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Miso is a quintessential Japanese staple, and for good reason. The backbone of the humble paste is simply fermented soybeans and assorted grains (non-soy alternatives have been on the rise), but even a tiny amount of this superfood can pack a huge wallop of flavor.
In Japan, miso is available in a wide assortment of forms that tend to prop up one particular fermented grain as the central ingredient. They fall into three different categories: white, yellow, and red. The variations are rooted in fermentation time—if you’re a tequila fan, it’s similar to the difference between blanco, reposado, and añejo.
Slightly aged white offers gentle, sweet notes. Older yellow (less common in stateside stores) tends to be earthier. Big red is full of salty, umami goodness and best used in heavier dishes.
Be advised that a little miso goes a long way, and that’s especially true with red.
See below for some of our favorite ways to make the most of your miso—but don’t miss the rest of our miso recipes.
This simple, stunning dressing shines in Chilled Tofu Salad, a satisfying meal for vegetarians and calorie-counters alike. It also works wonders as a marinade for chicken as well as the perfect exclamation point for grilled fish. Get our Miso-Ginger Vinaigrette recipe.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of miso is likely soup but that doesn’t have to be limited to the familiar tofu, seaweed, and broth combo. Here, shiitake mushrooms, udon noodles, and napa cabbage join forces with white miso in a big bowl of steamy goodness. Go even heartier by topping it with a poached egg. Get our Miso Soup with Napa Cabbage and Udon recipe.
The rich earthiness of yellow miso offers the perfect complement to the rustic fall flavors of pumpkin soup. Top with walnut and sesame seed brittle for a salty-sweet addition and added crunch. Get the Miso Pumpkin Soup with Walnut and Sesame Seed Brittle recipe.
A tab of butter blended with white miso and mustard along with a dose of caramelized onions can take an ordinary grilled cheese to extraordinary new heights. The recipe is courtesy of Raqeul Plezel’s “Umami Bomb” cookbook and the standout sando certainly lives up to that billing. Get the Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese with Miso Butter recipe.
This easy vegetarian Japanese-Italian fusion is bound to become part of your weeknight dinner roster. Swiss chard and red miso swap spots with basil and pine nuts for a full-throated pesto while gluten-free buckwheat soba takes on the noodle role. Serve warm or at room temperature. Get our Soba Noodles with Swiss Chard-Miso Pesto recipe.
Bust out the blender and spark up the grill for this make-ahead marinated chicken. Yellow miso takes center stage while a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce spices things up. Get our Grilled Chicken Thigh with Miso Marinade recipe.
Beef, flame, and red miso are a formidable trifecta. With the additional seasonings of mirin, sake, and fermented soybean-chile paste tobanjan, you can turn your backyard into a teppanyaki in no time. Get our Grilled Skirt Steak with Red Miso recipe.
Black cod isn’t the only fish that deserves to get in on some miso action. The red miso and ginger-infused glaze will have the salmon glistening and bursting with flavor. Serve the whole fillet family style on a platter and watch it disappear in seconds. Get our Miso-Ginger Glazed Salmon recipe.
Yep, you can even add miso to dessert. This apple pie isn’t exactly easy but it’s absolutely worth the effort. You’ll want to go with delicate white miso which offers a wonderful balance to salty caramel. Get the Miso Caramel Apple Pie recipe.