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Dive Into Miso World; Japanese Miso Paste 101

miso 101, Japanese food, traditional Japanese food Food & Recipes
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Miso, miso paste, has been popular worldwide as one of the representative Japanese secret ingredients. Today, many signature cooking chefs on TV use Miso much more so it may be not a secret and unique anymore.

So, you use miso to add a savory salty unique flavor to your dishes. However, it is not just only brown funny (scary?) paste. Today, let’s dive into the Japanese Miso world with me who is from Japan.

It’s not so important but just for adding your knowledge, what does the term of Miso refer to in Japanese?

According to the Japanese Kojien dictionary,

① One of the seasonings. Made from soybeans as the main ingredient, Koji made from rice or barley, soybean and salt are mixed and fermented. There are types such as red, yellow, white, and more.
② The Japanese term that refers to things you are good at.
③ The paste looks like miso paste. Such as internal organs in the crab shell.

Miso is a traditional key condiment and fermented food supporting the Japanese diet for as long as 1,300 years. There are various types in miso and have been roughly divided into its types depending on raw materials, color, and flavor. Moreover, these factors can be added by the length of fermentation, and the conditions of raw materials.

Types Of Japanese Miso; By Raw Materials

Miso can be roughly divided into four types by raw materials: rice miso, barley miso, soybean miso, and blend miso.
Currently, 80% of Miso paste is domestically produced is rice miso.

Rice Miso; Kome Miso

Made from rice, soybeans, and salt. White miso is also a type of rice miso.

Rice miso is made by adding rice koji to soybeans.

Barley Miso; Mugi Miso

Made from barley, soybeans, and salt. Produced mainly in Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions.

Wheat miso is made by adding barley koji to soybeans.

Soybean Miso; Mame Miso

Made from soybeans and salt. Produced mainly in Nagoya Metropolitan Area.

Soybean miso uses only soybeans as the raw material.

Blend Miso; Chogo Miso

  1. Mixed miso made of few kinds of rice miso or barley miso or bean miso.
  2. Miso contains mixed Koji made of rice or barley or bean.
  3. Miso other than rice miso, wheat miso, and soybean miso.

What’s Koji?

Koji is the essential ingredient for making miso, but what’s koji by the way?

Koji is the mold and has been deeply rooted in Japanese history for a long.

Recently, you may see “Koji miso” products on the market. Is it different from others?

Types Of Japanese Miso; By Color

Miso is generally categorized as red, yellow, and, white.

Speaking of miso color theory, it is due to the Maillard reaction that occurs during fermentation and aging.

In miso color theory, it is due to the Maillard reaction that occurs during fermentation and aging.

The Maillard reaction is the chemical reaction between amino acids such as those contained in soybeans and sugar to give the food browned.

The finish color is affected by various conditions. Types of ingredients, using steamed soybeans or boiled, amount of Koji whether to ferment miso, etc.

Red Miso; Aka Miso

  • Color is red
  • The long length of the aging process
  • Strong taste

Red miso has a long aging process, so it is known for its rich and strong salt flavor. Especially, Red miso made of beans is low in sugar and high in protein, rich in amino acids.

You can see local red miso characters in Japan, such as red miso in the Tohoku region generally made of rice, and red miso in the region around Nagoya made of beans. Haccho miso is the signature local red miso in Aichi prefecture and has known for its strong flavor.

There is also red miso made from wheat in the Northern Kantou region.

Yellow (light-color) Miso; Tansyoku Miso

  • The color is light beige or yellowish
  • The shorter length of the aging process
  • Light or sweeter taste

In Japan, yellow miso is called “Tannsyoku Miso” which literally means “light color”. Sometimes, there are complex colors in yellow miso, it is difficult to clarify between white, light color, or red.

In general, the short-aging period gives miso a lighter color, and the longer period gives the darker color.

White Miso; Shiro Miso

  • The color is white
  • Short aging length
  • Mild and sweet taste

White miso, the white-color miso is caused by a short period of the aging process. It has lower sodium than red miso and also is sweeter due to Koji.

Shinshu miso (often classified as yellow miso) and Kansai-Shiro miso are typical examples of white miso and are made from rice. They are often described that Shinshu miso has a light taste and Kansai-Shiro miso has a sweet taste.

Sweet Or Salty

Miso is also divided into tastes; sweet or salty. The level of saltiness is depended on the amount of salt (of course,) but another fact is the amount of Koji.

Flavor Profile

The taste of miso is a complex combination of sweetness and saltiness and umami, acidity, bitterness, and astringency.


The factor of sweetness in miso paste is Koji.

A high amount of rice koji makes a stronger sweet miso flavor. The reason why the long-fermentation period miso is salty and dry is that the sugar level is decreased while consuming lactic acid bacteria to produce yeast.


The umami of miso is fortified mainly by the amino acid (glutamic acid) produced by the decomposition of soybean protein, and the umami becomes richer as it ages.

The combination of saltiness, acidity, sweetness and glutamic acid (umami) provides a good aroma and moderate viscosity.

Popular Local Produced Miso In Japan

All-Purpose Miso; Rice Miso

Rice miso is the most produced miso in Japan. As you know, Japan stretches from north to south, so the miso taste varies depending on the water area and climate.

Sendai Miso (Miyagi Prefecture)

It is red dry miso. Steamed soybeans aged for a long period bring a rich flavor. Sendai miso, which is famous for its strong aroma and umami, is said to require no dashi soup. It is also delicious to eat directly as dipping.

Edomae Amamiso (Tokyo)

It is red miso rich in sweetness with a unique Koji aroma. Since it uses less salt so it goes well with meat and fish without disturb ingredient flavor.

Shinsyu Miso (Nagano Prefecture)

It is light-colored dry miso. It is all-purpose yellow miso that has a light taste and a slightly sour aroma.

Echigo Miso (Niigata Prefecture)

It is red dry miso which is salty but has a mellow round taste and strong umami. It is unique miso that you can see round rice koji in the miso paste.

Kansai White Miso (the Kansai Region)

It is white sweet miso and is often called “Saikyo Miso”. It’s very common in the Kansai region, has strong sweetness and a mellow aroma.

Sweet Miso; Mugi Miso

Mugi miso is commonly consumed in the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu islands. Rich wheat aroma and sweetness. It is also called “Inaka miso” (Inaka means countryside) since it was originally made for the farmer’s own use.

In addition to Nagasaki miso explained below, there are many local mugi misos such as Ehime miso and Kagoshima miso, and they are collectively called “Kyushu Mugi miso”.

Nagasaki Miso (Nagasaki)

Nagasaki Miso is miso made of steamed soybeans and barley koji.

It is using 1.5 to 2.5 times as much barley koji as soybeans, has a unique sweet flavor.

Rich salty and Umami flavor; Mame Miso

Mame miso is mainly consumed in Aichi, Mie, and Gifu prefectures.

Tokai Mame Miso (Aichi, Mie, Gifu)

The production areas of mame miso are mostly in the Tokai region-Aichi prefecture, Mie prefecture, and Gifu prefecture.

“Tokai mame miso” often refers to mame miso made in these prefectures.

Especially, Nagoya in Aichi prefecture has been well-known as local cuisine used local red miso such as miso cutlet, miso oden, and miso nikomi udon.

By the way, “Hatccho Miso”, the most famous soybean miso, is located in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture.

Miso Troubleshooting

Where To Store Miso

There is no problem with storage at room temperature, but if the temperature is warm in your pantry, the color and flavor of miso may change and loosen, so better to store it in the refrigerator after purchase.

How To Store Miso

Generally, keep miso in a sealed container in a refrigerator. You can keep it at room temperature but, the color may change and the flavor and aroma may be impaired in the hot season.

You can also keep miso in a freezer. Normally, miso does not freeze.

However, the package may not be suitable for freezing, so it is recommended to transfer miso paste to a container or bag and freeze it. The taste changes easily when exposed to the air, so cover the surface of the miso with plastic wrap if you use a container.

Miso Has Changed To Darker Color In Pantry

Miso is a fermented food, and it becomes colored during the fermentation and aging process. Even after your purchase, the color will gradually darken and the flavor will change.

There is no problem eating.

The darkening of the color is due to the Maillard reaction, which is the phenomenon that amino acids such as soybeans, which are the raw material, react with sugar and turn brown.

Especially in summer, the reaction will occur rapidly, so keep it in a cool place or the refrigerator.

Eat Expired Miso, Good Or Bad?

Miso 󠄀 is a preserved food that does not become inedible even after the expiration date, but the color and flavor may change.

However, the expiration date is the guide to consume the best condition of Miso, so it’s better to use it before expiration.

White Mold On Miso

The white mold on the surface of miso is a kind of yeast that is harmless. However, the flavor will be impaired, so better to remove the part before use.

Sometimes, white crystals may form on the surface or inside miso, but this is the amino acid tyrosine formed by the decomposition of soybean protein and has no problem using it.

Brown Liquid On Miso

This brown liquid is called a “tamari” which is a part of miso containing salt, sugar, peptides, amino acids, etc. This is generated on the upper surface during aging. Of course, it is a part of Miso, so it is completely harmless. Mix well with miso before serving.

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