A staple in Japanese cuisine, miso soup has long been enjoyed in the east. But now it’s gaining global popularity, we need to know: can vegans eat it?
Steaming broth filled with vegetables, tofu and noodles, the allure of miso soup isn’t a mystery. This is healthy, tasty and exciting food from Japan that looks relatively simple to make, but is it? More to the point, is miso soup vegan? And if not, can it be easily veganised? Let’s find out.
What is miso soup?
A simple and satisfying dish that is made using a flavourful stock that has miso paste dissolved into it. Different regions in Japan will then add additional ingredients according to locality, taste preferences and seasonality. Common choices include noodles, beansprouts, green onions and fresh tofu. Dried wakame, a type of seaweed, also helps to add a kelp-like taste.
Hang on, what is miso paste?
A vital question but one so few of us actually ask. Maybe we don’t want to appear uneducated, but how can you get to grips with miso soup when you don’t know what the key ingredient is all about? Well, wonder no more.
The paste is a healthy fermented food consisting of soybeans, salt and kōji. Some varieties also include seaweed, rice and other seasonings. The paste can be bought in different styles:
White miso: the mildest in flavour and slightly sweet.
Red miso: strong and pungent with a deep colour.
Yellow miso: a middle ground that is very versatile.
When combined with a suitable broth, the paste releases a beautiful umami flavour profile that creates the ideal base for additional ingredients and toppings to be added to.
Traditional miso: not for vegans
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Traditional, authentic miso soup, as found in plenty of Japanese cooking, is not vegan. That might come as a surprise given that key ingredients include soybeans and tofu, but the stock is the issue.
Traditional miso soup stock is called katsuobushi dashi. It’s made using dried fish (bonito flakes) for an umami and rich flavour, but of course, fish meat in any form is not vegan. This is the one ingredient in regular soup that makes it unsuitable for plant-based eaters and perhaps that’s why it has been relatively simple for the recipe to be veganised.
Vegan miso: an easy adaptation
There will always be purists that dislike the idea of anything being adapted for new or selective audiences. Though some enthusiasts might be irked by the omission of dried tuna from traditional stock bases, the vegan community shouts hurrah.
The substitution of vegetable stock for the normal fish base is quick and painless and actually? Making this soup vegan makes it taste great. That’s confirmed by omnivores and plant-based snackers the world over.
How to make vegan miso soup
This isn’t an authentic Japanese recipe, but is a fast and tasty option that’s fully vegan and a great introduction to the dish. When you’re pressed for time but craving comfort food, this is a fantastic choice for dinner.
1 litre vegetable broth (you can make your own or use bouillon cubes or powder)
1 sheet dried seaweed, shredded
3 to 4 tbsp white miso paste (according to taste, yellow miso can also be used)
A handful of chopped greens (chard is great as it can hold up to hot broth)
50g chopped green/spring onions
60g tofu, cubed (silken is best for an authentic style)
- Bring the broth to a low simmer, in a large saucepan.
- Create a looser miso paste by adding a little hot water to your paste and whisking into a smooth thick liquid. Set aside.
- Add your greens, onion and firm tofu (if using) to the broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in your miso, nori shreds and stir to combine. If using silken tofu, add just before the end, to heat through but not lose its shape.
- Adjust your seasoning to personal preference. You might want to add more salt, or a little extra miso at this stage. Make sure everything is fully mixed and serve hot. Noodles are an optional extra that can make the dish a little more filling.