Miso Paste Substitute – 7 Umami, Salty Flavored Alternatives

What to do when you don’t have miso paste for a recipe that calls for it? Looking for an emergency substitute? Here we’ve got it.

As you know, miso is a fermented soybean paste loaded with nutrients. This umami or savory-flavored Japanese seasoning is an important ingredient in several popular Japanese-style dishes like miso salmon and miso ramen.

There are several varieties of miso paste with few differences in ingredients and duration of fermentation. However, it’s broadly classified into white/light miso and red/dark miso. White miso is sweeter, light yellow colored contains less soybean and more grains, and is fermented for a shorter period. On the other hand, red miso has an orange to light red color, contains more soybean and no grains, and it’s aged for a longer period to give a complex flavor.

Best Miso Paste Substitutes

Miso paste is very unique and one of a kind. It’s hard to find a perfect replacement for this Japanese seasoning. However, there are a few other ingredients that are somewhat similar to miso though not identical. Here are the substitutes that can give you a similar taste to miso:

1. Soy sauce

Soy sauce is a liquid and pure vegetarian condiment of Chinese origin. Like the miso paste, Soy sauce is also predominated by a salty flavor along with a strong umami and mildly sweet flavor. The core ingredient in both of them is fermented soybeans, and they have similar nutrients and benefits. You can easily use soy sauce as a good replacement for miso in most recipes like soups and dressings. This sauce works best in recipes that have a savory liquid base.

2. Tamari

Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce made by fermenting soybeans and is usually gluten-free; similar to the regular soy sauce.  It’s quite similar to miso in taste and uses. When you have run short of miso, you can comfortably use Tamari to manage your dishes and enjoy the very same umami, salty flavor. Like soy sauce, you can use Tamari sauce in most recipes that call for miso.

RELATED POST: What does miso taste like?

3. Dashi

Dashi is an umami-flavored family of stocks used in Japanese cooking, frequently used as a base for miso soup, noodle soup, and many other simmering liquid recipes. Also, dashi can be used as a saucy flour base for some grilled foods like takoyaki and okonomiyaki.  In the absence of miso paste, use dashi to render an umami flavor to your dish. Dashi is a broth, different from the paste-like texture of miso. While substituting miso with dashi, it works best in savory dishes that can handle more liquids.

4. Tahini paste

Tahini paste is a Middle Eastern condiment made from toasted ground hulled sesame. The texture and appearance of tahini paste are quite identical to miso. If you enjoy the nutty flavor, then tahini is a good miso substitute that you can use in some of the recipes. But it’s not a good replacement choice in recipes that have miso as the base ingredient like miso soup. Of course, tahini does not provide the umami taste that you may like to enjoy.

5. Doenjang  (Soybeans paste)

Doenjang or soybean paste is a type of fermented bean paste made of brine and soybean.  This paste is another great substitution option when you’ve run out of miso paste. Just like miso, doenjang is mostly used for seasoning stews, soups, and different types of dipping sauces.  Soybean paste is comparatively saltier than miso, thus use it in less quantity while substituting.

6. Vegetable stock

The vegetable stock seems to be an odd choice to use instead of white miso, but it works in savory dishes and soups.  Always use a homemade vegetable stalk for it gives you the flexibility to add to it an umami seasoning to produce a flavor similar to miso. You may also use a suitable thickener to give a texture similar to miso. For vegan, there is nothing better than vegetable stock as a replacement for miso, and a healthier option as well.

7. Fish sauce

Fish sauce, easily available in most groceries, is another useful substitute for miso paste for both are very similar in taste.  Unfortunately, fish sauces aren’t gluten-free like other substitutes we have listed.  Note that fish sauce is saltier and umami than miso, therefore, use it in less quantity, especially when replacing white miso with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use miso powder and miso paste interchangeably?

Yes, miso powder can replace miso paste, offering a similar umami flavor. Adjust quantities and mix with water for a paste consistency, but note that texture and moisture will differ, so it's ideal for recipes where these aren't critical.

What is the best substitute for white miso?

Soy sauce, tamari, or tahini can be used to replace both white miso and red miso. White miso has a milder flavor, thus use the substitutes in lesser amounts. Vegetable stock is also a good alternative to white miso.

Is miso paste the same as soy sauce?

No, miso paste and soy sauce are not the same. Miso is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans and grains, offering a rich, savory flavor, while soy sauce is a liquid condiment, brewed from soybeans and wheat, with a salty, umami taste.

Is miso paste or powder better?

Choosing between miso paste and powder depends on your recipe's needs: paste offers authentic texture and flavor for traditional dishes, while powder provides convenience and longer shelf life, suitable for dry rubs and seasoning mixes.

Can you replace soy sauce with miso paste?

Yes, you can replace soy sauce with miso paste in recipes for a different flavor profile. Miso paste brings a richer, more complex umami taste with a thicker texture, so consider diluting it with water for a more sauce-like consistency.

Why is miso paste expensive?

Miso paste can be expensive due to its lengthy and intricate fermentation process, often involving high-quality, organic ingredients, and traditional methods that require significant time and labor, contributing to its rich flavor and health benefits, and justifying its higher cost.

Final Thoughts

Among all the ingredients listed, soy sauce and tamari are by far the most suitable substitutes for miso paste, both for white and red miso. Use the replacement ingredients in lesser amounts, especially when using them as substitutes for white miso which has a mild flavor. Always choose the stand-in ingredient considering the overall taste profile of your recipe and its compatibility with other ingredients.

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