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What is Miso: A Guide to Using This Umami-Rich Ingredient

What is Miso: A Guide to Using This Umami-Rich Ingredient

We’ve all heard about miso. It’s a staple ingredient in fish sinigang and in our favorite Japanese restaurant’s miso soups. But what is miso? In recent times, chefs and home cooks have turned to miso to create new dishes using this ingredient. From miso-glazed salmon to miso caramels, this ingredient has been making waves due to its versatility and the depth of umami flavors it adds to any dish.
Miso is a fermented paste that is popular in Japanese cuisine and is used in Filipino dishes as well. It’s a fermented paste that’s made from soybean, some type of grain (rice or barley), and a mold called koji. Miso fermentation time can range from a few weeks to several years. Fermentation helps develop the color and flavor of miso pastes and this plays a role in the different types of miso available.

Types of Miso Paste

There are over 1300 varieties of miso made through different combinations of soybean and grains and different fermentation times. The more popular types of miso are white miso, red miso, and yellow miso. Consider white and red at the ends of the spectrum of miso. The lighter the miso, as in the case of white miso, the more delicate the flavors. On the other hand, the darker the miso, the more pungent and stronger the flavors are.

White Miso

White miso, also known as sweet miso, is light in color and is usually white or beige. It has a proportionally higher amount of koji than soybean in the mix and has a short fermentation time of only a few weeks. It has a delicate, sweet, and nutty taste that’s perfect to use in soups, salad dressings, light sauces, and even quick pickled vegetables. Its delicate taste makes it easy to add to light-tasting food because it won’t overpower the whole dish. White miso can also be used to add a depth of flavor to baked goods like cookies and cakes.

Red Miso

Red miso, also known as dark miso, has a color that’s usually red to near black/dark brown. It has a proportionally higher amount of soybeans to koji and has a fermentation time of one to three years. It has an intense pungent taste that’s saltier and earthier than lighter miso. Its strong flavor can easily overpower fresh ingredients and that’s why it’s best to use red miso in heartier dishes like rich soups, pork dishes, braises, marinades, or glazes. You can even use it to make compound butter for a delicious bread spread but because of the strong flavors, make sure to use it sparingly.

Yellow Miso

Yellow miso, usually yellow or light brown in color, strikes a balance between white and red miso. It’s fermented for a little longer than white miso and uses barley in its fermentation of soybean instead of rice. It has a mild earthy flavor that can be used in a variety of ways. Because its flavor profile is in between red and white miso, you can practically use yellow miso in more dishes than the other one. Just make sure to adjust recipes to your taste.

Storage & Shelf Life of Miso Paste

Miso is a fermented product and has a generally long shelf life. It’s best to check the dates indicated in your miso packaging but a general rule of thumb is the lighter the miso, the faster it spoils. Light-colored miso usually expires after 9 months while darker miso expires after a year to a little over a year. The reason for this is the fermentation time – the longer it ferments, the longer the shelf life. When storing your miso, keep it in an airtight container and press plastic wrap against the surface of the miso to prevent oxidation. It’s handy to have this ingredient in hand because of its versatility and its generally long shelf life.

Recipes To Try Using Miso

Here are a few recipes that you can try using miso.

Miso Salad Dressing

Mix the following ingredients together to create a delicious miso salad dressing that’s good for your gut health:

  • 1 ½ Tbsp white miso paste
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger or ¼ tsp ginger powder
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 ½ Tbsp vinegar

Miso Compound Butter

Cream half a stick of butter and 2 tablespoons of miso together using a fork. Add pepper if you prefer. You can use this butter immediately or roll it into a log and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate and slice to use. Experiment with different types of miso for this recipe.

Sinigang na Maya Maya sa Miso Recipe

Make this easy and delicious Filipino soup using Knorr Sinigang na may Miso mix. It has all the umami-rich flavors of miso and the mouth-puckering sourness of sinigang in one convenient packet.

Miso in Desserts

You can also use miso in sweet desserts to add a depth of flavor. It’s best used with baking spices such as clove, cinnamon, and ginger as well as nutty flavors like brown butter. You can also use it with fruits like apples and bananas for a more complex taste. To incorporate in your baked goods, simply add 2 tablespoons of miso per cup of flour when making the dough or batter for cookies and other baked goods. Typically, chefs advise against using miso in more delicate baked goods like sugar cookies because it can overpower the flavors but we say test it out and see for yourself.

There are several more ways that you can use miso in cooking and these recipes are a good starting point for those looking to add a richer, umami flavor to their dishes.

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