Japanese cooking is one of the most popular cuisines in the world today.
Many dishes and cooking styles come from Japan, such as sushi and tempura, but there is also a specific type of low-alcohol rice wine called mirin.
Mirin has been used prevalently in Japanese cuisine for centuries.
It has become an integral part of many dishes because of its unique flavor and properties as a cooking wine.
It’s made by fermenting boiled glutinous rice until the sugars are converted into alcohol, then adding more steamed glutinous rice and sugar.
The result is a sweet, low-alcohol rice wine that can be used in marinades or sauces to add rich flavor.
It’s important to note that mirin isn’t just a stand-alone product but a cooking ingredient.
It can be used to replace sugar in any traditional dish to add a sweet and subtle flavor and a special glossy shine.
While mirin is used prevalently in traditional Japanese dishes, it can be difficult for many people to find outside of Asia.
In this article, we will discuss five different alternatives for mirin that can be used to replace the flavor of mirin in dishes, as well as how to use each one.
Read on to learn more.
What is Mirin?
If you follow Japanese cuisine, you’ve probably seen mirin listed as an ingredient at least once.
But what is it?
Even though the word “mirin” means “sweet sake”, and most of us know that sake can be good, we’re not talking about the rice wine we find in every hotel mini-bar.
Mirin is a condiment used in small amounts primarily as a flavor enhancer.
Mirin is usually made with glutinous rice mixed with koji, which is the same mold used to make miso and sake.
Mirin also has an alcoholic content of around 15%.
Mirin has a sweetness that ranges between 13% and 16 % sugar.
It’s like adding a few teaspoons to your dish, not the bottle labeled “sweet sake” that you keep at home.
Depending on how much flavor you want, you can adjust its use, and it’s a very flexible ingredient.
When cooking, mirin is used for sauces and adds a little sweet flavor.
For example, if you were making grilled chicken, you’d use mirin as the sauce to top it before serving.
You can also make a quick teriyaki by cooking sliced meat in a pan after marinating it in mirin and soy sauce.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Mirin
Since mirin is hard to find (and can be quite expensive) outside of an Asian grocery store, here are the best substitutes you can use instead:
1 – Rice Vinegar
Rice vinegar is a non-fermented condiment.
It’s typically made from rice and water or rice, salt, yeast, and koji mold.
Also known as white vinegar, it has higher acidity than most other vinegar.
Rice vinegar can be purchased at your local supermarket in the international section.
If you don’t see it there, look for sake.
It’s crucial to note that rice vinegar is very mild.
It may not be strong enough to imitate the flavor of mirin.
Therefore, you will need to use more of it than you would if using sake (rice wine).
2 – Rice Cooking Wine (or Sake)
Sake is the most common substitute for mirin.
It’s a well-known fact that sake can be used as an ingredient in recipes, and it may even have been used to make mirin at one point in time (not today).
However, you need to know that cooking with sake will impart some alcohol into your dish, which is why many people prefer to avoid it.
The alcohol in sake, however, does cook-off.
It’s crucial to note that if you use sake as a substitute for mirin in your recipe, you should omit the other miso paste because you will have an alcoholic taste leftover from the sake.
3 – White Wine
White wine is a very popular choice amongst people looking for substitutions for mirin.
White wine is used as an alternative to mirin because it’s very mild and, therefore, will not impart much of its flavor into your recipe.
However, this substitute might lack the sweetness you’re expecting from mirin.
In addition, it will add a sour flavor to your dish.
When adding white wine to your dish, you should ensure it has been reduced or simmered until half of the liquid evaporates.
This will intensify the flavor of white wine.
4 – Sherry
Sherry is a type of wine that’s produced in Spain.
It can be made from white grapes, red grapes, or even Pedro Ximenez.
Sherry ranges from dry to sweet.
When cooking, a common substitute for mirin is sherry, especially in the United States.
This is because it has a mild sweetness and flavor.
Like white wine, sherry is usually simmered until half of the liquid evaporates.
It’s crucial to note that sherry is a good alternative if you cannot find mirin or sake at your local store.
However, it may not pack the same flavor punch as mirin will.
5 – Vermouth
Vermouth is a wine that’s produced through the process of fortification and flavoring.
It can be made from white grapes, red grapes, or other types of fermentation.
Vermouth ranges from dry to sweet as well.
Like sherry and white wine, vermouth is sometimes used as an alternative for mirin when cooking.
Like sherry, it can be simmered until half of the liquid evaporates.
The key is to make sure the vermouth you choose is not too dry; it should be medium to sweet.
Dry vermouth may not taste very good with your dish and will lack the sweetness that mirin has.
Mirin is a type of rice wine used in many Japanese dishes.
It has a sweet taste and low alcohol content, which works well with the other ingredients in your dish.
If you can’t find mirin outside of an Asian grocery store, here are the top five substitutes you may want to try: rice vinegar, sake (rice wine), sake (cooking sake), white wine, or sherry.
Just be aware that these substitutes may not pack the same flavor punch as mirin does, so you should add more of it than what is suggested in your recipe.