Natto vs. Miso (Similarities and Differences Explained)

Japanese cuisine is a favorite of many because it’s versatile and nutritious.

Some turn to Japanese foods for health benefits, especially when it comes to dishes made from fermented soybeans.

The two best-known representatives are natto and miso, though there are a few other examples.

When getting into the natto vs. miso debate, it’s essential to look at nutritional values, types, and common uses for both foods.

Natto and miso are soybean-based, but fermentation relies on different cultures. Natto is also healthier, but miso has a broader application.

You might have a favorite already, but it’s still helpful to understand how these two ingredients compare. Let’s get into the details.

natto vs miso

What Is Natto?

Natto isn’t for everyone, as it has a distinctive taste and a slimy texture.

It’s made from fermented soybeans isn’t turned into a fermented soybean paste, like miso or doenjang.

The prevalent flavor is umami, which translates to “pleasantly savory,” but some say it tastes earthy and is reminiscent of truffles.

Natto has a unique smell, like overly ripe cheese or stinky feet!

If you’re unfamiliar with natto, reviewing a few important features, like types, nutritional value, and common uses, can be helpful.

Types of Natto

There are four types of natto, including XS, S, and M, which all refer to the soybean size, and hikiwari, a name associated with crushed natto.

The most popular options are XS and S, whereas hikiwari is typically served to children and the elderly.

Nutritional Value of Natto

Natto is not a low-calorie food but does offer nutritional richness.

One cup of natto has around 371 calories, 9.5 grams of fiber, 34 grams of protein, 23 grams of carbs, and nearly 20 grams of fat.

It’s entirely gluten-free and vegan and contains vitamin K2, B6, and minerals like manganese and iron.

Common Uses of Natto

Traditionally, natto is a Japanese breakfast food. You can heat it up or eat it cold – it’s down to individual taste.

Most natto manufacturers sell it in Styrofoam boxes with mustard, fish, or soy sauce.

You can eat natto only by adding these two condiments or with rice, toast, eggs, and vegetables.

What Is Miso?

The term “miso” is synonymous with the famous miso soup.

But miso is, first and foremost, a fermented soybean paste used as an ingredient in miso soup and many other dishes.

The texture and typical color of miso are similar to peanut butter and can also be smooth or chunky.

Miso has a salty, earthy, and some might say funky flavor, with many layers. Furthermore, miso paste deepens the flavor over time and becomes darker.

The Japanese have eaten miso for nearly a millennium, though it was an ingredient only available to the wealthy in the past.

These days, miso is widely available in Asian markets and some supermarkets.

Types of Miso

In terms of texture, flavor, and color, there are hundreds of types of miso paste.

These features change depending on the duration of the fermentation process, ingredients, and conditions under which miso is stored.

However, in the U.S., there are two widely available miso types: light, dark, white, and red miso.

Light miso contains grains along with fermented soybeans and has a sweeter flavor.

Dark miso is typically only made from soybeans, ferments longer, and has a savory flavor.

Nutritional Value of Miso

Miso paste is usually consumed in smaller quantities, as a single teaspoon or tablespoon can perfectly flavor a meal.

Remember that a cup of miso paste has around 550 calories, which puts this ingredient into the high-calorie food category.

It also has around 33 grams of fat, a little over 140 grams of carbs, and 72 grams of protein.

In addition, miso paste has a high choline content, an essential nutrient necessary for an adequately functioning nervous system.

Common Uses of Miso

Of course, the most popular way to use miso paste is to cook miso soup.

But miso salad dressings, dipping sauces, and marinades are also very common.

You can mix miso paste with meat, fish, tofu, and nearly all vegetables.

Note that miso paste is used more with meals traditionally consumed at dinnertime.

What Are the Similarities Between Natto and Miso?

Digging deeper into the natto vs. miso debate means looking at what they have in common and how they differ.

These two Japanese staples have many differences, but some commonalities exist.

First, they are both fermented soybean-based foods, which is why people tend to compare them.

While umami or savory, the flavor is more associated with natto.

Many types of miso are also umami, but there’s much more versatility.

Finally, neither of these foods are widely available but are sold in Asian markets and some chain supermarkets.

What Are the Differences Between Natto and Miso?

The crucial difference between natto and miso is the texture.

Natto soybeans retain their shape and crunchy texture, even though they have softened during fermentation.

Miso is a paste, meaning the soybeans have been thoroughly crushed until smooth.

The fermentation process is another significant difference.

Even though they are both fermented soybeans, natto starter contains Bacillus subtilis bacteria, and miso starter Aspergillus oryzae, also known as koji mold.

So, natto is made with bacteria and miso with a type of fungus.

As a result, natto’s fermentation takes between 24 and 36 hours, while miso can take weeks and even months.

Lastly, while both foods have high nutritional value, natto offers more health benefits.

It’s richer in zinc, potassium, iron, and calcium and has much less sodium and saturated fats.

Summary Table: Natto vs. Miso

The table below provides an overview of all the similarities and differences:

Fermented with bacteriaFermented with mold
Fermentation takes 24-36 hoursFermentation takes weeks or months
Keeps the soybean shape and textureCrushed into a paste
Has a distinct umami flavor High-calorie and nutritiousSome types have umami flavor
Offers many health benefits Easy to makeHigh-calorie and nutritious
Offers some health benefits but contains a lot of sodium
More difficult to make

In Summary

Declaring a winner in this comparison doesn’t hold much value unless you want to discuss specific health benefits.

But in terms of taste and use, both natto and umami are fantastic options, as long as you enjoy them.

Perhaps natto is better for breakfast and miso for your afternoon miso soup, but there are no hard and fast rules.

If you have never tried either option, you might find that getting used to their unique flavors takes some time.

But for many, both natto and miso are the go-to dishes that satisfy that umami craving.

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