Is Miso Soup Vegan? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Vegan Miso Soup

Learn which ingredients to watch out for in your next miso soup order.

Miso Soup
4kodiak / Getty Images

Many Asian cuisine restaurants open their meals with miso soup—a Japanese staple food made from fermented grains and soybeans blended into a stock called dashi and often served with tofu and vegetables. Unfortunately for vegans, the majority of miso soups use fish-based stocks, rendering them inedible.

Luckily, both in restaurants and in grocery stores, there are vegan miso soup options. Learn more about what goes into miso and ways you can make sure your next order is vegan-friendly. 

Why Most Miso Soup Is Not Vegan

The most widely available forms of miso soup are comprised of two primary ingredients: miso paste, for which the soup is named, and dashi, a family of traditional Japanese broths that generally contain fish. Depending on the region, other ingredients like tofu, vegetables, soba noodles, shellfish, and even pork are also added to the soup and simmered to cook.

Miso paste begins with koji—a vegan-friendly fungus strain known as Aspergillus oryzae grown on steamed grains like rice, wheat, or barley. The koji, or other fungus or bacteria, ferments the mixture and transforms the grains into sugar. Soybeans and salt are added to the mix and fermented a second time, giving miso paste its rich, umami flavor. For this reason, almost all miso paste is vegan-friendly.

But miso soup is more than the sum of its paste; dashi, a Japanese stock or broth, is the second most important ingredient and is responsible for much of the flavor of miso soup.

Classically comprised of dried shiitake mushrooms, kelp (a type of brown seaweed), bonito (a type of skipjack tuna), and whole baby sardines, katsuobushi dashi is distinctly non-vegan. If shellfish are added to the soup, the clams often provide the flavor in place of the dashi. Some American and European versions of miso soup use Western-style fish or chicken broth instead of dashi.

When Is Miso Soup Vegan?

While the most common types of miso soup use a non-vegan dashi stock, there are vegan-friendly varieties available. Vegan dashi stocks use only kelp and shiitake mushrooms and are popular outside of Japan. In the United States, you can also find miso soup that uses a Western-style vegetable broth made from veggies like spring onions, daikon radishes, carrots, and potatoes.

If you’re ordering at a restaurant, you can check with your server to see if the chef can prepare a vegan-friendly shiitake (hoshi in Japanese) or kelp (kombu) miso soup. Many varieties of instant miso soup you can purchase in grocery stores are also vegan. Like restaurant vegan miso soup, these packets generally use kelp or other seaweed as the dashi. Be sure to read the label, though, as other non-vegan ingredients like chicken stock or other fish products regularly appear in these single-serving dehydrated soup mixes.

Did You Know?

Skipjack tuna, one of the staple ingredients in traditional Japanese miso soup, is generally fished at the same time as other tuna species—bigeye and yellowfin. Both bigeye and yellowfin tuna populations are in decline due to overfishing. Scientists are working on acoustic technology that will reduce the fishing of bigeye and yellowfin while allowing for skipjack fishing.

Varieties of Miso Soup

Miso is classified by color, and these varieties refer exclusively to the type of miso paste used—not the finished soup. You will often see these distinctions on grocery store single-serve soup packets and containers of miso paste.

  • White (shiro) miso has a mild, slightly sweet flavor derived from its shorter fermentation period and higher rice-to-soybean ratio.
  • Red (aka) miso boasts a dark color and a deep umami flavor. Red miso often contains barley or rye in addition to rice, and it is fermented for a long time—between one and three years.
  • Yellow (awase) miso combines white and red miso for a sweet and salty flavor.
  • Genmai miso—specialty miso—gets its flavor from brown rice instead of white.
  • Hatcho miso—another specialty miso—contains only fermented soybeans and salt, giving it an intense flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is miso always vegan?

    Miso paste—made from soybeans, grains, and salt fermented with a fungus—is usually vegan. Miso soup, however, often contains non-vegan ingredients like dashi stock, which typically includes fish.

  • Does miso have milk?

    No, neither miso paste nor miso soup contains milk. Miso is always dairy-free but not necessarily vegan.

  • Is miso soup made from fish?

    In most cases, yes. Fish is integral to the Japanese broth known as dashi, the second main ingredient in most miso soup. Dashi usually contains a mix of dried fish (baby sardines and smoked bonito), dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried kelp. Some versions also include shellfish.

  • What is miso stock made of?

    Most miso stock is dashi, a Japanese broth made from dried fish, kelp, and shiitake mushrooms. Japanese versions of vegan miso stock use dashi that only contains mushrooms and kelp. Miso stock in the United States may use vegetable, chicken, or Western-style fish stock instead of dashi.

  • Why is miso soup not vegan?

    Because the most common recipes for miso soup contain fish, miso soup isn’t generally considered vegan. There are, however, vegan versions available both in restaurants and for purchase in stores.