The Types of Miso: Red Miso, White Miso...
There are More than You Thought!

Have you heard about miso? Or miso soup?

For you who have eaten miso, what color is it?
Is it dark or light-colored? Is it red or white?

Miso soup

Maybe some of you have known about red and white miso. But did you know that the types of miso are classified to much more varieties?
Here we are going to tell you some good info about the varieties of miso!

Miso (みそ or 味噌; pronounced MEE-so, and also known as “fermented soybean paste) is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae), sometimes added with rice, barley, seaweed or other ingredients. The result is a thick paste-like substance.

shiro miso

The common misunderstanding is that people often think that miso is a soup. But actually, miso is the paste; the soup-form is instead a miso soup, which is miso paste added with dashi (broth).

You can read about miso soup, dashi, how to make miso soup, and miso soup recipes in the article of
"The Basic Recipe Of How To Make Miso Soup And The Recommended Ingredients + Easy Miso Soup Recipes!"

Miso is a savory, high-protein seasoning made from soybeans, salt, water, and grain (usually rice or barley), Aspergillus oryzae culture (which the grain and Aspergillus oryzae are must be made into koji first).
Its texture resembles that of a soft peanut butter.

Miso can be made into the infamous miso soup and seasonings to various dishes, such as miso toppings

Miso soup

Miso originated in China some 2500 years ago. This progenitor of present-day miso is called chiang (pronounced jang) and was brought to Japan during the 7th century by Buddhist priests.

During the following centuries, Japanese craftsmen transformed chiang into miso and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), two unique and distinctive foods which are now quite different from their Chinese counterparts. The word “miso” was first used in Japan and its many varieties were created and developed around that time too. Chiang od Chinese-style miso continues to be widely used throughout its mother country and at least five varieties are now available in the West, as are a number of types of jang or Korean-style miso.

Now, miso is one of East Asia’s most important soyfoods. In Japan, over 70% of the population starts each day with this health-giving, nutritious and warming cup of miso soup instead of coffee.

Miso's range of flavors and colors, textures and aromas is as varied as that of the world's fine cheeses and wines.

Miso soup

In this article, we are going to tell you about types of regular miso, the three basic traditional types of miso: rice, barley, and soybean miso. These types of miso are used primarily in cooking and, in Japan, particularly in soups.

Before we go to discussion about the classifications and subdivisions of these three types of miso, let us tell you about the attributes of miso.

The world of miso lends itself to just such a perspective since all varieties share six principle attributes: method of fermentation, flavor, color, texture, cost, and region of origin. The miso can also be grouped based on these principle attributes.

Principle Attributes of Miso

Red Miso vs. White Miso (Color)

All misos can be divided into reds (actually russets and warm chestnut browns) and whites (soft light-yellows and creamy beiges).

Most red miso, like red wine, obtains its coloration from natural changes requiring lengthy aging, whereas white miso is generally prepared by quick, temperature-controlled fermentation. But in general, rice miso tends to be lighter in color than barley miso, and barley miso tends to be lighter than soybean miso.

shiro miso aka miso Red miso (aka Miso) and white miso (shiro miso)

The great majority of Japan’s white miso is made with rice koji and contains a large proportion of carbohydrate and relatively little salt; therefore, most white miso is rather sweet. Most white miso also is a very modern product. The ancient sweet white miso of Kyoto was not as white as white miso nowadays, since it was prepared by natural fermentation without bleaches or pressure cooking, and contained less carbohydrates.

But there is white miso product that is still keeping the traditional way of making, prepared by natural fermentation and ingredients, and have original taste of authentic Japanese miso.

In Japan, the term “red miso” (aka miso), used in its usual narrow sense, refers only to salty red rice miso. However, in its broad sense it may refers to any miso with a reddish or dark brown color. The term “white miso” (shiro miso) usually refers only to Kyoto-style sweet white miso; “light-colored miso” (tanshoku miso) is generally used to refer to all yellowish or whitish varieties.
And, occasionally the term “black miso” is used to refer to the darker varieties of soybean miso.

Natural Miso vs. Quick Miso (Method of Fermentation)

Natural miso, universally regarded as having the finest flavor, is prepared in the traditional way and has three basic characteristics: it is fermentas slowly and leisurely (usually for six months to three years at the natural temperature of its environment.

It is made from only natural ingredients and contains no defatted soybean meal (an inexpensive substitute for whole soybeans) or chemical additives (except, in some cases, ethyl alcohol), and it’s never pasteurized.

Most natural miso have a distinctive texture imparted by clearly visible chunks of whole soybeans and koji.

aka miso Natural Miso

Quick miso, a 20 to 30 percent less expensive modern product, is fermented for a short time (generally about three weeks but sometimes for as little as three days) in temperature-controlled, heated environment.

The short fermentation doesn’t allow it to develop the full mellowness of flavor and aroma, deep color, and long-lasting properties characteristic of natural miso. Hence, various chemicals and synthetics (bleaches, food colorings, sweeteners, vitamins, and monosodium glutamate) are occasionally added together with preservatives (ethyl alcohol or sorbic acid).

Most quick miso is also pasteurized to prevent its microorganisms from producing carbon dioxide which would cause the plastic bags in which it’s packaged to swell and sometimes explode.

miso One type of instant/quick miso, block miso.

Pasteurization, like overcooking, causes a further decline in the miso’s flavor and aroma, and, by killing the microorganisms which would otherwise aid digestion in the human body, lowers the miso’s nutritional value.

Most quick miso has a smooth texture since the soybeans and koji are ground together usually twice, once in the vats to shorten the fermentation time and again later during pasteurization.

Salty Miso vs. Sweet Miso (Flavor)

All miso can be grouped according to their salt content.
Varieties containing 10,5% to 14% salt are included in salty miso. This salty misos are generally low in carbohydrates (20% or less) and have a savory, rather salty flavor.

At the other side, those containing less than 7% salt are called sweet miso and generally rich in carbohydrates (30% or more) and had a heady sweetness.

Meanwhile, misos that contain 7% to 10,5% salt are included in mellow miso.

Note that all misos are assumed to be salty unless specifically designated otherwise.

When thinned in ½ cup of water, 2 teaspoons of salty miso produce about the same strength broth as 3 to 4 teaspoons mellow or 5 to 6 teaspoons sweet miso.

sweet miso

But, mellow red miso, which contains 13% salt, falls outside its proper domain. Due to its abundant carbohydrates, it actually has a flavor similar to that of mellow barley miso.

Japan’s sweetest misos are found in Kyoto and Tokyo. If you moves from modern urban areas to more traditional farming and fishing districts, the preferred miso grows saltier and more of it is made at home.

Consumption patterns demonstrate that urban office workers, young people, and the upper class prefer the sweeter varieties, whereas farmers, laborers, and elderly adults prefer the saltier.

The sweetness or saltiness of a miso has no definite relationship to its color. Although, generally saltier varieties tend to be darker since both salinity and depth of color are directly related to the length of fermentation.

Chunky Miso vs. Smooth Miso (Texture)

Chunky miso (tsubu miso) is any variety in which the shape of the soybeans (and usually of the koji grains is still visible. It is the oldest form of miso and comprised virtually all that made before 1945.

During the mixing and mashing of ingredients before the fermentation of natural miso, almost all of the koji and at least half of the soybeans were left in their natural form. The koji gradually dissolved as the miso aged, but the beans generally retained their individual form, even after three years of fermentation, thereby leaving the finished miso a distinctive, flavor-enhancing texture.

shiro miso Chunky miso and smooth miso

Smooth miso is that which has been blended or ground to a homogeneous puree. First prepared after 1945, it now comprises about 80 percent of all miso sold in Japan.

Ite derives much of its appeal from the fact that the Japanese have traditionally ground their miso with a little water before adding it into soups; smooth miso saves modern cooks the time and trouble.

In factories making quick miso, this smooth-textured product is an inevitable result of the production process since all of the ingredients are ground, once to shorten the fermentation time and then again to reinforce the effects of pasteurization.

Expensive Miso vs. Inexpensive Miso (Price)

In Japan, miso varieties sold in polyethylene bags through supermarkets and grocery atores are the least expensive. The same miso automatically rises in price when it is sold out open-top kegs at traditional miso retail outlets, or if it is made using traditional way and kept fermented in barrels without additives/preservatives.

To avoid pasteurization and the use of preservatives, much natural miso is still sold in the latter way, but many varieties of even natural (unpasteurized) miso now contain ethyl alcohol preservative and can be found in natural food stores for relatively low prices packaged in polyethylene bags.

aka miso One brand of soybean miso

In general, rice miso in less expensive than barley miso, and barley miso is less expensive that soybean miso. The least expensive misos, often characterized by a soft texture due to the addition of extra water, are usually quick misos made by large-scale production methods. More expensive misos are frequently natural varieties made by small, tradition―and quality―oriented companies.

Miso from the Provinces (Region of Origin)

In Japan, the many varieties of miso are often grouped according to the provinces or region in which they are produced. Like many of the world’s wines and cheeses, the majority of Japan’s traditional misos bear the name of their birthplace as shown in the picture below.

Miso from the Provinces of Japan: miso

Geographical Miso Preferences: miso

A miso having a history deeply rooted in the provinces is often called tochi miso, or “miso of the land,” and is especially prized.

If you travel the entire length of the Japanese archipelago from southwest to northeast―a distance of about 1.360 miles―you would find that as the climate changes from warm to cold, the preferred miso generally changed from sweet to salty and consumption tends to increase.

In the southern third of Japan, barley miso is preferred; in the central third, soybean miso; and in the northern third, rice miso.

Here is the Recommended Authentic Natural Miso Products

So, those are the six principle attributes of miso, which the misos can also be grouped based on them: method of fermentation, flavor, color, texture, cost, and region of origin.

Then, let’s proceed to the three types of regular miso primarily used in cooking in Japan which mentioned at the start of this article. The rice miso, barley miso, and soybean miso.

The first two made from soybeans, salt, and the respective grain, while the last made from soybeans and salt alone. This regular miso is used primarily in cooking and, in Japan, particularly in soups.

Each type is represented by a number of unique varieties (see the table below), for every batch of miso differs according to the proportions of ingredients, the cooking method, and the duration and temperature of fermentation.

Chart of The Varieties of Miso (I)

Red Miso (incl. Brown-rice Miso) Deep rich saltiness Reddish brown to russet Deep fermented aroma 6 to 12 months
Light-yellow Miso Mature rounded saltiness with subtle tartness Bright light yellow Light refreshing fragrance 1 to 2 years
Mellow Red Miso Deep semi-sweetness Yellowish red Rich fragrance 3 to 6 months
Mellow Beige Miso Light semi-sweetness Yellow to tan Light mild fragrance 5 to 20 days
Mellow White Miso Rich, heady mellowness Light beige Subtly sweet, fermented fragrance 4 weeks
Sweet Red Miso Rich, deep sweetness Lustrous reddish brown Savory and sweet 10 to 30 days
Sweet White Miso Light, rich dessert-like sweetness Ivory to yellowish white Light, sweet springtime fragrance 1 to 4 weeks
Barley Miso Barley Miso Deep rich saltiness Dark reddish brown Prominent barley aroma 1 to 3 years
Mellow Barley Miso Deep, rich subtle sweetness Yellowish brown to russets Subtle barley fragrance 10 to 20 days
Soybean Miso Hatcho Miso Mellow richness, subtly tart Chocolate brown Distinctive rich, deep aroma 18 to 36 months
Soybean Miso Mellow saltiness Dark reddish brown Prominent soy aroma 1 year
Tamari Miso Deep saltiness Dark brown Deep, heavy soy aroma 1 year

Chart of The Varieties of Miso (II)

Red Miso (incl. Brown-rice Miso) Aka-miso, Genmai miso, Sendai,
Sado, Echigo, Tsugaru
Tohoku, Niigata, Sado,
Hokkaido, Hokuriku, Chugoku
13.5 19.1 13.0
Light-yellow Miso Shinshu Miso, Akita Miso Nagano, Tokyo area,
13.5 19.6 12.5
Mellow Red Miso Amakuchi Aka-miso,
Gozen Miso
Urban centers 11.2 27.9 13.0
Mellow Beige Miso Amakuchi Tanshoku Miso,
Aijiro Miso,
Mochigome Miso
Nagano, Tokyo area,
Urban centers
13.0 29.1 7.0
Mellow White Miso Shiro Koji Miso Hawaii 12.3 27.5 9.1
Sweet Red Miso Edo Ama-miso Tokyo 12.7 31.7 6.0
Sweet White Miso Shiro Miso, Saikyo Miso,
Fuchu Miso, Sanuki Miso
Kyoto, Hiroshima,
11.1 35.9 5.5
Barley Miso Barley Miso Karakuchi Mugi Miso Kyushu, Saitama 12.8 21.0 13.0
Mellow Barley Miso Amakuchi Mugi Miso Kyushu, Chugoku,
11.1 29.8 10.0
Soybean Miso Hatcho Miso Hatcho Miso, Waka-Hatcho,
Sanshu Miso
Aichi, Okazaki 21 12 10.6
Soybean Miso Ichi-nen Mame Miso,
Nagoya Miso
Aichi, Mie, Gifu 19.4 13.2 11.2
Tamari Miso Tamari Miso Aichi, Mie, Gifu 20 12.3 11.3

Here is the Recommended Authentic Natural Miso Products

The Types of Regular Miso in Japan

The three types of regular miso usually used in Japan―rice, barley, and soybean miso―are classified according to the basic raw material or substrate used for the koji.

Each type may be further divided in the basis of flavor into sweet, mellow, and salty, then subdivided on the basis of color into red, light-yellow, and white varieties.

The following three types and 12 varieties of miso are widely available throughout Japan. Within each variety are hundreds of sub-varieties which differ according to the maker, process, ingredients, and locality of origin.

Rice Miso (Komé Miso)

Rice miso now accounts for 81% of the miso sold in Japan. In fact, today all miso is assumed to fall under this classification unless otherwise stated just as all miso is assumed to be salty-tasting unless specifically called sweet; hence salty red rice miso in simply called “red miso.”

Very rich in glucose and other natural sugars, rice serves as the basis of the koji used in most of Japan’s sweet, quick, and white misos.

The scarcity of rice miso in traditional Japan is thought to be due to the fact that rice―and especially the polished or milled rice from which most rice miso has always been made―was a food reserved for the aristocracy and samurai.

Feudal peasants were required to send the rice they grew to their lords, leaving them with only barley, although in some areas, the farmers were allowed to collect broken rice kernels to prepare their miso.

Thus, part of the present popularity of rice miso in Japan is an expression of the ancient tendency to regard rice and rice miso as food of the upper classes.

■ Red Miso (Aka Miso)
Red miso has a rich-and-savory salty flavor with subtly sweet undertones. It fermented naturally for one to three years or by temperature-controlled methods for three to four months.

red miso

Deeply fragrant, its color ranges from lustrous russet to dark reddish brown and its texture ranges from chunky-and-soft to smooth-and-firm. A popular and versatile miso, it’s well suited for use in all types of cookery.

Of three types of regular miso, red miso has the lowest proportion of carbohydrate (19,1%), the second highest proportion of protein (13,5%), and the highest proportion of salt (13%). Thus the natural product can be stored for several years at room temperature and, in most cases, the flavor will actually improve over time.

A sub-variety of rice miso that has recently popular is brown-rice miso. It has delectable natural flavor, deep and mellow, and a satisfying fragrance. This miso is endowed with real character, is loaded with nutrients found in the rice’s bran layers, and is priced quite reasonably. Its fermentation is 6 to 18 months.

■ Light-Yellow Miso (Shinshu Miso)
Shinshu refers to the ancient province north of Tokyo―now Nagano Prefecture―where this popular variety was first developed. This shinshu miso, or light yellow miso, contained slightly less salt than red miso and therefore enjoyed a subtle and highly prized tartness. Shinshu miso is smooth, and some varieties were prepared with black soybeans.

Modern Shinshu miso, which we call light-yellow miso, is a quick miso which have a mature and mellow salty flavor, and subtle tart quality. Light and refreshing in aroma, its color ranges from light yellow to yellowish brown, and its firm texture is almost always smooth.

shinshu miso Light-Yellow Miso, or Shinshu Miso

This type of miso is low in carbohydrates (19,6%) and quite high in both salt (12,5%) and protein (13,5%).

According to popular tradition, the original Shinshu miso was developed about 450 years ago by Takeda Shingen, a great and powerful samurai living in the Nagano area. Nowadays, this miso is especially popular in Tokyo and central Japan, and used in all types of cooking.

■ Mellow Red Miso (Amakuchi Akamiso)
A close relative of red miso, this variety is prepared with exactly the same amount of salt (13%) but much larger percentage of koji and thus of carbohydrates (27,9% vs. 19,1%), resulting in a slightly sweeter flavor.

The traditional representative of this category is Gozen miso, a specialty of the city of Tokushima on Shikoku Island. Fermented naturally for 6 to 12 months, it attains a deep reddish-brown color.

Since World War II, a number of quick varieties of this miso have been developed, which are prepared with pressure-steamed ingredients and fermented without the use of additives in a temperature-controlled environment for three to six months.

■ Mellow Beige Miso (Amakuchi Tanshoku Miso)
This broad category is a catch-all for the many quick, light-colored misos developed as imitations of modern Shinshu miso but forbidden by law to use the Shinshu name. Amakuchi means "moderately sweet" and tanshoku means "light-colored," indicating that these products are midway in flavor between sweet and salty, and in color between red and white.

Mellow beige miso was explicitly designed to use pro- portions of raw materials that would minimize both the fermentation time and the cost of ingredients, and thereby maximize profits. Thus, typical products are relatively rich in carbohydrates (29.1 %), and low in salt (7 %) and protein (13 %). The light color is produced by pressure-boiling and short fermentation (3 to 4 weeks) in a temperature-controlled environment, often together with the use of bleach and food coloring.

The traditional representatives of this category are Aijiro miso and Kyushu miso, neither of which is now widely available. Aijiro, made only in Shizuoka prefecture, was first created about 350 years ago as an imitation of Kyoto's sweet white miso, but it is not quite as sweet.

■ Mellow White Miso (Shiro Koji Miso)
The rich natural flavor of this variety is nicely harmonized with a subtly sweet fermented fragrance, reminiscent of amazaké (Japan’s sweet sake). Unlike its slightly sweeter relative, sweet white miso, this mellow miso is a completely natural product, fermented at the temperature of its environment and prepared without pasteurization, preservatives, or bleach.

Unlike others that were invented in Japan, this type of miso is created in Honolulu, Hawaii it is now widely available on the American mainland where it is reasonably priced and generally sold in white cottage cheese-type containers bearing the name “Shiro White Miso." It is midway between red and sweet white miso in salt content.

■ Sweet Red Miso (Edo Miso or Edo Ama-miso)
Endowed with