4 Amazing Miso Paste Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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There are a few good miso paste substitutes for use in Japanese cooking, some of which are soy- and gluten-free. Also known simply as miso, this paste is a staple of Japanese cuisine. It is a fermented food, made from soybeans and grain, such as barley or rice that has been inoculated with koji, a beneficial type of fungus. Depending on the type, miso paste can take years to ferment. It is the base ingredient of miso soup and can be found in many other Japanese dishes as well, including other soups, some desserts, and even pickles.

Best Miso Paste Substitutes

Miso paste substitutes aren’t always effective, considering that miso paste has such a unique flavor, making it difficult to replicate. However, it is somewhat difficult to find miso paste outside of Asian and other specialty markets. Also, soy is a common allergen, and depending on what grain is used, miso may contain gluten as well. Fortunately, good miso paste substitutes do exist for all of these considerations.

Miso paste in a bowl surrounded by grains

Miso paste is salty and tangy in taste. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Soy Sauce

To most closely mimic the flavor of miso, soy sauce is a good choice and is very easy to find. It does have more salt than miso paste, so use a smaller quantity at first and taste as you go, since it can change the flavor of a dish quite quickly.

Fish Sauce

This sauce, which is more commonly available than miso paste, provides a similar salty and savory taste, with the added benefit of eliminating soy and gluten. As with soy sauce, use a little bit at first and taste for saltiness so you retain the more prominent flavors of the recipe.

Tahini

A spread made from sesame seeds, tahini will not impart the same flavors to a dish as miso. However, the texture is the same, and it can be a good miso substitute in recipes other than miso soup.

Tahini in a bowl and wooden forks on a wooden table

Tahini enhances the flavor of hummus. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Non-Soy Miso

Substitutes made from other legumes such as chickpeas or adzuki beans can be even harder to find than traditional miso. They work well and can be found in certain health food grocers. Some are also gluten-free, but they usually come with a higher price tag.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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