Cooking With Miso: The Dos and Don’ts

Miso has gone from being a mysterious Asian ingredient to being relatively commonplace in just a few years. Miso is a fermented paste consisting of soybean blended with other grains like rice and barley. There are different kinds of miso with different properties, so they aren’t all suitable for the same types of dishes. However, some rules apply to how you use them. Remember the dos and don’ts below to get the best results when cooking with miso.

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Do use miso in moderation.

Miso — especially red miso — is flavorful, and it is possible to use too much, especially if you are unfamiliar with it. A little goes a long way, so use only a tiny amount.

Do choose the miso type to suit the dish you plan to make.

Red miso is intensely flavored and best for marinades and hearty soups. White miso and adzuki bean miso are both mild-tasting and versatile. White miso is tame enough to be adapted to Western recipes where it can play the role of a vegan dairy substitute; its sweetness makes it suitable for desserts and savory dishes.

Yellow miso falls between the white and the red in terms of pungency but works for fish and some desserts, while chickpea miso’s unique flavor makes it as versatile as the yellow.

Do thin miso when using it in liquid-heavy dishes.

Miso won’t soften quickly, even in warm liquids. Miso will be lumpy if you attempt to mix it into a liquid. The big, salty lumps might be off-putting in some preparations. To get rid of the lumps, place miso in a bowl, add a little of the liquid from the pot, and thin the miso out with a whisk before mixing it into the rest of the dish.

Do wipe a marinade containing miso off your food before cooking.

Miso tends to burn, so you want to remove all but the thinnest coating.

Do pay attention to the salt levels in your dish when using miso.

Miso has a lot of salt, so you may want to adjust salt levels in recipes not designed to incorporate it. You may even be able to use some misos in place of all the salt in your dish.

Do store unpasteurized miso in the refrigerator.

Because miso is a fermented product, it will keep fermenting unless you stop or slow down the process, which you can do by storing it in the fridge. When you store miso in the refrigerator, you ensure its flavor stays the same for about a year.

Do protect miso from contact with the air.

Cover an open container of miso with plastic wrap so that the plastic is in contact with the surface of the miso. Properly protecting your miso will help to preserve its flavor and color.

Don’t boil miso.

Boiling miso will destroy much of its flavor and aroma. If your dish requires that you add miso to a hot liquid, lower the liquid’s heat and keep it low until the dish is served.

Don’t be afraid to combine different kinds of miso to enhance the paste’s complexity.

The different flavor profiles of the miso varieties can complement each other in some dishes and result in a richer overall flavor.