04/23/2012 09:46 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Beyond Soup: 6 Ways To Cook With Miso

When you think of miso, what's the first thing that comes to mind? It's probably the pungent and flavorful Japanese miso soup that pretty much defines the term "umami." But miso can (and should) be used for more than just soup -- it's great in sauces, salad dressings, glazes and more. See the slideshow below for our ideas.

What Miso Paste Is

Basically, it's a paste made from a mixture of soy beans, rice or barley that has been fermented with salt, water and a fungus. But don't get alarmed -- it's not as gross as it sounds. Miso is a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine and it's been so for centuries. The reason? The health benefits. It's packed with protein, vitamin and minerals.

The Three Types

While practically each area in Japan has a form of miso paste that's particular to the region, there are mainly three types of miso paste readily available. Choose the one that's right for you and experiment. Start with the mildest and work your way up to the ones with most umami. Color is a good indicator of flavor and strength, so the darker the miso, the longer it's been aged and the more pungent it is. Once you've got your miso, keep it in the fridge once it has been opened -- it will last you a very long time.

White Miso (shiromiso) has a pale golden color and mild flavor because its fermentation time is so short. White miso is perfect in recipes where you don't want the flavor to be overpowering. It's great for the person who wants to introduce miso into their cooking.

Red Miso (akamiso) is saltier and stronger in flavor than white miso because it's aged for a very long time, often up to one year. It has a terracotta color.

Mixed Miso (awasemiso) is a mixture of two or more miso types, typically white and red. It has a dark brown color and strong taste.

There are also grain-specific miso pastes made from just barley, brown rice, rye, buckwheat and soy beans among others. These can range in flavor and depth of color with some aged for up to three years developing an almost chocolate color.

What do you make with miso? Let us know below.

How To Use Miso