Genmai, shiro, shinshu: no, these aren't the names of the latest Japanese pets to take the Internet by storm, but rather three varieties of miso, another favorite Japanese export. We love the salty-savory-sweet spark miso gives to everything from kale chips to steak sauce, but keeping the different varieties straight can be a bit of a headache . . . until now. Keep reading for a breakdown of the seven types you're most likely to encounter stateside.

  • White: Also known as shiro miso, white miso is pale beige in color, has a creamy texture, and is mild and sweet in flavor. Made from rice and soybeans, it's fermented for a relatively short time period (a matter of weeks). Extremely versatile, it can be used in miso soup, marinades and glazes for fish or meat, dips, salad dressings, and even dessert.
  • Yellow: Also known as shinshu miso (and, confusingly, sometimes called shiro miso), yellow miso is usually a bit darker in color than white, and though mild, it is a hair more acidic and salty than white miso. Made from rice and soybeans, it's typically fermented longer than white miso, though rarely past the one-year mark. An all-purpose miso, it can be used in the same sorts of recipes as white.
  • Red: Also known as aka miso, red miso is reddish-brown in color and is very savory and salty, slightly bitter, and less sweet than white and yellow misos. Made primarily from soybeans, with a smaller proportion of rice or barley, it's fermented for as long as three years. More assertive in flavor than white and yellow miso, it's usually dosed out with a lighter hand. Try it in sauces, dips, dressings, hearty soups, stews, and braised meat dishes.

Keep reading to learn about four more varieties of miso.

  • Soybean: Also known as hatcho or hacho miso, this variety is fittingly made solely from soybeans. Dark reddish-brown in color and chunky in texture, it's usually considered to be the most potent type of miso, partially due to its ingredient base but also from a lengthy fermentation process of up to three years. Hearty and robust, it's traditionally used in heavier dishes like soups and stews.
  • Brown rice: Also known as genmai, brown rice miso is dark brown in color and is deeply savory, salty, robust, and creamy. Made from a combination of soybeans and brown rice, brown rice miso is typically used in soups, sauces, and marinades; we like it in the dressing of this assertive cucumber salad.
  • Barley: Also known as mugi miso, barley miso is dark reddish-brown and is made primarily from (you guessed it!) barley. Thick, chunky, funky, and strong, with a mild sweetness, this long-fermented miso is not a good choice for miso soup but is great in stews and has a particular affinity for mushrooms.
  • Chickpea: Considered to be a light miso, this chickpea- and rice-based miso is similar in flavor and texture to white and yellow misos and can be used in the same repertoire of dishes. Have a soy allergy? This is the miso for you.