Miso is a traditional Japanese paste used in a variety of dishes, including its namesake, miso soup. It is made from soybeans, grains, and a starter mold called koji. Koji, which consists of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, is used to ferment the beans and/or grains and may play an important role in any potential miso benefits.
Today, we’ll examine this nutritious condiment in detail, including miso’s nutrition facts, potential health benefits, and culinary uses. We’ve also included a delicious miso soup recipe for you to try. So keep reading…
Miso: A Quick Overview
Miso is considered an essential food in Japanese cuisine, where it appears in sauces, marinades, and soups, as well as vegetable and meat dishes. The paste has a peanut butter-like consistency that can be either smooth or chunky, depending on the type.
The taste of miso is described as salty and tangy, while offering a savory, meaty umami flavor profile.
Miso, while Japanese for “fermented beans,” can also be made with grains like barley or rice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of types of miso, but in Western markets, you will generally find three major ones: white, yellow, and red.
- White miso: Mild and sweet-tasting, white miso is fermented for a shorter time than others (about three months). It consists of soybeans and rice, and can be adapted to many foods. Color varies from beige to light yellow.
- Yellow miso: Yellow miso typically contains fermented soybeans and barley. The Goldilocks of the three types, it has a flavor that is stronger than white miso but milder than red varieties. You’ll find its color is closer to light brown.
- Red miso: The strongest tasting (and smelling) miso is made of a higher concentration of soybeans and is also fermented for up to three years. Its color ranges from red to dark brown.
Miso Nutrition Facts
It may surprise you to learn that miso contains several important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K, manganese, and copper. It also has fair amounts of dietary fiber and protein. In fact, soybean-based miso can serve as a complete protein, as it provides all nine essential amino acids.
Here are some nutritional highlights from a one-ounce (approximately two tablespoons) serving of miso paste:
NutrientAmount% Daily Value
Total Carbohydrates7.4 grams (g)2%
Dietary Fiber1.5 g6%
Total Fat1.7 g3%
Vitamin K8.2 micrograms (mcg)10%
Riboflavin0.1 milligram (mg)4%
It’s important to note, however, that this same serving of miso contains 1,044 mg of sodium. That’s 43% of your daily needs for the mineral. So, you’ll want to limit your intake, especially if you are sensitive to salt.
Potential Miso Benefits
Not only does miso contain multiple nutrients that can contribute to your daily intake, but it might also offer benefits for gut health, immunity, and cancer prevention. Let’s explore the science behind these potential advantages.
May Encourage a Healthy Gut
As a result of the fermentation process, miso is rich in probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts considered beneficial for the digestive system. These can add to the population of healthy microorganisms in your gut, balancing out the “bad” kinds and also supporting digestion.
Studies have linked the A. oryzae yeast in miso to reduced risk and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Moreover, fermenting beans and grains, such as those found in miso, reduces their levels of anti-nutrients. These plant compounds can block your ability to absorb important vitamins and minerals from foods.
May Boost Immune Response
Your immune system and gut are closely linked, with 70% to 80% of your immune cells inhabiting your digestive tract. Having a healthy, diverse collection of gut microbes supports immune health. The probiotics in miso may assist your immune system in multiple ways:
- Research suggests that eating probiotic foods regularly could decrease the need for antibiotics to treat infections.
- A diet filled with probiotics may reduce your chance of getting an upper respiratory infection and also lower the intensity of symptoms.
May Lower Cancer Risk
Regularly consuming miso may protect against certain cancers, such as gastric and breast cancer.
A high intake of salt-rich foods has traditionally been associated with a higher risk of gastric cancer. But high-salt miso seems to be an exception. Compared to salty foods like pickled vegetables and salted fish, miso was not linked to a higher gastric cancer risk in one 2013 study.
The study authors believe this may be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of isoflavones found in soybeans.
These polyphenolic compounds may have the same protective effects on breast cancer. In a Japanese study, frequent consumption of miso soup and isoflavones was linked with a lower risk of breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women.
The current research in each of these areas is promising. However, much more work needs to be done to identify any possible therapies or other applications.
There are also risks to eating miso for some people. Those suffering from thyroid dysfunction may need to restrict their intake, as the soybeans in miso can act as goitrogens. Goitrogens are known to interfere with thyroid hormone production, which may lead to swelling of thyroid tissue.
People with conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease also need to watch their miso intake. The high salt concentration could worsen these health issues.
Miso Uses, Selection & Storage
Miso paste is rather versatile. You can use it as seasoning agent to give flavor to salad dressings, mayo, and butter spreads. Other options include:
- Simmering it into a vegetarian stew
- Whisking it into a stir-fry dish
- Blending it into an overnight marinade for meats
- Sautéing it with mushrooms, eggplant, and onions
- Mixing it into a creamy crudité dip
Generally, the darker the color, the stronger the taste—something to keep in mind when using the paste in recipes.
Most Asian specialty markets carry miso, and you may even find it in a few big-box supermarkets. To get the most probiotic benefits, many select a live, unpasteurized miso. These types often require refrigeration to keep the healthy microorganisms alive. Most varieties, however, do not have to be refrigerated before opening.
Unopened miso paste may last for up to a year in your pantry. If the package contains a best-buy date, some experts say it should be okay to consume three to six months past the date. That’s because miso’s salt content makes it a great preservative.
Miso Soup Recipe
You can make your own miso soup at home, including the special stock known as dashi. All you need is kombu, a type of dried edible seaweed, and bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes. Add fresh vegetables to give this nourishing soup even more nutrient power.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 60 minutes
Yields: Two bowls
For the Japanese soup stock (dashi):
- 4 cups water (cold)
- 1 sheet kombu (5-inch square)
- 1 cup bonito flakes
For the miso soup:
- 4 cups dashi
- 2-4 tbsp miso paste (white, yellow, or red)
- Sliced root vegetables of your choice (carrot, potato, onion, etc.)
- 1/2 cup green cabbage, chopped
- 1/4 cup tofu (soft or medium-firm), diced
- Green onion, finely chopped
For the dashi:
- Add kombu sheet to medium-sized saucepan. Pour in 4 cups water.
- Bring water to a rapid simmer, but not boiling. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Cut off the heat and pour in bonito flakes. Let steep for 10 minutes.
- Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the broth into a separate saucepan.
For the miso soup:
- Heat 4 cups dashi in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add root vegetables to the saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender.
- Add in cabbage and keep at a simmer.
- Place miso paste in a ladle directly above the saucepan, add a small amount of dashi into the ladle, and whisk until smooth. Lower ladle into soup and continue to simmer. Do not boil!
- Add in the diced tofu.
- Ladle soup into two bowls, and serve with diced green onions on top.
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