You’ve likely sipped silky, salty miso soup before diving into a sushi feast, or perhaps you’ve picked up some instant soup packets at Asian grocers. But have you ever tried making this rich and savory soup at home? Miso soup is simple and versatile, providing a blank canvas for your favorite Asian-inspired ingredients. And, since it’s a broth-based soup, sipping on it before a meal — or using it as the basis for one — can help you fill up for fewer calories.
If you’re looking for ways to eat healthier, it’s a good idea to learn how to make your own miso soup, rather than using prefab powdered versions.
As with most Japanese dishes, miso soup is made with few ingredients, so you’ll want to choose the best quality possible. That means starting with good miso. Bypass the shelf-stable packets and head to the refrigerator case. According to Leila Bakkum, the national sales director for Miso Master, you want to choose a miso that’s unpasteurized so it can retain all the beneficial probiotics and enzymes that are created when the soybeans (or other legumes/grains) are inoculated and allowed to ferment naturally.
Traditionally, the broth for miso starts with kombu, or dried seaweed, and/or bonito, dried tuna flakes. (Both can be found in the Asian aisle of most larger supermarkets, or can be purchased online.) That’s basically all you need!
What Is Miso?
Miso is a paste made from fermenting cooked soybeans with salt and koji, cooked rice or soybeans that have been inoculated with a fermentation culture called Aspergillus oryzae. It’s aged in barrels for weeks, months, or years at ambient temperature; the slow fermentation results in complex flavors rich in umami, the savory “fifth taste.”
While commercial miso soup varieties can be high in salt, miso itself is far lower in sodium than table salt. One teaspoon of miso contains about eight to 10 calories and anywhere from 180 mg to 240 or more mg sodium, compared with 2,240 mg sodium in one teaspoon of iodized table salt.
Unpasteurized miso that hasn’t been boiled contains probiotics (a.k.a. gut-friendly bacteria), though not a major amount in a one-teaspoon serving. But, heating the miso, as is the case when making soup, can destroy the probiotics.
Miso soup can be gluten-free, as long as you use gluten-free miso. Many brands, including Miso Master and Eden, have certified gluten-free varieties.
You can use any type of miso to make soup; it really depends on your mood and palette. The three main types of miso include: red, yellow, and white. This quick primer shows you the differences between the varieties:
Flavor: Red miso is fermented for the longest amount of time (up to three years) with the highest percentage of soybeans. It’s the saltiest, and has a pungent flavor.
How to use: Use sparingly because it’s so strong to flavor soups, marinades, and sauces.
Flavor: Fermented for about a year, yellow miso has an earthy, slightly acidic and less salty (compared to red) flavor.
How to use: Use in soups, sauces, and glazes.
Flavor: Usually fermented for a few weeks with the smallest percentage of soybeans, white miso has a light, slightly sweet flavor.
How to use: Incorporate in salad dressings, sauces, soups, and even as a dairy replacement in some recipes.
How to Make Miso Soup at Home
1. Make your broth.
For traditional dashi: To serve four, simmer ¼ cup bonito flakes and 1 sheet of kombu in 5 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain and proceed to Step 2.
For vegan dashi: To serve four, simmer ¼ cup crumbled dried shiitake mushrooms and 1 sheet of kombu in 5 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain and discard kombu (mushrooms can be reserved if desired), then proceed to Step 2.
For more flavor: We wanted to keep the sodium levels in check so we use less miso than traditional recipes. To amp up the umami (savory, rich flavor), we created this roasted ginger and vegetable broth.
2. Prep your mix-ins.
Build in more flavor with nutritious ingredients such as:
- Thinly sliced scallions
- Diced firm tofu
- Cooked shrimp
- Soft-boiled egg
- Spinach or baby greens
- Grated ginger or garlic
- Thinly sliced mushrooms
- Cooked noodles (gluten-free if necessary)
Stir these into your strained broth, returning it to a simmer to cook the ingredients if needed.
3. Add your miso.
For four servings, use 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mellow white miso (White miso is a good place to start; if you desire a more robust miso flavor, try yellow or red. You may want to use less red miso since it’s so pungent and salty.).
Remove about ¼ cup of hot — but not boiling — broth to a bowl. Whisk in the miso (this step prevents clumps of miso). Pour the miso into the pot, and whisk to combine.
Note: If not serving all portions at once, measure out about 1 cup of broth and whisk in 1 teaspoon of miso per serving. For leftovers: Reheat the broth (but do not boil), and stir in miso.
4. Assemble and garnish.
Once you’ve seasoned your broth with miso, it’s time to eat! Portion out your miso (about 1 cup per serving) and add-ins into four bowls, and garnish as desired. Try:
- Toasted sesame oil
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Nori (seaweed) flakes
- Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)