitute for flavorful broths that do not contain meat or fish. If you're trying to economize on miso, you can also make a quick miso soup by using the vegetable broth and water in which you boiled vegetables.

Miso, if you're new to it, tastes fermented. It's sometimes said to taste like cheese, but is less salty and a little more rich.

So if you're looking for a miso substitute, pick a sour ingredient — such as vinegar or lemon juice — as a base for your broth.

For a more tempura-like flavor, add some tomato paste to the broth.

Tahini paste🌱

Tahini is simply sesame seed paste. It’s often pressed into a block and sold as a spread.

In terms of nutritional benefits, one study shows that tahini can lower blood sugar levels in rats.

Some people don’t like tahini because of its strong, bitter taste. If that’s how you feel, you could use chickpea butter instead.

If you’re worried about the temperature when cooking with tahini, you could also substitute it with peanut butter.

No Miso, No Problem.

You can substitute miso in many recipes to avoid buying more of it then you'll use.

If you don't use miso enough to justify buying a whole jar of it, you could make a smaller jar of vegetarian miso broth using a combination of vegetable broth and soy sauce. Or you could try some of the miso substitutes below.

Miso broth is a good and simple substitute for flavorful broths that do not contain meat or fish. If you're trying to economize on miso, you can also make a quick miso soup by using the vegetable broth and water in which you boiled vegetables.

Miso, if you're new to it, tastes fermented. It's sometimes said to taste like cheese, but is less salty and a little more rich.

So if you're looking for a miso substitute, pick a sour ingredient — such as vinegar or lemon juice — as a base for your broth.

For a more tempura-like flavor, add some tomato paste to the broth.

Salt

Salt is an essential nutrient in the human diet, but it can also be a health risk. Moderation is key. One in 10 people have high blood pressure, which is attributed to the high salt content in the typical American diet. Because of its high sodium content, salt should be used sparingly. Some foods have so much salt in them – like soup, bread, or even a canned good – that you can get too much before you know it. Fortunately, there are many different ways you can replace salt in recipes. The following list of miso substitutes will help you substitute miso in many of your recipes.

Vegetable stock🌱

When you use vegetable stock in place of vegetable soup in a recipe, you end up with a much more balanced plate of miso soup … veggie stock just tastes more like miso anyway. It’s not always worth it to make vegetable stock from scratch, but when you have an abundance of vegetables and enough time, it makes for a great substitute to have in the fridge.

Juice – Although it seems like a stretch, you can replace the water or other liquid in the recipe with a small amount of your favorite juice. It will make the flavor of your miso soup much brighter and all-around more interesting.

Soy milk – In a miso soup recipe, soy milk is a fantastic alternative to water. It also aids in thickening the soup, which can be from starch coagulating. You can also use soy milk in place of regular milk when cooking lots of other Japanese dishes, so it will definitely be worthwhile to keep a big container in your refrigerator.

Fish sauce

Fish sauce is unique, and if you need to substitute it, you should use a liquid protein package, often found on the Asian-food aisle of supermarkets. It is similar to fish sauce, as it is made of fermented fish. It has a salty, fishy, seafood-like flavor that most people either love or hate. Therefore, if you don’t like fish sauce, you might as well leave it out. You can also substitute cayenne pepper for some of the spices used to add flavor to your dish. The aromatic quality of cayenne pepper matches well with fish sauces. It’s a little bit spicy, but it also adds a rich, deep flavor to your dish.

The Bottom Line

The most common types of miso you’ll find are made from yellow and red rice, barley, chickpeas, and soybeans. But miso is also made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even black sesame seeds.

It seems like there are a lot of alternatives to miso on this list of 6 best miso substitutes. But I think that’s exactly the difference we’re trying to show you. In other words, not all alternatives are created equal, and you may not have to hunt them down. Some of these ingredients can already be found in your pantry.

Top vegan picks

Miso is a thick paste that gives soup its umami flavor. It’s made from fermented soybean, barley, or rice.

Because miso is fermented, it’s a good source of probiotics and it’s also high in healthy fiber. As a result, it’s a great source of protein, which makes it one of the perfect ingredients for a well-rounded plant-based diet.

Top healthy picks

Miso is one of the most versatile condiments/seasoning that can be used for anything from soup to salad dressing. It is made from fermented soy beans and adds an umami flavor to your dishes.

Although the Japanese have been using it for a long time, traditional miso is made during the winter months. It’s not often found in your regular grocery stores because of a few key factors. First, it’s time consuming to make. Second, it’s made from fermented soy beans. So you can understand why miso is a rarity. However, here are a few miso substitutes that you can use in the meantime.

Miso Paste

Top convenient picks

If you ever get to the aisle of miso paste in the grocery store and stare at all the varieties available, you might want to grab one of these convenient miso alternatives instead. Regardless of whether you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, or whether you’re trying to cut down on your salt intake, these are six of the best commercially available miso substitutes that you should definitely consider.

Top convincing picks

While miso is a great health promoting ingredient, there are certain times when you simply don’t have it on hand or don’t want to use it for whatever reason. Fortunately, there are many convincing substitutes that can be used in its stead.

Dairy

The base of miso is fermented soybeans and when you ferment most types of beans they get a creamy texture or a cheese-like flavor. The following dairy products are often used to replace miso:

Yogurt: You can think of yogurt as a milk-based miso. You even get that same delicious fermented taste. Although you lose the umami flavor, you do get a bit of a tangy flavor, which makes it a great option for dishes such as Asian soups or Japanese curry.

Cottage Cheese: Cottage cheese is full of lactic acid, which makes it a great substitute for miso that pairs well with fish dishes. It also adds a creamy and tangy flavor to the dish.

Soft Cheese: Soft cheese has a salty taste to compliment its soft texture and this saltiness will help to bring out the flavor in your dish and will help to elevate its taste just like miso.