What Is Miso, and How Can I Cook with It?

You've seen it on menus and eaten it in soup. But what’s the real deal with miso? Here's what you should know about the pantry hero, plus how to cook with it at home.

What is miso? 

A staple in Asian cuisine, miso is traditionally made from soybeans and a mold called koji. The soybeans and koji are mixed with salt and left to ferment—for weeks or sometimes years. The result is a paste that tastes extremely salty and tangy on its own but adds a rich umami quality when used in a dish.

Where can I buy it, and what should I look for? 

You don't have to be close to a Japanese market to find miso. We've seen it at Whole Foods and even our local grocery store, but you can also get it on Amazon (kepp in mind though, it will be freshest and tastiest if you buy it from an Asian grocer.) According to John and Jan Belleme in The Miso Book, miso falls into two major groups: sweet and dark. Sweet miso (i.e., shiro) is light and mellow, while dark miso (i.e., red or brown) is pungent and intense. Start with sweet if you're new.

What can I cook with it? 

Other than the obvious soup, you can add miso almost anywhere you want a layer of umami flavor. Try blending a light miso with butter as a topping for roasted vegetables; add a tablespoon or two of dark miso to a braise or stew; or use either light or dark miso as a glaze for chicken or fish.

Anything else I should know? 

Miso isn't just tasty. It's also pretty damn good for you. Think protein, probiotics, vitamins and minerals. And while it is high in sodium, you don't need to use a lot to get the savory flavor boost you're looking for.

What Are the Health Benefits of Miso, and Is It the Key to Cooking for a Healthier Gut?


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...