What is Miso Soup?
Miso soup (味噌汁) is a traditional Japanese soup made with dashi (soup stock made with kombu or bonito flakes), miso paste and various ingredients depending on regional and seasonal recipes.
While it’s usually served together with a salad as part of an appetizer in the US, miso soup comes with rice as part of a main meal in Japan.
Popular ingredients added to miso soup:
- Green onions (scallions)
- Seaweed (wakame)
- Deep-fried tofu pouches (aburaage)
- Shimeji mushrooms
- Kabocha squash
You can also add fresh clams to make the broth briny (so delicious!) or ground sesame seeds for a little nuttiness. The options truly are endless! I’ve even seen miso soup with natto beans (the famous Japanese slimy fermented beans)!
Different Types of Miso Paste
Miso paste (みそ) is a fermented soybean paste used in Japanese cooking as a base for soups, as a marinade for fish, meats, vegetables (to make pickles), and tofu, in stir fries and salad dressings, even in desserts.
There are many different types of miso paste but the three most popular ones used for miso soup are:
- White Miso Paste – (Shiro Miso 白味噌) : White miso paste is the sweetest and mildest of all three miso pastes (made with 40% soybean and 60% rice or barley grains). Because the fermentation period is shorter than other types of miso paste, the flavor isn’t very developed and can be a little one note at times. If you’ve had mediocre miso soup at a Japanese restaurant, they were most likely using white miso paste.
- Yellow Miso Paste – (Awase Miso 合わせ味噌): The word awase in Japanese means “to mix”, and that’s exactly what this miso paste is – a mix of white and red miso paste. It’s my favorite miso paste for almost any dish using miso, including miso soup. You get the sweetness of the white miso paste mixed with the smokiness and saltiness of the red miso paste. It’s a powerful combination and one that yields a bowl of miso soup where the flavors are in perfect harmony.
- Red Miso Paste – (Aka Miso 赤味噌): Red miso paste is the strongest, most punchy type of miso paste. It’s pungent, nutty, salty, and packed with umami (made with 70% soybean and 30% rice or barley). It has so much depth in flavor that I sometimes find it overwhelming, which is why I prefer awase miso. Needless to say a little goes a long way here!
The verdict: Awase miso is the best miso paste for miso soup. Unless you love a lot of smoke (like Ben does) in which case red miso paste will be your go-to ingredient.
Kitchen Tools Needed for this Miso Soup
Ingredients for Miso Soup
- Onion: A large white or yellow onion, preferably sweet. Don’t be afraid to use a lot since it adds a lovely flavor to the soup. And once the onion slices are boiled, they are so tender they almost melt in your mouth.
- Water: Four cups of water or four cups of dashi if you are making it from scratch using bonito flakes or kombu.
- Dashi granules: One tablespoon is enough to add plenty of depth of flavor to the soup.
- Miso paste: Use red miso paste if you like your miso soup very smoky and salty, white miso paste if you prefer a milder, gentler, and sweeter taste, and awase miso paste if you like it in between.
- Ichimi togarashi (optional): Optional but a must for myself! I always add a sprinkle to infuse a little heat to my soup.
How To Make Miso Soup
- Add 4 cups of water, onions and dashi granules to a pot and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender.
- Place the miso paste in a colander and lower it into the pot until enough water covers the miso paste.
- Using chopsticks, swirl the paste until it completely dissolves into the soup.
- Turn the heat off and serve.
How to Make Dashi from Scratch
Click here to learn how to make dashi and vegan dashi.
Or you can do it the easy way – my way 90% of the time – and use dashi granules. I used Hondashi for years until a Japanese friend of mine told me about other brands that tasted closer to the real thing. Nowadays, I use the Riken brand which you can buy in Japanese supermarket or online on Amazon.
They have two types of dashi to choose from – bonito and sardine. I have been using both after my mother told me that sardine stock is becoming more and more popular in Japanese cooking.
1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water is the recommended ratio for the Hondashi brand.
Traditional Miso Soup
Vegan Miso Soup
Another option for making miso soup is using kombu dashi which is made from dried seaweed.
The dashi granules are 100% vegan, making it ideal for those who are on a plant based diet. I use kombu dashi all the time in many of my dishes because I really enjoy the mineral taste of seaweed.
You can also make it from scratch but I really like the granules which have a stronger seaweed flavor. If you’d like to make it from scratch:
- Grab a 5″ x 5″ piece of kombu and soak it in 4 cups of cold water for at least 30 minutes, all the way to overnight. The longer it soaks, the more flavor your broth will have.
- Pour the water and kombu in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove the kombu right before the water starts to boil and throw it out. This step is important since boiled kombu releases bitterness and gets super slimy.
- Turn the heat off and use.=
Miso Soup with Winter Veggies
Instant Miso Soup
You can buy the Hikari Miso brand in Japanese supermarkets or here on Amazon.
What to Serve with Miso Soup
For a traditional Japanese meal, serve with this soup with a bowl of steamed white rice and:
- Japanese Pickles (tsukemono)
- Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza)
- Nasu Dengaku (Japanese broiled eggplant with sweet miso glaze)
- Baked Chicken Katsu
- Japanese White Cream Stew
How to Pronounce Miso
The Best Miso Soup
This is a simple miso soup with sliced onions just like the way my Japanese mother makes it!
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 4
- Category: Soup
- Method: Stove top
- Cuisine: Japanese
- Diet: Low Calorie
- Put the sliced onions, water and dashi granule in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the onions are tender.
- Place the miso paste in a small strainer and lower the strainer into the pot, until the liquid covers the miso paste. Stir the miso paste with chopsticks until it has fully dissolved.
- Turn the heat off and serve. Sprinkle a little ichimi for heat.
This miso soup will keep for three days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
- Serving Size: 4
- Calories: 42
- Sugar: 1.7g
- Sodium: 23.4mg
- Fat: 0.8g
- Saturated Fat: 0
- Unsaturated Fat: 0
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 7.1g
- Fiber: 1.4g
- Protein: 2.1g
- Cholesterol: 0.3mg
Keywords: recipe, Japanese food, appetizer, side, miso shiru