If you’re a fan of Japanese food, you’ll know about the magic of miso. When it comes to bringing taste bud tingling flavor, few ingredients can hold a candle to this incredible ingredient.
Still, what if you need a miso substitute? It’s certainly not the easiest ingredient to track down but, should you find yourself missing the miso, there are some great miso substitutes out there.
What is miso?
Miso is a very popular ingredient used in Japanese cuisine to bring a deep savoury flavor known as ‘umami’ – the fifth flavor type. It comes in the form of a paste and is made using fermented soybeans.
To make miso, soybeans are boiled, crushed, then mixed with a combination of rice, barley, beans and wheat. This mixture is then left to ferment for three years – yep, you read that right… THREE YEARS! – before it can be sold as miso paste.
The fermentation process is what gives miso paste its strong savory flavor. It’s this deep, rich flavor that makes miso paste such a magical ingredient that’s able to completely transform the flavor profile of a dish.
It also makes it tricky to replicate. Still, there are some ingredients that can work well in place of miso paste.
What are the different types of miso?
The most common type of miso is called ‘shiro’, also known as white miso. This type of miso paste is pale in colour and has the mildest flavor, with a subtle sweetness to it. White miso is made using a high percentage of rice in the mix and is often used in ramen dishes and as a fish marinade.
Red miso is made using a higher percentage of barley and has a more intense flavor than white miso. It’s typically used in hearty soups and as a marinade for meat.
For those who find white miso a little too light and red miso a touch too strong, awase miso is a blend of the two. It brings great versatility to the table and is used for all kinds of Japanese dishes.
Those are the three most common types of miso, but you can also get pure barley miso, which is known for its particular intensity and is a favorite in Southern Japanese cuisine, and miso paste with dashi, which is the stock that is added to miso soup.
What recipes use miso paste?
In Japan, the most common use for miso paste is to make miso soup. This is the best example of what miso can do, as the ingredients for miso soup are quite minimal, allowing the unique miso flavor to take center stage.
Miso is also used in Japanese cooking to bring extra umami flavor to just about any kind of saucey stew, soup or broth. Anything that’s cooked over quite a long period of time and requires an extra hit of flavor. Something like a ramen, for example.
It also works really well when used as a marinade for meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Check out my miso salmon and miso eggplant recipes for an example of the wonderful flavor it can add.
9 Miso Substitutes
Are you looking for a Miso Substitute? In this comprehensive list you'll learn 9 ideas for an alternative.
The best straight substitute for miso paste, tastewise, is soy sauce. Much like miso paste, soy sauce is made from fermented ingredients – soybeans, roasted wheat, mold and salted water.
When it comes to that incredible savory flavor that miso brings to recipes, soy sauce comes very close. Of all miso paste substitutes, it is the closest match in terms of its make up.
Like miso paste, soy sauce contains no animal products, which makkes it an ideal miso paste substitute for vegetarians and vegans.
The main issue when it comes to using soy sauce as a miso substitute is the difference in textures. Swapping in a thin sauce for a thick paste can have a big impact on your recipe.
That’s where tahini comes in. Tahini has a very similar texture to miso. It’s made using ground sesame seeds and is used in Middle Eastern cuisines to bring a creamy texture and nutty flavor to dishes, most notably hummus.
When used in tandem, the intense savory taste of soy sauce and the thick consistency of tahini gives you the ideal miso paste substitute.
Add ½ tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of tahini for every tablespoon of miso paste. This should cover both the texture and flavor of the miso paste.
A by-product of the miso-making process, tamari is probably the best all-round like-for-like substitute for miso paste. It has a similar lip-smacking flavor to soy sauce, albeit with less salt. It’s also thicker, so it doesn't affect the consistency of dishes like soy sauce does.
Like miso paste, tamari is vegan and, unlike some types of miso paste, tamari is gluten-free. Use ½ tablespoon of tamari per tablespoon of miso paste.
Like miso, fish sauce brings an intense savory taste. If you’re looking for that umami flavor, particularly if you’re making a fish dish, fish sauce is an ideal miso substitute.
One of the things that makes fish sauce such a good substitute for miso is that it’s readily available – you should be able to pick up a bottle in most grocery stores or health food stores. It’s also cheaper than miso paste and, if you’re a fan of fish, you’ll be able to use it in many kinds of fish recipes, in stews and soups or even as part of a marinade.
Fish sauce is made from anchovies, which makes it unsuitable for vegans. It is, however, gluten-free, so makes a great miso substitute for those looking for a gluten-free option.
Swap ½ tablespoon of fish sauce for a tablespoon of miso paste. You will have to tweak your recipe slightly to account for the change in consistency. For example, if making a soup, use less stock and consider adding a thickener, such as arrowroot.
A mixture of vegetables such as carrots, celery, onion and tomato, as well as yeast extract, potato starch, garlic powder and spices, vegetable base is an affordable and readily available substitute for miso. Chances are, you’ve already got a tub of this vegetable stock base in your cupboard.
While it won’t replicate the flavor of the fermented ingredients like miso, soy sauce and others, vegetable stock does a great job of bringing some much needed umami to
An amazing ingredient that’s little known outside of Japan, Umeboshi paste brings some explosive umami flavor. Unlike miso, it has a tang and a certain acidity, which means it’s not one of the best miso substitutes for certain dishes.
For dishes that require tangy, fruity flavors however, umeboshi would work perfectly. It’s made from pureed, fermented Japanese ume plums and, while you might think it would have a sweet flavor, it’s actually much more tangy and salty.
Umeboshi paste works like a charm with meat dishes, fish dishes, hearty soups, casseroles, stews and salads. As it comes in a paste, it can replicate the texture as well as part of the flavor of miso. Like miso, add a little at a time for best results.
It’s not the most readily available ingredient (try Asian food stores or online). Still, when it comes to taste and texture, umeboshi is one of the best miso paste subsitutes. Swap umeboshi for miso at a 1:1 ratio.
This sauce is pure magic and is always worth having around when you need to bring a bit of flavor. With flavors of salty, sweet, unami, acidity and spice, Worcestershire sauce is the perfect ingredient to add to add flavor to everything from stews and sauces to salads and marinades.
It’s made from a blend of distilled white vinegar, molasses, sugar, water, salt, onions, garlic, cloves, tamarind extract, chili pepper extract and – unfortunately for you vegans out there – anchovies.
So, while it’s not the perfect substitute for miso, it’ll definitely add plenty of flavor. Like soy sauce, this thin sauce won’t replicate the texture of miso. So, combine with another paste, like tamarind, or adjust your recipe accordingly.
Marmite and miso have many similarities. Both are fermented, both work as spreads, both are vegan and both bring an explosion of flavor.
Particularly effective when it comes to adding an extra earthiness to stews, soups and broths, marmite is one of the best all-round miso paste substitutes. It brings a stronger flavor than miso though, so use ½ tablespoon of marmite for every tablespoon of miso paste.
A vegan and gluten-free flavor enhancer, coconut aminos has become one of the go to ingredients for health-concious foodies in recent years. Like miso paste, coconut aminos is made from fermented ingredients – the fermented sap of coconut palm, which is mixed with sea salt to produce a flavor that’s similar to soy sauce.
Like soy sauce, you’ll need to account for consistency when using it as a miso paste substitute. Mix half and half with a paste like tamarind, or add a tablespoon in place of a tablespoon of miso paste for soups, stews and broths, then reduce the liquid content of the dish.
When all else fails, you can add an extra pinch of salt to your recipe. Of course, it won’t be able to bring a similar dimension of savory flavor to that of miso, but if you find yourself without any of the other substitutes on this list, salt will at least brighten your dish and bring some much needed flavor.
While it’s inexpensive and readily available, the better the salt the better the results will be. Good quality sea salt will make a big difference. Substitute a tablespoon of miso for a pinch of salt and adjust according to taste.
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