In Japan, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t eat miso soup regularly. According to some reports, it is consumed at least once a day by about three-quarters of the population. And it’s easy to see why: broth is nutritious, warming, and renowned for its health benefits. But it also has a long history in Japan, making it more than just a nutritious food. Miso soup is also about culture and identity.
Over the years, miso soup has become popular in the West as well. If you sit down to eat at a Japanese restaurant in the United States, for example, you will always see the dish listed on the appetizer menu. But if you’ve got a taste for miso, it’s easy to make this nutritious broth at home too. We’ve collected some of our favorite vegan recipes below. But first: what is miso soup? Where did it come from? And why is it so good for you?
What is miso soup?
In its simplest form, miso soup is made with just two main ingredients: miso paste and dashi stock. There are several varieties of the former, but the most common is rice miso (also known as kome miso). It is a fermented paste made from soybeans, koji rice and salt.
Dashi is a type of soup stock, and typically, it’s made with kelp, shiitake mushrooms, bonito flakes (derived from skipjack tuna), and baby anchovies. Because the latter two ingredients come from fish, dashi is not always vegetarian. But it’s possible to find (and make) vegan versions with just shiitake and kelp.
Many people choose to add additional ingredients to miso soup, such as seaweed, vegetables, and tofu.
History of Miso Soup
Japanese people have been eating miso for over 1,000 years. But it wasn’t always accessible to everyone. During the Heian period, which ended in 1185, miso paste was reserved only for the rich and elite. At the time, it was more than just food – it was a valuable commodity. In fact, it was even used to pay salaries, reports Marukome, one of Japan’s top miso producers.
In the later Kamakura period, the introduction of statues and mortars by Chinese Buddhist monks changed the entire miso game. Using these simple tools, the paste could be ground down and dissolved in water, resulting in soup (a dish that was later favored and often eaten by samurai warriors). Over the centuries, miso soup became accessible to everyone, not just the elite. By 1800, miso shops and restaurants were the norm in Tokyo (though it was then called Edo).
For a dish with an ancient history, miso soup has not struggled to adapt to modern times. In fact, in 2022, the miso market was worth about $68 billion. And by 2032, it is expected to exceed $107 billion.
Benefits of miso soup
But why, exactly, is miso soup so popular? Here are some reasons. For one, it’s quite tasty. And on a cold winter day, it’s warm and cozy. But it is also very good for your health. It is rich in nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, manganese, vitamin K, copper and zinc.
Since it is made from fermented paste, miso soup is a good source of probiotics. Research suggests that this kind of good bacteria is good for our gut health, and can help improve digestion and reduce painful symptoms like constipation and bloating. Probiotic-rich foods are also associated with improved immune system function.
But there’s a catch with miso soup: it’s quite salty. In fact, one serving contains up to two grams of salt. If you need to reduce salt in your diet, it might be an idea to avoid miso, unfortunately. But that said, research also suggests that the sodium in miso may not be as harmful to health as salt in other foods.
In 2012, a study compared miso to processed meats, salted fish, and pickled foods. While all three of the latter increased the risk of stomach cancer, the results indicated that miso soup did not. “This may be because the carcinogenic effects of the salt in miso soup are counteracted by the anti-carcinogenic effects of the soy, effectively canceling out the risk,” notes Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, on his site. NutritionFacts.org.
Vegan Miso Soup Recipe
If you fancy yourself a nutritious bowl of miso, there are many ways you can enjoy it. It’s delicious on its own, or with the addition of plant-based ingredients like seaweed, mushrooms, or ramen noodles. For inspiration, here are some of our favorite vegan takes on traditional Japanese cuisine.
1 Almond Miso Soup
If you want a quick, light, nutrient-dense lunch, this almond miso soup recipe might be perfect. It’s easy to make, and thanks to the addition of almond butter, it’s nice and creamy.
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2 Miso Soup with King Oyster Mushroom, Quinoa and Seaweed
Once you’ve made your miso soup with vegan dashi stock, it’s time to start adding extras. Nutrient-rich quinoa is a great choice, and king oyster mushrooms also bring a nice meaty texture to the broth. Seaweed also adds a slightly fishy flavor to traditional dashi, without the actual fish.
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3 Vegan Soba Noodles with Spicy Miso Broth
For all the flavor of miso, but with a little oomph, make this delicious broth with buckwheat noodles and all your favorite vegetables. The ingredients list is really a guide, you can add whatever you want—or whatever you have in your fridge!
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4 Miso Mushroom ‘Chicken’ Soup
A popular way to enjoy miso soup is with added chicken. But if you don’t eat meat, you don’t have to miss out. Mushrooms are a great option thanks to their meaty flavor and texture, and they’re packed with nutrients.
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Nadine Horn and Jörg Mayer
5 Quick Vegan Spicy Miso Ramen
This is a great recipe to bookmark for the day when you’re in a rush. Plus, it’s not only quick and easy to make, but it’s protein-packed, flavorful, and satisfying.
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