Three kinds of miso you should know about

Do you know what Miso is?

Since the Japanese food was registered to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of 2013, miso soup has been getting popular in the world. Miso soup is usually served with rice in Japan and that is Japanese culture. And recently miso has become popular as “MISOSOUP” even outside of Japan too.

Miso soup is a Japanese traditional soup which is consisting of a stock called "DASHI" into which softened miso paste is mixed. Typically tofu and wakame (one kind of seaweeds) are put in miso soup as solid ingredients, but many other kinds of food can be good solid ingredients in miso soup, such as seasonal vegetables and mushrooms, meat, fish and shellfish, root vegetables and leaf objects. Also there are countless combinations of such foods that can be matched in miso soup.

Today I'd like to talk about miso which is essential for miso soup.

miso ingreients

Miso and life

[Miso] is a fermented and aged mixture of soybeans and malt. During fermentation and maturation, various microorganisms work in miso, producing flavor and UMAMI (pleasant savory taste) which are unique to miso.

Since Japan is an island country spreading north and south and east and west, the way of working of the microorganisms changes depending on the climate of the area. In addition, subtly different conditions in each housestrage at same area make different taste in miso. So, even if the ingredients of miso are exactly same ones, different miso  come out. Complicated involvement of conditions such as raw materials, temperature and water quality result in numerous diversity in miso.

Even if technology improves and distribution develops like now, it is impossible to make uniform miso nationwide.

 For example in a homemade classroom, even if all students make miso using the same material, because of the differences of the way of crushing the soybeans, the way of mixing ingredients and the microorganisms which each student have, miso which have same tastes can’t come out.

 In Japan there is the word “temae-miso,” which literally means homemade miso. However, it is idiomatic phrase which means self-praise. This is derived from the fact that Japanese people used to stock miso for one year in each household and they were bragging their miso, saying “My miso is the best in Japan!”

 It is one of the words to understand how much Miso is rooted in Japanese life. 

miso making3



Classification of Miso

Do you know how many kinds of miso exist in Japan? Red miso, white miso, and miso which is made by mixing both of them? No, about 100 kinds?

 No, no. There are more!

Actually, it is said that there are one thousand to two thousands kinds of miso in Japan. Since Japan is an island country spreading east, west, north and south, there are countless number of kinds of miso due to different climate of the area and raw material to be taken in each area. Red miso and white miso are words to classify those kinds of miso and there are three ways to classify miso. I would like to explain it.

 1. Classification by Raw Material of Malt

First of all, from the difference of raw materials of malt, miso can be divided into 4 types of miso, such as rice miso, barley miso, bean miso and “awase-miso”, which are  combined miso of those three.

Rice Miso
Miso made from soybeans, rice malt and salt. About 80% of Japanese miso is rice miso.
Barley Miso
Miso made from soybean, barley malt and salt. Usually barley miso is made in Kyushu district.
Bean Miso
Miso made from soybeans as the main ingredient, with soybean malt and salt added. It is mainly made in Aichi, Mie and Gifu prefecture.

There are also processed miso such as blended Miso( which consists of those three miso) and Miso with DASHI.

- What is malt? -

It is made by boiling or steaming grains with aspergillus oryzae (which is a Japanese fungus).

- What are the raw materials in malt and how is malt made? -

 Aspergillus oryzae grows well in boiled or steamed grains. When seed malt (spore of aspergillus oryzae) is sowed in steamed rice and kept at a certain temperature, after 48 hours, aspergillus oryzae makes hyphae on the surface of steamed rice and from that "rice malt” can be made. It’s similar to barley malt. Bean malt is made by steaming and then is crushed into a dumpling-like thing with aspergillus oryzae.

miso making 4



2. Classification by Taste

Miso is divided by taste, such as sweet or spicy. The sweeter the miso is, the lower the salinity. The more spicy the miso is, the higher the salinity. And how much spicy the miso is depends on the amount of salt, as well as the malt commission, which is known as the malt ratio. If the salt ratio of the miso is the same, one with a high malt ratio (more malt) becomes sweeter.

(※ malt commission = quantity of rice (barley) / quantity of soybeans (in dry conditions) × 10)

 ※ However, since the degree of sweetness of miso has no absolute standards, it is indicated by each manufacturer's standard.

3. Classification by Color

 Miso can be divided into red miso, light colored miso, white miso depending on the finished color of miso. The color will be different depending on various conditions, such as the type of raw materials, whether to boil or steam soybeans, the ratio of malt, or whether to stir ingredients in the course of fermentation. Generally, the whiter miso is younger, and the more red miso is more aged. Miso become darker because brown pigment, which is called "melanoidin", is produced. So, if you leave white miso at normal temperature the color changes into red. White miso is usually sweet miso with scent of malt, and red miso usually has light and simple taste which is specific to Miso.






Basics About Fermentation
The Fungus At The Heart Of Japanese Fermentation, And Cuisine - Koji-Kin
Three Kinds Of Miso You Should Know About
The History Of Miso
The Power Of Miso

Yumi Miyamoto


Yumi Miyamoto

Yumi was raised on her mother's homemade miso, inspiring a lifelong love of the stuff. Believing that mIso can forge love and bonding in families, she's been teaching folks how to make it since 2013. Yumi loves miso more than anything.
Currently, she is in charge of consumer education at Yuasa Soy Sauce Ltd, which has a long history of miso and soysauce making in Japan. 
Yumi doesn't just teach adults, but also teaches elementary school kids how to make soy sauce, Kinzanji miso and tofu.