Miso Is The Umami Ingredient Your Spicy Cocktails Need ASAP

Savory cocktails have been on the rise, surprising and delighting drinkers. Mixologists use animal fats, kimchi, parmesan cheese, and everything bagel spice in creative new beverages. It's no surprise, then, that miso is another deliciously umami-forward ingredient that works especially well in spicy cocktails.

Outside of soups, the paste already shines in fresh renditions of classics like peanut butter cookies, carbonara, and mashed potatoes. When it comes to spirits, creative cooks are seeing the same opportunity to pair the sweet and salty fermented paste with tried-and-true flavors. The result is a satisfying blend that you can replicate at home.

Those less familiar with miso will notice that stores offer white, yellow, and red miso. Though you may find all three work for your drink palate, a good place to start is with white miso as it's the least fermented, considered the sweetest, and often used in baking. Red miso is a great match for the savory-obsessed and salty-sweet cocktails, as it has a rich saltiness to it. Each brings its own complexity to your drink, and you can build up to the quantity that satisfies your taste buds and sparkles alongside an extra kick of spice.

Miso meets tomato cocktails

One of the best entry points for curious home bartenders is the bloody mary. Start with a spicy bloody mary mix recipe and incorporate anywhere from a scant half teaspoon of mild white miso to a whopping tablespoon of punchy red miso, scaling as you taste and consider the complex component. You don't need to heat the paste before combining, so feel free to add it at the end of the mixing process.

Tomato juice contains its own umami notes, which makes the combination even richer and more savory as it zings with the punch of a spicy jalapeño or ginger. But you can also pivot away from the traditional and use smoky mezcal to create a nuanced bloody maria. Or, if you loathe tomatoes, try your bloody mary with carrot juice, then restore the missing meatiness of tomatoes with a dollop of the fermented soybean and a hit of hot sauce.

Beer can bring out the malty notes of darker miso pastes in another spicy tomato-based drink: The michelada. A mixture of tomato juice, lime, and a Mexican lager, the blend is primed to welcome the deep notes of red miso — after all, many iterations include umami-rich Maggi seasoning or soy sauce. The result will have less alcohol content than with other booze but just as much metaphorical spirit.

Pairing miso and spirits

Salty miso also pairs well with sweet and tart citrus like lemon, lime, and yuzu. So, as you might guess, another popular spicy drink that can handle an infusion of umami flavor is the margarita. Elevate a spicy margarita with the complexity of white miso by adding a half teaspoon to complement the lime and orange notes, or swap tequila for beer for another michelada-inspired glass.

Or consider elevating your home bar with the addition of homemade miso syrup. Start with a small amount of the paste and combine it with water and a sweetener like sugar or honey. You can even use caramel as the base for a more complex bittersweet and buttery flavor. A deep caramel can likely stand up to the salty richness of red miso — whereas a gentle sugar syrup will flourish alongside the delicate sweetness of white miso.

Once your syrup is complete, you can build your own piquant cocktail with spicy-infused alcohol like vodka or tequila. Or use the ingredient alongside a squeeze of citrus and whiskey or scotch for a deliciously savory and sour sipper. And if you're hankering for a warming — rather than hot — kick, you can also opt for a mulled or spiced rum, which can handle the heft of red miso and buttery caramel syrup.