Miso soup is a traditional dish made with dashi stock, soy bean paste and a range of ingredients that vary from region to region. It's delicious, warming and makes the perfect side for any Japanese meal. Let's learn how to make classic Japanese miso soup from scratch!
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Japanese Miso Soup (味噌汁)
Miso soup (味噌汁) is a traditional Japanese soup made with ingredients such as vegetables, tofu, seaweed and shellfish which is then served in a thin dashi broth. The soup is flavoured by dissolving fermented soybean paste (miso paste) into the broth, creating a delicious soup that is rich in umami.
Miso soup has long been a part of the Japanese diet and is commonly served as a side, rather than on its own. It is also a very convenient way to use vegetables and local ingredients.
The taste of the miso soup varies depending on the soup stock and kind of miso paste you use, so you can drink it every day without getting bored.
History of Miso Soup in Japan
Miso has been part of Japanese life and culture for more than 1300 years. Apparently, it was first introduced to Japan by the Chinese in the 7th century. At that time, miso was a luxury item only used by the rich and elite. It was also not used as a seasoning, but instead, eaten directly.
It was around the Kamakura period (1185-1333) that Buddhist monks brought suribachi (pestle and mortar) from China and it became easier to grind grains and beans, which could then be dissolved in water to make soup. With this development, miso soup was born.
Overtime, farmers would grow more soybeans and make their own miso. From the late Muromachi period (1336-1573), miso became a popular ingredient amongst common people. It was also favoured by Samurai warriors going into battle as it was a great source of protein that was easily preserved.
Going into the Edo period (1603-1868) miso began to spread into the lives of ordinary people, and miso soup began to appear on every family's dinner table.
Since then, miso soup has always been a part of Japanese families.
(The Origin and History of Miso - Marukome)
Types of miso in Japan
There are many kinds of miso in Japan, and which one you use to make miso soup depends entirely on your preference! Here are some examples of miso in Japan.
- Rice miso (米味噌): Made from rice, soybeans, and salt.
- Barley miso (麦味噌): Made from wheat, soybeans, and salt, often seen in Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions.
- Soybean miso (豆味噌): Made from soybeans and salt, often seen in Chukyo region (FYI my region).
- Mixed miso (調合味噌): A mixture of three or two types of rice miso, barley miso or soybean miso.
You can also categorise the type of miso by colour too:
These are examples of the broad categories of miso in Japan. In reality, there are so many kinds from region to region. In the past, it was common for people to make their own miso at home too, so it even varied from family to family.
I would recommend trying out different types of miso paste to find your favourite type!
Typical ingredients for miso soup
The core of miso soup consists of dashi stock and miso paste. But what else do we add to the soup? Here are some examples of common miso soup ingredients.
- Tofu (firm or silken, depending on preference)
- Seaweed (Usually wakame)
- Freshwater clam
There is a variation of miso soup with pork meat called Tonjiru (豚汁) as well.
Tips and tricks to make an authentic miso soup
Because miso soup has such a long history, there are a lot of tips and tricks that have accumulated over time. So in this section, I will explain some of the best tips to making an authentic miso soup!
Make your own dashi stock
While using instant dashi is quick and easy, using homemade dashi brings your miso soup to another level and is a tip that I always recommend. Although it might sound intimidating to make stock from scratch, Japanese dashi can actually be pretty quick and easy to make.
Add ingredients that take longer to cook first
Hard vegetables such as carrots, onions, and potatoes should be added first. The same goes for when you wanna use fish and shellfish.
Simmering root vegetables and seafood also provides adds to the flavorful broth as well.
On the other hand, soft ingredients like tofu or seaweed do not need to be cooked for so long. These easy to cook ingredients should be added to a boiling water bath and cooked quickly.
Do not dissolve miso when boiling
After making sure that the ingredients in the pot are cooked, turn off the heat and slowly start dissolving the miso by whisking gradually.
After dissolving the miso, do not leave it for a long time or bring it to a boil. If you boil the soup, the aroma of the miso will be lost. It is said that miso soup is most fragrant when it is slightly weaker than boiling. Apparently, the temperature at which miso soup tastes the best is about 75°C (165°F).
As for condiments that don't need to be cooked such as chopped spring onions, you can sprinkle them on top after adding the miso.
You shouldn't keep miso soup for a long time
While miso paste is a fermented and can be preserved for a long time, once it is made into soup and combined with other ingredients, it is very easy to spoil. If you have to store leftover miso soup, avoid storing it at room temperature. If you have no choice but to store it, be sure to keep it in the refrigerator and try and use it as quickly as possible. (I don't recommend keeping it for more than 24 hours.)
In ideal world, you should use up any leftover miso soup before the end of the day. For example, make it for breakfast or lunch then have it again with your evening meal.
Check out our video for How to make homemade miso soupPrint
Step by step recipe
Miso soup is a traditional Japanese soup made with dashi broth and flavoured with miso paste (fermented soybeans).
Common miso soup ingredients include vegetables, seaweed (wakame), tofu and shellfish. There is also a pork miso soup we call "Tonjiru".
Miso soup is very nutritious and lots of people eat it everyday as part of a balanced diet. However, it is quite salty so just make sure not to overdo it with salty foods.
While the main ingredient for miso is soybeans, many miso pastes these days contain extra ingredients to add umami. These ingredients often contain fish products. Miso paste for vegetarians and vegans do exist, but you need to check the packaging to confirm this. Do not assume that all miso paste is suitable for vegans.
See my vegan miso soup recipe for more information!