Mirin is an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking. It pairs beautifully with soy sauce, dashi and kombu to bring 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 (not a sauce) 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 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’.
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 dipping sauces.
Is Mirin and Mirin Seasoning the Same?
No they are not.
Mirin seasoning (known as aji-mirin) is alcohol free and contain MSG, high fructose 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 40 to 60 days and filtered to yield a light golden liquid. Because it’s high in alcohol (14%), a license is required to sell hon-mirin.
Best mirin brands
Mizkan, Takara and Kikkoman are three of the largest producers of Mirin.
Where to buy Mirin
Mirin is easy to find. You can buy at your local Asian super market or on Amazon. Finding real mirin might be more of a challenge because of the liquor license needed. I use both and find that aji-mirin works just fine to add a pop of flavor to my dishes.
Substitute for mirin
If you cannot find mirin and need a little for a recipe, such as 1 or 2 tablespoons, use a mixture of dry white wine, dry sherry or rice vinegar, and sugar. About 1/2 teaspoon sugar per tablespoon of liquid.
I personally don’t recommend using a substitute if mirin is one of the main ingredients in your sauce or dish since it has a pretty distinct taste.
Recipes using mirin:
- Daikon pickles
- Tofu and clam scramble
- Rice cooker vegetable rice
- Niku aspara itame
- Tofu dengaku
- Kabocha squash simmered in dashi broth
- Miso ramen