This Is The Real Difference Between White And Red Miso

Miso epitomizes the elusive "fifth flavor" of umami, which lends all of the savory, salty, deeply flavorful notes that are cherished in a multitude of both classic and not-so-classic dishes. While the ingredient is a staple in Japanese cooking, it is actually said to have originated in China, according to Fine Cooking. Miso is an aged "fermented paste" that is a mix of soybeans, a grain of sorts, salt, and koji, which is a type of mold (via The Spruce Eats). It is similar to peanut butter from a textural perspective and can be either smooth or chunky/crunchy depending on type and brand. There are actually over 1000 varieties of miso, but there are usually just three options primarily available at your grocery store: white, yellow, and red. Overall, the flavor becomes more pronounced the darker the color of the miso. 

According to Food52, white miso is often called shiro miso. MasterClass notes that shiro miso is "the most commonly produced type of miso," as well as the mildest. Yellow miso is a bit more pungent, and red miso is rather strong, so it's best to use it with other piquant flavors, or else it may take over the flavor of the finished dish. Some other miso varieties are mugi, hatcho, and inaka, according to Fine Cooking.

How do you use miso?

Miso is immensely versatile and can be used in a wide range of applications. It can be added or mixed into a slew of different dishes. It's excellent in soup (obviously), as a glaze or marinade, in a salad dressing, or even in a pasta sauce (via Bon Appétit). Miso can also be a welcome addition to some baked goods, giving the treats a complex flavor.

Unfortunately, according to The Spruce Eats, miso offers some good news and some bad news when it comes to nutrition: It is fermented, which makes it a "natural source of healthy probiotics," but — of course — it is obviously very salty, so it may be a bit much for anyone eschewing sodium for health reasons.

So the next time you're looking for a hit of flavor to take your dishes to the next level, think miso! It is such a terrific ingredient that can add a deep umami note to almost any recipe.