Miso soup is slowly but surely moving from the dining tables of the Japanese into the Western mainstream. Although most people can enjoy the energizing flavors of miso soup, there is still one important question to answer—is miso soup vegan?
The saddening truth is that most traditionally-made miso soups are not vegan. However, most restaurants in Japan and the West would usually be willing to prepare a vegan miso for you.
A few preparation tips and tricks will allow you to enjoy the pungent vegan miso taste at home as well. You can also ask a Japanese chef to do it for you, but don’t be surprised if you get a smirk or two.
One way or the other, it is all about the ingredients that go into the soup. Here is what you need to know to have a better understanding of miso.
Traditional Japanese Miso Soup
In general, Japanese cuisine adheres to a set of relatively strict rules that involve a characteristic preparation style and specific ingredients. The same rules apply, even to a seemingly simple dish like miso soup. But rules are there to be bent, right?
Anyway, traditional miso soup has a few main ingredients and all but one are vegan-friendly. However, even one non-vegan ingredient is enough to give a negative answer to the question "is miso soup vegan?"
A steamed soybean paste, or miso, is the primary base for this soup. Another vegan-friendly ingredient is koji. Koji is the Japanese name for fermented soybeans, rice, or barley. The one ingredient that makes traditional Japanese miso non-vegan is katsuobushi dashi.
Katsuobushi dashi is the miso soup stock. It consists of water, dried fermented tuna shavings, and kelp. Since tuna shavings are one of the primary ingredients, this specific type of miso cannot be considered vegan.
There are also some miso soup recipes that include some other types of fish. Niboshi dashi, for example, uses dried baby sardines instead of tuna, but it’s still not vegan.
You may wonder, are any of the traditional Japanese miso varieties vegan? Luckily, there are!
Traditional Vegan Miso
There are two miso recipes that use ingredients other than fish, which make them perfectly suitable for vegans. If you order shiitake and kombu dashi miso at your favorite Japanese restaurant, there is no need to worry. That’s because mushrooms and seaweed replace the fish in these miso varieties.
In addition, some contemporary recipes allow you to create a tasty vegan miso in your own kitchen. Thus, there is no need to scratch your head and ask "is miso soup vegan?" Just roll up your sleeves and follow one of these recipes to get the best homemade vegan miso soup.
Miso Noodle Soup
This vegan miso recipe gives you a perfect combination of vegan flavors and a reinvigorating punch we have come to like in miso. Follow the instructions below, and you’ll have two tasty servings of miso in about half an hour.
- 2 tbsp of miso paste
- 1 tbsp of grated fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp of sesame seeds
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 1 spring onion
- ⅔ cup of Soba noodles
- 1 ⅓ cup of chestnut mushrooms
- ⅘ cup of tofu
- 1 broccoli head
- 1 liter of vegetable stock
- A handful of green beans and snap peas
- Slice the spring onion and leave the greens for later. Then put the slices in a big pot and fry them on sesame oil until they soften. Once the slices are soft, add the minced garlic and the ginger and cook for another minute.
- Now, you can add the miso paste together with a ladle of vegetable stock. Stir the mix until the miso is completely liquefied. When the miso liquefies, add the rest of the stock and simmer the mix.
- While simmering, add the chopped mushrooms and cook for another five minutes. Then add the broccoli and the beans and cook for five more minutes. At the same time, you can prepare the soba noodles following the instructions on the bag. The noodles go at the bottom of the serving bowl.
- In the end, add the tofu cubes to the miso soup along with the snap pea pods and cook for a couple more minutes.
- Once everything blends nicely together, pour the soup over the soba noodles and garnish it with the spring onion greens and sesame seeds.
Miso soup tastes the best if eaten straight from the pot. You should thus let it cool ever so slightly, and eat the miso as soon as it’s cool enough to sip.
Simple Shiitake Dashi
As previously mentioned, shiitake dashi is a miso soup variety that is suitable for any vegan palate. It is also very easy and quick to prepare. There are only three ingredients in this recipe, so there is no reason you shouldn’t give it a try.
- One 6-inch kombu piece
- 4 dried shiitake
- 7 cups of water
- First, you need to soak the shiitake and kombu in water for about 15 minutes. There is no need to use a separate dish—you can soak them in the pot you use for cooking. After 15 minutes, take the shiitake out, remove their stems, and then slice the mushroom heads.
- Now, you can put back the sliced mushroom heads and bring the pot to a simmer at medium heat. A five-minute simmer is enough for the kombu to release all of its flavors, so after the simmer, you can remove it from the soup.
- Leave the shiitake on for another 15 minutes until they are properly cooked. At this point, you can add other vegetables to your shiitake dashi and continue cooking until everything is nice and tender. To add some extra flavor, you can use a tablespoon of soy sauce or mirin (Japanese rice wine).
Shiitake dashi also works really well with udon or soba noodles, though the noodles might require some extra seasoning. There is one extra tip for shiitake dashi: if you want to get the most of the dried shiitake mushrooms, you should leave them to soak overnight.
The Last Bowl
Is miso soup vegan? Well, the answer is yes, miso can be vegan depending on the ingredients of the soup. If you are ordering miso in a restaurant, you just need to make sure they are not using any fish or animal-based stock.
However, when it comes to a homemade vegan miso, only your imagination is the limit for the ingredients that go into the soup.
Ron Duncan says
A mild correction should be made regarding the traditional dashi stock. Rather than call it tuna shavings, the normal fish used is bonito. Tuna, bonito, and mackerel are all part of the scientific family classification, Scombridae, making them related in that respect, but there are some differences. Bonito flakes are common in Japanese marketplaces, often called katsuobushi, it's always bonito, not tuna.
I think it's important to be aware of bonito because without familiarity, one might take it in not realizing it's not vegan.
There is also another dashi called awase dashi, which is made from kelp and bonito.
As a trained culinarian I am always interested in finding out a different culture's approach to food. Some concepts are rather alien and unfamiliar at first glance, and if your diet is restrictive, it's important to know their terms. I myself am not vegan, but I'm well aware of how to prepare those dishes.