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Quick and Simple Miso Soup

BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2011-02-16

One time, while hosting a masters nutrition group on issues related to nutrition, a woman bemoaned the fact that, because of her food sensitivities, she couldn’t feed her children the same restorative foods her mother and grandmother fed her.  For me, the soothing foods I ate when I was sick as a child were pastini (tiny star shaped wheat pastas) with butter and cottage cheese and . . . chicken soup. At the time, my son Gilbert ate none of these things, but what he would eat (and what he loved!) was my quick and simple miso soup.

As we discussed in that masters nutrition group that night, healing and comforting foods stem from how they are delivered, with love and nurturance and the intent to doctor an ailment. They are, not necessarily, the food itself. 

If I served a gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free cinnamon toast to my son as part of his breakfast, with the same love and sweetness that I remember receiving my cinnamon toast as a kid, Gilbert would likely foster that same appealing memory. Hot chocolate, though hardly from a package with boiling water in the household of a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, would be met with the same delight I experienced in my own childhood when trekking in from the snow. Whether chicken or miso, as would  soothing soup, especially when there was a belly ache or the hint of a flu. 

The tradition lived on despite the dietary redirection. It was merely tweaked to meet our nutritional and culinary fancy.

The ancient tradition of miso soup

Miso is a food with deep roots. Deep bacterial roots, that is. Our ancestors used varying fermentation methods to prevent spoilage, maximize digestibility, and promote flavor. They turned cabbages into krauts, milks into yogurt and kefir, cucumbers into pickles, and in China and Japan they transformed soybeans into miso. Miso not only has a culinary tradition, but a curative one as well. It’s been used successfully for:

  • Easing digestive disturbances

  • Supporting cancer prevention

  • Mitigating the effects of radiation sickness

  • Balancing cholesterol

  • Reducing blood pressure

  • Boosting the immune system

  • Alleviating chronic pain

  • Enhancing libido

It’s a perfect survival food due to its high nutritive value – its chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and protein. And most importantly, it’s almost as easy to make as canned soup. If you can’t eat soy, no worries, see below for alternatives.

Quick and Simple Miso Soup


  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced

  • 4 cups water or broth of choice

  • 2 tablespoons miso paste (see below for brands)

  • optional toppings: sliced green onions, shaved ginger root, soaked arame or hijiki seaweed or soaked and strained bonitio (dried fish) flakes


  1. Combine water and onions in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until onions soften. Turn off heat.

  2. Remove a portion (about one cup) of broth from the pan and place in a bowl. Allow to cool slightly and add your miso paste to the bowl. Stir to create a slurry, allowing all the miso paste to blend into the liquid.

  3. Add the miso broth back to the pot and stir to combine. Add toppings of choice, if using, & serve.

Note: You can add any other vegetables that you’d like in the first steps. Cabbage and shiitake mushrooms are my favorite. Or omit them altogether for a simple cup of broth for a nourishing afternoon snack at work, school, or out on a wilderness trip (so long as you can boil water). Just add the paste to the hot water and stir!

Other Uses for Miso

Miso isn’t limited to soup; it can elevate various dishes:

  • dairy-free pestos (substitute for the cheese)

  • sauces (combines really nicely with tahini/sesame butter for greens and/or noodles)

  • gravies (mix it in to provide a bit more flavor and nutrition)

  • marinades (combine with oils, vinegars, and spices for grilling or roasting)

Buying Miso:

You’ll find miso in the form of a paste in containers in the refrigerator section of your grocery or health food store. It’s often in the area where you find the eggs and tofu. You’ll see that there may be several different brands and several different kinds of miso paste. 

All miso varieties are made from beans (often soy, but sometimes chickpea or aduki are available) and/or grains (often rice or barley, but sometimes millet) and a special ingredient called koji. Koji is to miso, what malt is to beer. Koji are grains (mainly rice, but also barley) which are fermented with bacterial molds. During the production of koji these beneficial bacteria will produce enzymes which will later work to pre-digest or break down the proteins and carbohydrates in the food.

The most common varieties of miso are:

Red Miso: Typically made from white rice, barley or soybeans. Red Miso  has the highest protein content of all miso. Start here if you’ve never made your own miso soup before.White Miso: This lighter flavor miso usually uses fewer beans and more grain, customarily rice. White Miso is the sweetest and most carbohydrate-dense miso.Barley Miso: Clearly this type of miso favors barley and not rice. It’s salty and rich. Note that Barley Miso is not gluten-free.Soybean Miso: This type of miso uses no grain at all. It can sometimes be a bit more chunky than the other miso pastes. Soybean Miso often referred to as Hatcho miso or ‘the miso of Emperors’.Specialty Miso: There are more of these available these days, using fermented chickpeas, aduki beans, fermented vegetables, spices, and/or specialty grains. If you’re new to miso, start simple and then explore this specialty realm!

My favorite, as a Functional Medicine Nutritionist and personally is South River Miso. Also listed are some other good-quality brands you might find at your local store. Several of the brands have gluten-free and soy-free options. They’re all unpasteurized, organic and non-GMO which are your most important purchasing objectives when buying miso.

More Advanced?

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try making your own miso. For a detailed experiment, check out my friend Joanna’s blog here. Either way, make it simple or make your own, but make your miso!


Watanabe H. Beneficial biological effects of miso with reference to radiation injury, cancer and hypertension. J Toxicol Pathol. 2013;26(2):91-103. doi:10.1293/tox.26.91

Saeed F, Afzaal M, Shah YA, et al. Miso: A traditional nutritious & health-endorsing fermented product. Food Sci Nutr. 2022;10(12):4103-4111. Published 2022 Sep 15. doi:10.1002/fsn3.3029

Ito K. Review of the health benefits of habitual consumption of miso soup: focus on the effects on sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure, and heart rate. Environ Health Prev Med. 2020;25(1):45. Published 2020 Aug 31. doi:10.1186/s12199-020-00883-4
Takahashi F, Hashimoto Y, Kaji A, et al. Habitual Miso (Fermented Soybean Paste) Consumption Is Associated with a Low Prevalence of Sarcopenia in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 2020;13(1):72. Published 2020 Dec 28. doi:10.3390/nu13010072

Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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