Miso paste is a major part of Japanese cuisine. Its fermented umami flavor is a favorite. On top of that, it is packed with nutrients and probiotics. Due to its versatility, this condiment finds use in a variety of recipes. And when making a Japanese dish, you are very likely to need miso paste. But it is not an ingredient that one usually keeps in stock. So we have put together a list of the best miso paste substitutes you can use.
Best Miso Paste Substitutes
You can use miso paste as a flavoring agent and for adding body to your recipes. There are several types of miso paste — white, yellow, red, dark brown, mixed, and others. These types vary not only in color but also in terms of flavor and duration of fermentation. The lighter colors have a shorter fermentation period and hence, a softer flavor than the darker varieties.
This list includes alternatives for all miso paste types.
1. Soy Sauce
Try this soybean-based alternative in place of miso paste. Soy sauce has a savory and umami taste. It is a common part of one’s pantry and easily available in the local market too.
However, soy sauce has a more intense flavor. It is saltier and lighter. So you can substitute it for red or brown miso paste. But remember, it has a thin and flowy consistency. It can’t be used in recipes that require texture and volume.
Employ it as a flavoring agent to get a similar taste as miso paste. Use this versatile sauce when preparing ravioli, soups, dips, marinades, or as a dressing in bok choy salad.
Soy sauce is available with or without gluten. Check the label while buying if you follow a gluten-free diet. Add half of what you do with miso paste. Increase the amount only if needed.
2. Vegetable Stock
If you’re looking for a non-soy and vegan substitute for miso paste, try vegetable stock. It is a light-colored liquid with plenty of vegetables and seasonings. This stock is very salty but has less of the umami flavor.
Also, it lacks the fermented taste. Use in place of white or yellow miso paste. To make up for the difference in their tastes, you can add some extra herbs or seasonings.
Considering that it is a liquid, vegetable stock cannot be used to add texture to a recipe. It, however, adds a nice tangy and savory flavor to the food. Vegetable stock can be used in recipes that concern taste but not texture. Add it to soups, dipping sauces, marinades, and ravioli.
A vegetable stock may or may not contain gluten, check the packaging to be sure. Since it is saltier than white and yellow miso paste, use it in small amounts. Add more if needed.
3. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is an excellent option. It has a similar taste as miso paste and is somewhat close in texture too. Made from fermented fish, it’ll also give you the fermented zest. This condiment will add a funky, umami, and tangy flavor to your recipes. It also has hints of oceanic taste.
Its intense taste is a good match for red or brown miso paste. It has a thinner consistency. So if you want some volume, you can use cornflour or another thickening agent. It is available with or without gluten.
Use this alternative when preparing soups, dipping sauce, stir fry, or turkey. For one tablespoon of miso paste, add ¾ tablespoon of fish sauce, then increase the amount if needed.
4. Soybean Paste
This is another soybean-based alternative. In Korean cuisine, it is called doenjang. It is also made from fermented soybeans but is different from miso paste. Miso paste contains koji, sometimes grains, and other ingredients. In contrast, doenjang is boiled and mashed soybeans mixed with brine.
Soybean paste has a well-balanced sweet, salty, and spicy flavor. It comes very close to miso paste in taste and texture. With its creamy and thick texture, it can add volume and body to the recipes.
Some brands add grains to it for extra flavor. So some of them contain gluten. Check the label while buying.
Soybean paste is saltier than miso paste. I’d be a good substitute for yellow or red miso paste. Add it to soups, stews, dips, and toppings. When used in place of yellow miso paste, use it in a 1:4 ratio. Add half the amount when substituting it for red miso paste.
Tahini is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is an apt miso-paste alternative in terms of appearance and consistency. This paste is made from ground sesame seeds. You will find hints of nutty and creamy flavor in it.
This paste has a prominent savory flavor but lacks the umami taste. So use it in place of white miso paste.
Like miso paste, tahini adds a thick texture to the dish. However, it somewhat differs in taste. Use it when you need miso paste in small amounts. And to reciprocate the difference in flavors, mix it with some herbs and seasoning.
If you need to use miso in large amounts, add tahini along with soy or fish sauce. You can’t use tahini as a substitute in recipes that use miso as the main ingredient.
Use it in salad dressings, marinades, dipping sauces, soups, and dipping sauce.
This is another Japanese ingredient. Dashi is made by fermenting kombu, a seaweed. It is a pale broth with a liquid texture. Due to the seaweed, it also has hints of oceanic flavor.
Use dashi to add an umami flavor to soups, ramen, and clear broth recipes.
Tamari is a by-product of soybean fermentation done to produce miso paste. It is formed as a thin layer of clear liquid on the top of the fermentation broth. While it tastes similar to miso paste, tamari is close to soy sauce in terms of both taste and texture.
This condiment has a savory and umami flavor. But due to its liquidy consistency, it can’t be used to add texture. You can find tamari with or without gluten. See the label while buying.
Use tamari when making soups, sauces, stews, or marinades.
8. Anchovy Paste
Using anchovy paste as a replacement for miso paste works, even though it’s not an ideal or natural combination. Anchovy paste has an umami flavor similar to miso paste’s taste highlight. However, there is a stark distinction between the two.
While miso paste is made from fermented soybeans, anchovy paste uses anchovies. This gives the latter a distinct fish-y taste with a salty touch. Soups, sauces, and especially seafood allow for good dishes where anchovy paste can work as the replacement.
9. Parmesan Cheese
Here’s another unlikely pick. It’s not generally the flavor that makes parmesan cheese a good substitute for miso paste – it’s the umami flavor that we so desire. Parmesan cheese is aged and rich in the umami flavoring. This allows it to be a decent substitute, but it’s also limited to specific uses.
So, don’t just add parmesan in place of miso paste. You’ll have to be more careful, adding only a small amount of parmesan at first. Do a taste test and see if the dish tastes as intended. Add more parmesan cheese only after you’ve confirmed its usability.
Salt is a completely different ingredient than miso paste. But you don’t have the other options, this will do the work too. Use it in recipes where you need only a small amount of miso. Although it lacks the umami and fermented flavor, salt will add a nice savory touch to your food. To make up for the difference in flavors, you can add some herbs and seasonings of your choice.
How To Use Miso Paste In Your Recipes
Miso paste is made by fermenting boiled and mashed soybeans with salt and koji. Sometimes, wheat, barley, or other grains are also added to it for better taste. The longer the fermentation period, the more intense the flavor. In general, miso paste has a prominent umami and tangy flavor with a creamy texture.
You can use miso paste in soups, marinades, ramen, sauce, soup stock, salad dressings, and pickled meat and vegetables. Along with the taste, it adds a dense consistency to the meals.
Miso paste is low in calories and rich in proteins, calcium, sodium, zinc, manganese, copper, and vitamins B and K. It also contains plenty of probiotics that improve digestion and are good for gut health.
Choosing The Right Alternative
We discussed various alternatives for all types of miso paste. Some of them have gluten and some don’t. There are also vegan and non-vegan options. Consider your diet and how intense you want the flavors to be. This will help you choose the right miso paste substitute for your recipe.