Although miso soup is probably the most ubiquitous usage of miso in the US, there’s far more to it than just the famous appetizer broth. Miso itself is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans with additional ingredients. Common additions include rice or barley, but because of the sheer amount of different ingredients than can be added, there’s dozens if not hundreds of varieties of miso. Traditionally, different regions of Japan have their own variation.
The fermentation process mixes soybeans with salt and koji, a fungus also used in soy sauce and sake. Although there’s tons of different misos, the most common basic types are either shiro (white) miso, aka (red) miso, or awase (mixed) miso. White miso is lighter and a bit sweet, making it more versatile and well-suited for lighter soups, salads, marinades, and sauces. Due to its longer fermentation, red miso is stronger with a rich flavor that works well in stews or for braising. Mixed miso, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like — an all-purpose combination of the two that’s good for all sorts of dishes.
Miso takes the form of a paste and, like all fermented food, contains lots of helpful microorganisms that promote gut health. Common uses for miso include miso ramen, certain hot pot dishes, marinades, or as a flavoring agent for cooked vegetables. When you want to try it out, you can find it in Uwajimaya’s refrigerated section of our grocery department.