Japanese Miso Paste: Information, Varieties, and Uses

Shiro miso
Shiro miso MIXA / Getty Images

About Miso

Miso paste or soy bean paste is an essential condiment in Japanese cooking. Miso is made by fermenting soy beans with salt and koji, which are cultured grains such as rice, barley, and soy beans.

Although miso is most often salty, its taste and smell can vary depending on numerous factors, including the specific ingredient and fermentation process used in its production. There are in fact many different kinds of miso with many different possibilities when it comes to flavor. The soy bean paste is vitamin- and mineral-rich and high in protein and is used in both modern and traditional dishes in Japan.


There are so many kinds of miso available from different regions in Japan. The color can be darker or lighter, and the taste can be sweeter or saltier.

White Varieties

The most common kinds of miso are shiro (white) miso and aka (red) miso. The white varieties aren't really white, but are light yellow and have a sweet taste.

Red Varieties

The red varieties are dark brown and said to have savory flavors. Shinshu miso (brown miso made in Shinshu region) and inaka miso (barley miso) are also popular. Awase miso, which are mixtures of different types of miso, are popularly sold at stores.


In Japan, miso is used not only for miso soup but also for marinating fish, sauteed dishes, ramen, pickles, and more.