Japanese Cuisine: Miso Soup-The Basics

Basic miso soup with Tofu and Wakame seaweed.

Miso soup (味噌汁, miso shiru) is a traditional Japanese soup consisting of a stock called “dashi” into which is mixed softened miso paste. Although the suspension of miso paste into dashi is the only characteristic that actually defines miso soup, many other ingredients are added depending on regional and seasonal recipes, and personal preferences.

Miso Paste:
The choice of miso paste for the soup defines a great deal of its character and flavor. Most miso pastes can be categorized into red (akamiso), white (shiromiso), or black (kuromiso), with darker pastes having a heartier, saltier flavor. There are many variations within these themes, including regional variations, such as Sendai miso; pastes designed to be used with specific misoshiru ingredients, such as yasaimiso, a white miso for use with miso-vegetable soup; and seasonal variations.

Miso Soup with Vegetables, tofu and pork

The most common dashi soup stocks for miso soup are made of niboshi (dried baby sardines), kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (thin shavings of dried and smoked bonito, also called skipjack tuna), or hoshi-shiitake (dried shiitake mushrooms). The kombu can also be used in combination with katsuobushi or hoshi-shiitake. The kelp and/or shiitake dashi serve as a vegetarian or veagn soup stock.

Outside of Japan, American or European style miso soup is sometimes made by dissolving miso in a Western vegetable stock. The stock might include ingredients such as negi, carrot, potato and daikon radish. In some versions of the dish chicken stock, Western-style fish stock, and other non-dashi bases can even be used, but there is some debate over whether or not miso soups made using these non-traditional bases count as true misoshiru.

Vegetables in white miso soup.

Miso soup can be prepared in several ways, depending on the chef and the style of soup. Japanese recipes usually call for most vegetables and meats to be cooked in the simmering dashi, particularly mushrooms, daikon, carrots, potatoes, tofu, and fish. The miso is suspended separately in some dashi stock removed from the simmering mix, kept relatively cool (still hot, but below boiling) to keep the miso paste from cooking, which alters the flavour (cooking the miso “kills” the natural yeasts and reduces the health benefits of biologically active miso paste). When the vegetables are cooked, the stock is removed from heat, the miso suspension is added and mixed into the soup, any uncooked ingredients are added, and the dish is served.

In Japan, miso soup and white rice make up the central dishes of the traditional Japanese breakfast, and so most Japanese people drink miso soup at least once a day.

The soup is usually served in lacquer bowls with lids and drunk directly from the bowl, though the solid ingredients are eaten with chopsticks.

Instant Miso Soup:
Instant miso soup is available in single-serving packets, and generally contains dried wakame and tofu, soy beans that reconstitute rapidly on the addition of hot water. These are popular in the Japanese workplace, where miso soup can be made with lunch as easily as green tea, and using the same water. Instant miso soup, however, have up to 3 times the amount of sodium and MSG. Instant miso soup is also available in many grocery stores outside of Japan. These have a shelf life of between 3 to 12 months.

Next to come: Miso SoupRecipes and Preparation of Miso!

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11 thoughts on “Japanese Cuisine: Miso Soup-The Basics”

  1. Mmmm…I love miso soup. I used to make it quite a bit. a couple years back i think I need to make it again. It’s also the one thing I must have whenever I eat at a Japanese restaurant. I’ve never tried the instant stuff. Can’t wait for the recipes.


  2. I always love Miso soup and do prefer akamiso or kuromiso. I’ve had shiromiso soup in restaurants as an appetiser but if we’re making it at home, it’ll be a darker variety. Right now I have some Mugi on hand but we’ll be going to the store soon as the other varieties are now available again.


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