This foundational Japanese ingredient can—and should—be used for way more than just soup. Here's what we recommend.
Credit: Victor Protasio

You’ll see three miso styles in well-stocked groceries: White, or shiro, miso is the mildest and is also called sweet or mellow miso. Red, or aka, miso, fermented longest, is the most pungent. Yellow, or shinshu, miso falls in the middle and is, to some, the most versatile.

We tasted more than 20 different misos, from mild white to pungent red to middle-of-the-road yellow, and rounded up our favorites. They’re so delicious you might find yourself eating them exactly as we did—straight off a spoon.

Miko Sweet Miso, Light in Sodium, $6

Credit: Kelsey Hansen

So mild you could spread it on toast, or use it almost like butter in a sauce or mashed potatoes.

Eden Foods Shiro Miso, $9

Credit: Kelsey Hansen

A great workhorse, this nutty white miso is gentle enough for newbies yet still sharp for aficionados.

Hana Tezukuri Aka Miso, $5

Credit: Kelsey Hansen

Less forceful than most red misos and an affable entry into the pungent world of aka. Ideal for soup.

Organic Ranch Aka Miso, $13

Credit: Kelsey Hansen

Bold, dynamic, rich; this is your prototypical red. The most distinctively fermented of our faves.

Hanamaruki Soybean Paste Red Type, $9

Credit: Kelsey Hansen

Forcefully piquant with a biting salinity, it’s a next-level miso for advanced users. Best in small doses.