Miso paste is a must-have in my kitchen. Miso is an umami-rich seasoning often used in Japanese cuisine (miso soup, for example). Because of its unique umami flavor, miso is an excellent addition to any soup, stews, stir-fried dishes, and even using it as a glaze. But if you don't have any in your fridge and your recipe is calling the ingredient, there are some miso substitutes that you can use. While there is no "perfect" flavor match for miso paste, there are excellent miso paste substitutes.
What is Miso Paste?
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean paste that is used in Asian cuisine. Native to Japan, miso is famous for its umami flavor. It has a salty, savory, and mild sweet taste, with a creamy texture like peanut butter. Because it is full of unique flavor and texture, a small amount of miso will go a long way.
Miso is often used in vegetable stock, miso soup (famous Japanese soup), and salad dressing. The possibilities are endless.
Best Miso Paste Substitute Ingredients
Soy sauce has a very similar flavor to miso paste because it is also made from fermented food like soybean. It is salty, savory, and has a little umami flavor. However, it is usually saltier and less creamy compared to miso paste. When using soy sauce as a substitute, using a small amount will go a long way and work your way up as needed. The disadvantage of using this is it will darken your dish.
To help build a creamy texture to meet miso paste-like consistency, add a little tomato paste, anchovy paste, tahini, soybean flour, or blend it with some cooked beans. If you are looking to avoid soy and want a gluten-free option, check out coconut aminos, or fish sauce.
Tahini paste is a great miso substitute ingredient because the color and texture are similar to white miso paste. Unlike miso paste, tahini is made from ground sesame seeds, which will not taste anything close to miso paste. To get a similar taste as miso paste, combine it with anchovy paste, a little fish sauce, or soy sauce to get that umami flavor.
Tamari is very much like miso paste in terms of umami taste and salty flavor. This miso substitute ingredient is thicker and richer in flavor than soy sauce. If your recipe is calling for miso paste to add consistency, tamari is a better choice.
Fish sauce is a popular Asian condiment made from fermented fish. It has a very similar taste profile to soy sauce and tamari. And it is the perfect option for people who are avoiding soy and want a gluten-free option while providing a similar flavor profile as miso paste. Like soy sauce, fish sauce is lighter, but it is very salt, so that little amount will go a long way.
Click here for vegan-friendly and soy free fish sauce.
Chinese Ground Bean Sauce
Chinese ground bean sauce, known as sweet soybean paste, is very similar to miso, and it is a good miso alternative. Chinese ground bean sauce is made from soybeans, wheat, and salt. It has a rich umami flavor and a much more complex flavor profile than miso paste. While these two ingredients sound like it is made with similar main ingredients and made processed, the taste profile is slightly different. When using this miso paste substitute, use a little at a time and taste your dish before putting more.
Doenjang is a traditional soybean paste used in Korean cuisine and is the best miso substitute. It contains the same component as miso pate, except miso is milder, smoother, and sweeter. In contrast, Korean doenjang is more robust, sharper, deeper, and more complex in flavor, just like the Chinese ground bean sauce. When using this miso paste substitute in your recipe, use a little at a time and build your way up.
Mentsuyu is a Japanese seasoning that is often used in noodle soups. It contains a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Unlike soy sauce, mentsuyu has a more complex flavor and can work well in soup dishes instead of miso. Plus, it will give a genuine Japanese style flavor.
Make your own Miso substitute mixture from scratch
Finding the perfect miso paste substitute is not easy. It needs to have the right creaminess, saltiness, savory, and umami flavor. One substitute that will hit all the categories is to make a miso-like mixture yourself. Making a quick miso substitute at home is super easy. All you need is the following seasonings, mix them together, and then add it to your recipe:
1 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 Tbsp Mirin (or 1 Tsp Sugar)
1 Tbsp Sake (or 1 Tbsp White wine)
1 Tbsp Roasted soybean flour (Kinako)*
A pinch of salt (optional)
*If you are unable to find this ingredient, you can substitute it with peanut powder.
What is the best miso paste to use?
The fermentation length of soybeans will determine the strength of flavor and color of miso paste. There are three types of miso:
Shiro miso- White color, made from rice and lighter in strength and fermented for more than one year and up to three years.
Aka-miso- Red color, made with barley and medium strength and fermented for more than one year and up to three years.
Kuro-miso- Black color, bold flavor, made with soybeans, and fermented for more than one year and up to three years.
The darker the miso color is, the stronger the taste, pungency, and flavor the miso will be. White miso is usually the shorter fermentation period of three months but still has the signature miso taste and flavor profile. Because white miso has a shorter fermentation length, it is usually the most budget friendly type of miso for purchase.
Health Benefits Of Miso Paste
Miso is rich in minerals and a good source of vitamin B, E, K, and folic acid. Because it is made through the fermentation process, it is packed with beneficial bacteria that is good for the gut and helps us stay healthy and wellness. However, miso usually contains a high amount of salt. Low sodium miso is available for purchase at the Asian market. If you are looking for a low sodium option, be sure to read the nutrition information.