5 mistakes when making miso soup

Miso soup | 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Miso Soup

How would you like a small bowl of miso soup to go with your next Japanese meal?

Today, you’re going to discover five mistakes to avoid doing next time you make a bowl of miso soup so that it turns out a delicious and aromatic success.

miso soup 1

What is Miso?

The first mistake that you can avoid quite simply is to understand just a little bit about what it is that makes miso “miso” and the differences between different types of miso.

Miso types & colors

The first thing that I wanted to talk about was color. Red and white miso are the two common colors that you’re going to be seeing most often at your local Japanese supermarket or on Amazon. And red miso may not necessarily appear as red as Valentine red. It’s more of a brownish color.

The other most common type is going to be white. White gets its name because it looks a little bit lighter in color. It’s more of a tan, off-white or creamy color.

And the difference between the two is that red is going to be more robust, saltier, bolder in flavor.

On the other hand, white miso is going to be a little bit sweeter, a little bit less salty, and a little bit milder in terms of flavor.

As you can imagine, those two differences are going to naturally call those two ingredients towards different uses and different types of dishes.

But if you’re in a pinch and you only have one, you are able to substitute white miso for red miso, and make a few adjustments in terms of maybe adding some sugar or sweetener to offset some of the saltiness of the red miso, or maybe add a little bit of seasonings such as salt, or shoyu, or soy sauce to white miso to make it a little bit more savory.

Ingredients used

Now that we’ve got the colors out of the way, the second thing that you need to know is the different types of ingredients that are used.

The most common ingredients that you’re going to see in miso are going to be soybeans, barley, as well as rice or wheat. Plus, a variety of other combinations of ingredients as well.

In addition to that, you can also find miso paste that is labeled in Japanese with the kanji or Japanese characters, which you probably wouldn’t be able to read.

‘Yuki’ is going to mean organic, it’s the same thing as USDA Organic. But Japan has its own organic labeling system and it’s usually JAS.

miso soup 2

In addition to that, you can also look for something that says ‘Kokusan’. ‘Kokusan’ means that the food or the product was made in Japan. And generally, that’s considered a higher-quality product.

So, when it comes to food, that means the food ingredients — for example, the soybeans, or the rice, or whatever — were produced and harvested in Japan. In general, Yuki and Kokusan are going to be two things that you might want to look for in terms of Japanese characters on the labeling of the miso paste because it tends to denote higher quality.

Now, you know a few things about miso. Next time you hit the market, make sure to look for those things.

When to add dashi

The second thing that you might want to avoid doing, or not doing, potentially, is adding dashi.

Some of you may know that dashi is important in terms of adding flavor, adding umami, and bringing out the natural flavors of the food that you’re using it with.

But when it comes to miso soup, sometimes, miso paste already has dashi in it. In that case, you don’t necessarily need to be making dashi and adding it to your miso paste Because you’re going to just overdo the dashi and it’s going to turn out potentially a little bit on the fishier side if you’re sensitive to that.

And it’s kind of a waste of your dashi because you don’t necessarily need it since it’s already in the miso paste.

It’s kind of like adding chicken stock and a chicken bouillon cube to the chicken stock if that makes any sense to you.

The other thing to remember, on the other hand, is if your miso paste does not have dashi, you need to add dashi to the miso paste. It’s not going to taste good if you just use water. No dashi equals no good.

If your miso soup tasted off, perhaps it was missing some dashi.

And don’t worry just yet. If you are trying to be plant-based and you have concerns about eating dashi that has fish products in it, you can actually make the vegetarian kind, which is made with mushrooms and/or kombu.

So, shiitake mushroom is one of the more common ones as well as kombu or kelp, which is a type of seaweed. Or you can use a combination of those two together, as well as other ingredients for your vegetarian or plant-based dashi.

What to cook first

The third mistake that you want to avoid is if you are in a rush, or you didn’t necessarily plan out what you’re going to be doing tonight to make your miso soup, is timing.

As you know, certain vegetables may take longer to cook than others when you want to put them in a soup. For example, you might want to cook those hard vegetables, in particular carrots, daikon radish, renkon, gobo, which is burdock roots, so that they get soft and palatable once it’s time to eat them.

Typically, what you want to do in terms of timing is make the dashi first, cook them or soften them, either by sauteing them, steaming them, microwaving them, or parboiling them so that they’re softened.

And then, the last thing that you’re going to be doing is adding the miso paste. It’s always the last thing.

Another thing to consider in terms of timing is if you’re going to be using dried ingredients — like dried shiitake, for example — that’s going to take some time to rehydrate and release all of its good umami compounds. In addition, we have our wakame, which is dried seaweed, dried onions, dried mushrooms, are going to take time to rehydrate and get nice and plump and juicy, almost to the way that they were when they were originally harvested.

And if you don’t rehydrate those things separately and you just add them to your soup pot, you can do that. But know that it’s going to concentrate your soup as they absorb the liquid out of the dashi base.

miso soup 3

Why is timing important?

You might be wondering why I said the timing in terms of cooking the vegetables and making sure that they’re soft is important. Well, here’s why.

You don’t want to boil your miso. Because when you boil your miso or you cook it for a long period of time, it’s gonna lose its aromatic character. It’s a form of sensory eating experience. As you may know, it’s said that 30% or so of taste is smell. You want to protect the aroma of your miso because that’s part of the experience. And if you don’t, by boiling it off, if you’re cooking it for a long period of time, and just leaving it uncovered after it’s done cooking, and it’s still super hot, you’re still losing that aroma because it’s being released into the air.

That’s why you can smell it. When you want to add the miso paste, it’s at the very end. Once you’re done cooking all your vegetables, just before you’re about to serve it, you want to stir it in.

They have a special miso strainer, Or you can just use a fork or whisk to break it up quickly. And then it’s ready to serve. And if you’re not ready to serve it, just make sure to cover it with a lid.

That’s the fifth mistake that you may or may not be making is leaving your miso soup uncovered after you’re done cooking it, or after you served it on a table and you’re not yet eating.

If you’ve been to a traditional Japanese restaurant, you may have noticed that sometimes, the miso soup comes covered with a lid when it’s brought to your table. And that’s the whole reason or the rationale for doing so. It’s to protect the aroma. If you’re leaving things uncovered, the aroma, if you can imagine, all the miso aroma is kind of like a little puppy. And if you’re going to leave that little puppy unleashed, it’s just going to run away, potentially, not being trained just yet. And then, you’re losing about 30% of your miso experience.

Now, I guess you tell me. Are you the type of person who would settle for just 70% of your miso experience? Or would you want the whole 100% of your miso experience? No judgment. Whatever you prefer is totally fine with me.

The next time you make your miso soup, I’d be curious which one you’re going to be trying first.

I did have a couple of bonuses for you.

Fun fact:

Miso soup, just like the otsukemono that we talked about, and the brown rice that we talked about in the last two videos, are made in general with whole foods, plant-based foods. Whole foods, plant-based foods, as you may know, are the foods that have shown benefits in terms of your health over the long term.


Konnichiwa! (Hello!) I'm Pat Tokuyama, a Japanese tofu cookbook author, who travels for music, food, and adventure. If you like Japanese tea, checkout some of the newestorganic japanese tea, matcha bowls and noren and more!

** Curious about the Plant Based Japanese Cooking Club? ** Learn more here!


Common ingredients in miso soup

Some of the most common ingredients that you could use in terms of making your miso soup are pretty much anything and everything… almost.

As you can imagine, it tends to be on the savory, saltier side, so you’re not necessarily going to want to be putting things that are sweet in there, But you can. For example, things like a kabocha squash. That’s just one thing.

You might be familiar with seaweed, wakame, and tofu, and green onion, which is going to be pretty common in terms of what you see. At least here in America, at Japanese restaurants

Let’s break it down.

In terms of the ingredients that you can put into your miso soup, depending on the season, of course, are going to be as follows:

  • Root vegetables. We have daikon radish, onions, carrots, gobo or burdock roots, renkon or lotus roots.
    Note: You want to make sure to cook those so that they get nice and soft.
  • Leafy greens. You can put in lettuce, spinach, mizuna, which is a type of Japanese leafy green. Komatsuna, which is similar to spinach chard. You can put in kale, as well as shingiku or chrysanthemum green.
  • Baby greens. You can put in some kaiware daikon, or maybe some of your favorite radish sprouts, or moyashi, which are beansprouts, or other types of microgreens if you enjoy growing those and using those in your cooking.
  • Fruits. Tomato, cucumber, okra, eggplants, zucchini.

Other vegetables that you can use, in addition to what I just mentioned: Takenoko, which is bamboo shoots. Corn. Beans. Any kind of white bean is what I prefer, as well as chickpeas. You could put in soybeans. Both the dried kind that has been rehydrated or the green kind, edamame.

Green beans work well. Snow peas, snap peas, sugar peas, green peas, as well as tofu brothers and sisters, which is yuba or tofu skin, as well as aburaage, which is deep-fried tofu skin.

And if you want things a little bit more aromatic, consider putting in things like onions, whether they’re green, white, red, or yellow. Japanese herbs, like mitsuba, which is Japanese parsley. You can also put in shiso, which is perilla, or sesame leaf, as well as sansho pepper. Myoga, which is similar to ginger. You can also put ginger in as well, and yuzu.

And if you want a little bit more protein or nutrition to make it a little bit more filling, you can put in something called fu, which is wheat gluten. It’s processed, but it’s like concentrated gluten, so it has a little bit more protein, and starch, and fiber, and all that stuff in there. It’s a great way to add some more substance or depth to your soup to make it nice and thick.

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Konnichiwa! (Hello!) I'm Pat Tokuyama, a Japanese tofu cookbook author, who travels for music, food, and adventure. If you like Japanese tea, checkout some of the newestorganic japanese tea, matcha bowls and noren and more!

** Curious about the Plant Based Japanese Cooking Club? ** Learn more here!


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