Mirin is an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking. It pairs beautifully with the umami found in soy sauce and dashi to deliver the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
What is Mirin?
Similar to sake – but with a higher sugar content and a lower alcohol content – mirin (みりん) is a fermented rice wine heavily used throughout Japanese cooking.
Gold in color, mirin adds a subtle sweetness that round out and tempers some of the saltiness found in other Japanese condiments.
Do you like teriyaki sauce? Then you probably like mirin. Aside from adding sweetness alone though, most chefs believe that it allows the flavors of a dish to ‘sink in’ and fully develop the flavor profile. Mirin also has the magic masking ability to make fish smell less ‘fishy’.
Recipes using mirin:
- Miso Ramen
- Homemade Ponzu Sauce ポン酢
- Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles) ざるそば
- Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)
- Restaurant Style Teriyaki Sauce
Are Mirin and Mirin Seasoning the Same?
No they are not.
Mirin seasoning (known as aji-mirin) contains alcohol, glucose, corn syrup and salt.
Real mirin, or hon-mirin, is made with short grain rice fermented in rice malt (koji) and mixed with shochu. It’s then left to mature for up to two months – and filtered to yield a light golden liquid.
Mirin vs rice vinegar
Mirin is a type of rice wine that’s low in alcohol and sweet in flavor. It’s often used to balance salty ingredients in Japanese cooking.
Rice vinegar is alcohol free and more delicate in flavor. It’s more acidic and less sweet than mirin. It’s often used for pickling, in salad dressing or in composed dipping sauces.
Where to buy mirin
You should be able to find aji-mirin at most Asian grocery stores without too much trouble. Or you can grab it on Amazon.
Popular mirin brands
Mizkan, Takara and Kikkoman are three of the largest producers of Mirin.
Substitute for mirin
If you can’t find mirin and need a little for a recipe, here are a couple of options:
- Use a mixture of dry white wine or dry sherry and sugar. About 1/2 teaspoon sugar per tablespoon of liquid should do the trick.
- Mix a tablespoon of cooking sake with about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.
Now, I personally don’t recommend using a substitute if mirin is one of the main ingredients in your sauce or dish. Since it has such a distinct taste, it will be hard to properly replicate.
However, sometimes you need to get dinner on the table – and you shouldn’t let an empty mirin bottle get in the way!