The challenge with finding a substitute for miso paste is identifying an ingredient that can accurately replicate the taste and texture.
Miso has a strong, salty umami flavor and a creamy consistency. Some substitutes are better with the former, others with the latter, and a few manage to replicate both!
Some of the best miso substitute are Soy sauce, Fish Sauce, Tahini and Vegetable broth. Soy sauce is a perfect miso replacement for dishes such as noodles, soups and marinades.
What is Miso?
Miso is a paste made of fermented soybeans. It comes from Japan, where locals use it to add umami flavor to vegetarian dishes. It has an intense flavor and thick, creamy texture, making it a unique and versatile ingredient.
Recommended Miso Substitutes
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is one of the best substitutes for miso because they are made from the same main ingredient! Like miso, soy is an excellent source of umami flavor and is a nice stand-in when you need that warm, savory flavor in a dish.
The biggest challenge when substituting soy sauce for miso is the difference in consistency. Miso is creamy, while soy sauce is thin and watery.
Remember that soy sauce is also much saltier than miso, so start with less than you think you need! Then you can increase the amount in the recipe as needed.
Soy sauce is one of the top miso substitutes because of its similar taste. Also, remember that there are several types of miso, and soy sauce can be a closer match to some than others. For example, the taste of soy sauce is more similar to red miso than white miso.
Red miso, like soy sauce, is fermented and very salty. On the other hand, white miso is not fermented as long and has a much sweeter taste. Therefore soy sauce is a better sub for red miso.
Soy sauce is also best substituted for recipes where miso isn’t the main ingredient. If it is intended to serve as a flavoring, you can substitute soy sauce. However, the difference in consistency is significant enough that it cannot be swapped out as the main ingredient.
Dishes Where You Can Swap Out Soy Sauce for Miso Paste
Since soy sauce is so much thinner than miso paste, you can substitute it in dishes like:
- Noodles and noodle dishes
- Dipping sauces
Learn more about soy sauce:
2. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is another top substitute for miso. It is a thin sauce made from fermented fish and used widely throughout Southeast Asian cuisine.
Like soy sauce, fish sauce is a good substitute because it has a solid fermented flavor that brings umami to your dish. However, like soy sauce, it is much thinner than miso — a liquid sauce rather than a paste.
Another challenge of fish sauce is that the taste is much stronger than miso. Therefore, when making this substitution, cut the amount drastically. It is recommended to use half a teaspoon of fish sauce, where you would use one tablespoon of miso paste.
Like soy sauce, it is best to swap out fish sauce for miso paste if it is a flavor component in a recipe, not a texture component. Similarly, it is a better substitute for red miso than white miso. This fact is true is because, like soy sauce, fish sauce has a solid fermented, salty flavor, which is closer to red miso paste.
Dishes Where You Can Substitute Fish Sauce for Miso Paste
Like soy sauce, you can use fish sauce in place of miso paste in dishes like:
- Dipping sauces
- Noodle dishes
Tahini is another common substitute for miso paste, not because it has a similar taste but because it has a similar texture. Like miso, tahini is a paste used to add consistency to dishes. It is made from ground sesame seeds and is very good for adding body to dishes.
Tahini can be a good substitute for miso paste if the goal is to bulk up a dish and add some consistency. However, unlike soy sauce and fish sauce, it does not taste very similar to miso. If you plan on using it in a dish where miso paste is a base, you will need to add other elements to compensate.
Tahini is made from sesame seeds, so it tastes very creamy and almost nutty. It does not have the umami flavor that miso paste does.
You might have success in using a combination of tahini and soy sauce or fish sauce to achieve both the consistency and the umami flavor of miso paste. Tahini is a better substitute for white than red miso since white miso is less fermented and has a milder flavor.
Dishes Where You Can Substitute Tahini for Miso Paste
Dishes that use white miso, such as soups, dressings, and marinades
4. Vegetable Stock
Vegetable stock is another decent substitute for miso paste or an excellent white miso substitute. It has a strong flavor close to umami, like soy sauce and fish sauce, even though manufacturers make it out of vegetables instead of proteins.
Vegetable stock is a good way of replicating the umami flavor. However, it is extremely thin and liquidy, so it is not a good substitute for bulking up a dish or adding consistency. Therefore, make sure that you don’t use vegetable stock in a container where miso paste provides a strong base or most of the consistency.
Vegetable stock is also very salty, sometimes saltier than miso. Substitute with caution and add in just a little bit at a time until you achieve the flavor you are looking for. Otherwise, your dish may end up being overly salty.
The main problem with substituting vegetable stock for miso, aside from the difference in consistency, is that it lacks the fermented flavor that red miso has. However, it is excellent as a sub for the saltiness and umami.
Dishes Where You Can Substitute Vegetable Stock for Miso Paste
Like soy sauce and fish sauce, you can substitute vegetable stock for miso paste in dishes like:
- Dipping sauces
- Noodle dishes
Sometimes, you can achieve a similar taste to miso paste by using the right amount of salt in a dish. But there are some caveats to this.
Salt and miso paste are about as different in consistency as two ingredients can be! Additionally, salt can’t replicate the unique fermented, umami flavor of miso paste. Therefore, while salt is still in our top five substitutes for miso, it should probably be the last resort substitute.
That being said, it will work in a pinch. Only use salt as a sub for miso paste in recipes that use a small amount of miso and have many other ingredients. Adding salt only when needed will ensure that you don’t compromise the flavor or consistency of your dish.
Similarly, make sure to go slowly! Going slow will help you avoid oversalting your recipe.
Dishes Where You Can Substitute Salt for Miso Paste
You can use salt in place of miso paste in recipes that use a small amount of miso and have many ingredients. These might include:
- Dipping sauces
- Noodle dishes
Frequently Asked Questions
Miso paste is a great ingredient to have on hand, but many people aren’t familiar with it and don’t necessarily know how to use it in a recipe!
Here are answers to some of the top questions about miso paste and cooking with it.
There are many types of miso paste made from a variety of different grains. You will generally find miso separated into three categories: red, white, and yellow miso.
1. Red Miso is the darkest of the three main types. It has a more extended fermentation period and uses more salt, so it has a vibrant, salty, umami flavor. You might want to use it sparingly, as it can be powerful. It is usually used in dishes like soups, glazes, and marinades.
2. White Miso is on the opposite end of the miso flavor spectrum. Sometimes called sweet miso, it has a much shorter fermentation period and lighter salt content. Its flavor is much milder, which means it is more versatile. You will even find it used as a dairy substitute in some dishes, like mashed potatoes.
3. Yellow Miso falls in between the other types. It is lighter than red miso but stronger than white miso and has an assertive flavor that is not overwhelming.
You may combine substitutes like tahini and soy sauce to get a flavor and consistency that is closer to miso. Go slowly and taste the combination to make sure it is not too salty.
Miso paste is a beautiful, versatile ingredient that can add complex flavor to many dishes. However, in a pinch, you can substitute ingredients to get a flavor or consistency that is close, if not identical, to the classic miso taste.