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What Is Red Miso?
Red miso, also known as aka miso, is a fermented soybean paste with a dark red or reddish-brown hue. Miso paste is made through a two-step fermentation process. First, miso makers combine a grain—typically rice or barley, but sometimes soybeans—with a koji mold, a strain of Aspergillus sojae fungus that plays the role of starter culture in miso production. Producers then mix the koji with cooked soybeans, water, and additional salt and allow the blend to further ferment for up to three years (most other misos only ferment for up to 18 months), unleashing the effects of yeast and lactic acid. The resulting paste is then ready to use.
Red miso is popular in Japanese restaurants, particularly in miso soup, a traditional Japanese soup made from a simple combination of dashi stock and miso paste. You can also use red miso in a range of applications, including salad dressings, soy sauce, pickles, and marinades.
3 Ways to Use Red Miso in Your Cooking
Miso is very rarely used alone due to its high salt content and concentrated flavors, and works best as a flavor enhancer in various applications, including:
- Add to salad dressings. Prepare a miso dressing with a blend of miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and fresh ginger to give your salad an extra kick or serve as a dip for fresh vegetables. To avoid lumps, thin out the miso with a liquid, like olive oil or sake, and whisk it into a bowl. Dressings can typically be saved for up to one week if stored correctly.
- Add to marinades. For a quick and savory flavor, incorporate miso into a marinade for chicken or roast vegetables. Due to the miso’s potent flavor, the marination time is relatively short—just five minutes alone can help infuse your cuisine with a flavorful boost. Due to miso’s salty nature, it’s an effective alternative to salt or soy sauce.
- Add to soups. If you’re adding miso to a simmering liquid, add the paste gradually and continue stirring on low heat. Adding miso to boiling water kills the probiotics in miso, negating its health benefits. Experts recommend straining the miso into the broth and then adding a ladleful of stock from the pot, whisking until you can pour it back into the main pot.
How to Store Red Miso
Miso is considered a living food, so it needs to be stored properly to maintain its freshness. Like other fermented foods, you can store red miso paste in your refrigerator. Wrap it tightly and check the sell-by date on its container. If buying from a grocery store, try to purchase organic miso to avoid additives.
What Is the Difference Between Red, Yellow, and White Miso?
Though there are hundreds of types of miso, each is unique in its own right depending on color, flavor, texture, origin, and production method. Today, producers generally categorize miso into red miso, yellow miso (shiro miso), and white miso (shinshu miso). The taste and color differences between each typically come down to how long it has been aged. Here are the main differences:
- Taste: White miso is the sweetest kind of miso out there. Yellow miso, which ferments slightly longer than white, carries a more robust, though not necessarily overwhelming, flavor. Red miso has the most decadent flavor of all three—Its saltiness makes it extremely assertive in flavor.
- Color: White miso ranges from white to gray, whereas yellow miso is typically yellow or light brown. Red miso also varies in color, from light red to dark brown.
- Application: For dressings, marinades, or condiments, it’s best to use white or yellow miso. All three types of miso can be used in soups, but if you’re looking for a more robust taste to apply to something like a braise, go for red miso.