Mirin is an essential pantry staple if you are someone who makes a lot of dishes from Japanese cuisine. It is a delicious wine made from rice with very high sugar content.
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In that sense, it is similar to popular Japanese wine, sake, which is also made from rice. The difference is that the alcohol content of mirin is much lower than that of sake. Think of it as cooking sake.
That being said, it does still have a generous alcohol content of 14%. This can mean that mirin is not suitable for everyone.
So, what if the delicious Japanese dish that you are cooking specifies that you need lashings of mirin, but you don’t drink alcohol?
Many people who avoid alcohol also avoid cooking with it, and for this reason, the use of mirin will also be out. As well as this, if you have never needed mirin before, then it is highly unlikely that you will have a bottle of it just sat in your pantry.
Are there any substitutes you can use in their place? Or will you need to forgo this element of the recipe completely?
We will explore this in detail in this article, looking at the different substitutes for mirin that you may be able to use in its palace in your recipes.
Different Types of Mirin
We have already established that mirin has a modest alcohol content, and for this reason, many people who have an intolerance to alcohol or try to avoid it will not use it for cooking.
However, what we haven’t yet told you is the fact that there are different types of mirin, some with different alcohol contents.
Generally, there are three main types of mirin. These are hon mirin, shio mirin, and shin mirin. Hon mirin is also known as true mirin, and this is the type that contains that full 14% alcohol.
Shio mirin literally translates to salt mirin. This type has 1.5% salt added to it. The reason for this is so that it is made unsuitable for consumption as a drink, therefore avoiding alcohol tax.
Shin mirin is the type that is of interest to us in this context. This is because shin mirin has far less alcohol content than the other types of mirin.
Shin mirin literally translates to new mirin. It is also called mirin-fu chomiryo which means ‘mirin-like seasoning’. This should give you an indication of what this mirin actually is.
Shin mirin differs from true mirin in the sense that it contains just 1% alcohol content, whilst retaining the same flavor as the original mirin. This makes it more suitable for those to try to avoid alcohol in their cooking since the percentage content is so small.
With this in mind, if you are conscious about using mirin because of its alcohol content and are looking for a lower alcoholic substitute then shin mirin will be the perfect swap for you as the taste will be identical.
Whereas shin mirin is a great low alcohol alternative to mirin, sake is the opposite. Whilst it is very similar to mirin it has a much higher alcohol content and is regularly drunk in Japan as an alcoholic beverage.
Sake, like mirin, is a beverage made from the fermentation of rice, and so you can expect the tastes to be similar. However, one thing to note is the fact that sake is far less sweet than mirin.
The sugar content is much less, and so, depending on your recipe you may also need to add in some sugar or fruit juice by way of sweetening.
You can use sake as a replacement for mirin in all of your mirin containing recipes, however, you should bear in mind that if you are not using mirin because of its alcohol content, then sake certainly is not suitable.
That being said, if the alcohol content does not bother you then you can go ahead and use it.
You can use sake in place of mirin like for like. By this, we mean that if the recipe states one tablespoon of mirin then you can use one tablespoon of sake.
You should then add in some white sugar to sweeten it, as sake will not give that same sweet edge. For every tablespoon of sake, add in two teaspoons of sugar.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Rice wine vinegar is yet another fantastic substitute for mirin. As the name suggests, rice wine vinegar is made from rice wine (aka mirin and sake).
The use of wine to make vinegar is used all around the globe, with red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar being especially popular. It is no different when it comes to the popular rice wines. Both mirin and sake are used to make rice vinegar.
Now, it is important to remember that rice vinegar is not rice wine, and the two cannot be used interchangeably. However, the confusion lies in the fact that rice vinegar is also called rice wine vinegar.
The important thing to note is that rice wine vinegar does not contain any alcohol content and cannot be consumed as an alcoholic beverage.
The flavor of it, whilst similar to rice wine is less sweet and far more acidic. It has a similar flavor to apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar if you have ever tried either of those.
With this in mind, whilst it is a great substitute for mirin, you may find that you need to add in some sugar as a way of neutralizing the acidity of the vinegar
For every teaspoon of mirin specified in your recipe, we recommend that you use one teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and half a teaspoon of white sugar. You can use this blend in all of your mirin containing recipes.
Sherry is a dry, fortified wine and is very well suited to many types of cooking and cuisine. When used in place of mirin you can expect the same depth and flavor that your mirin would have provided you.
Whilst it is quite a dry wine, it has the added benefit of a sweet taste, thanks to the fortification process it goes through. This means that you can get that same level of sweetness in your recipes, making a great component in teriyaki recipes instead of mirin.
Of course, sherry is alcoholic, and so if the reason you are avoiding mirin is because of its alcohol content, then sherry will not be a good option.
The flavor of sherry is both delicate and complex. This is similar to the effect that mirin and other rice wines will give you. Because it is not too overpowering there is an element of versatility with sherry.
Bear in mind that whilst it has a sweetness, it is nowhere near as sweet as mirin would be, and so, depending on your recipe, you may well also need to use some sugar or honey in there too. We recommend that you replace one tablespoon of mirin with one tablespoon of dry sherry.
If you feel you need your recipe to be a little sweeter then we would recommend also adding in some white sugar. For every tablespoon of dry sherry, you can add in half a teaspoon of white sugar. You can also use honey or any other sweetener in place of sugar if you prefer.
White wine can be used instead of mirin in many of your favorite recipes, especially if you are in a pinch and have no other alternatives.
Whilst it may be tempting to use a super sweet white wine like sparkling Moscato, this is not a good idea as Moscato is not a versatile wine for cooking. We recommend that you use a relatively dry white wine, and then add in some sugar to sweeten it up.
The sweetness of the sugar and tang of the white wine will mimic the taste of the mirin. This works especially well in lighter dishes, and when making teriyaki sauce.
In terms of the amount of wine needed, we recommend that you use it like for like. What we mean by this is that, for every tablespoon of mirin specified in your recipe, you should use a tablespoon of white wine.
However, the difference comes with the sugar. Unlike some of the other substitutes on this list, using white wine calls for the use of more sugar. For each tablespoon of white wine, you will need to use two teaspoons of white sugar.
Of course, white wine is alcoholic. With this in mind, this should not be used as a non-alcoholic substitute for mirin.
White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegar, despite its name, is not an alcoholic beverage. Like rice wine vinegar, it contains just a small amount of white wine and gives a sweet, acidic taste.
It works well as a substitute for mirin in many recipes, adding a tang that mirin does not have. To ensure that it isn’t too acidic it is a good idea to add in some sugar as a way of neutralizing the vinegar taste.
As there is no alcohol content in white wine vinegar, this is a great option for those who are avoiding mirin because of its alcohol content. In terms of the amounts needed in a recipe, we recommend that you use one tablespoon of white wine vinegar in place of one tablespoon of mirin.
You can then add half a teaspoon of sugar at a time until you have reached your desired level of sweetness.
Whilst white wine vinegar is similar to rice wine vinegar, it should only be used as a last resort. This is because rice wine vinegar is preferable out of the two because of the similar fermented taste it has.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is rice vinegar a substitute for mirin?
If you like Japanese cooking then you are sure to know what mirin is. Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice wine that lends mild acidity to any dish.
It is in someways similar to a sake, but it is much lower in both sugar and alcohol, and it gives off more of an umami flavor to savory dishes.
It is a very handy ingredient to have in your pantry if you enjoy Japanese food dishes and Asian cuisine as many of these dishes will call for a dash of mirin.
If you do not have it though do not worry, there are any substitutes for mirin if it comes to that. You may mix things together and create something that will mimic the sweet-tangy flavor that mirin provides.
A good substitutes includes rice vinegar as well as dry sherry, sweet Marsala wine, and a dry white wine with around ½ a teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon.
So rice vinegar can be a good substitute for mirin as long as it is joined by a few other ingredients to properly mimic mirin.
Can I use white vinegar instead of mirin?
Mirin has a small amount of alcohol in it, but you can always use vinegar’s as a substitute for this. Rice wine vinegar offers a similar taste however you can also use white wine for white vinegar as well.
While these may not offer as similar a taste as rice vinegar will, they are still close enough to work. You should use one tablespoon of vinegar and one half teaspoon of granulated sugar for each tablespoon of mirin that you are replacing.
The type of vinegar that you use however, will determine how your final product tastes. This means that if you use a white vinegar the flavor may be more pronounced than it would be if you used white wine or rice wine vinegar.
How do you make homemade mirin?
Mirin is a something that adds extra flavor to any Japanese dish and is very useful to have in your home if you enjoy Asian cooking.
Of course, Japanese, we do not always have everything in the pantry, and sometimes we may forget to add something to the shopping list. This is why you can always try and make something at home, including mirin.
To make Mirin at home all you need is three simple ingredients, you just need sake, sugar, and water. How simple! It only takes 10 minutes to make, and you can make enough to save you from having to go to the store to get more.
Heat up the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, boil gently for a few minutes and then drizzle in the sake until you get the right level of sweetness. Stir the mixture and set aside, store in a mason jar or airtight container in the fridge. And done!
What’s mirin made of?
If you are wondering what true mirin is made from (also known as hon-mirin) then it is made by combining steamed glutinous rice, cultures rice (which is known as koji) and a distilled rice liquor.
The mixture ferments for a while, the time span ranging anywhere from two months to several years. The longer that the mirin is allowed to ferment for, the darker a color it will have, and the more intense its flavor will be.
This is very different to how you can make it at home, but then again very few of us have the time and resources to be making our own hon-mirin at home, so the technique using sake is probably the best for most of us.
To summarize, there are many different replacements available for mirin.
If you are looking for an alcohol-free alternative then we recommend that you use either rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar. Despite their names, they are not actually wine.
However, if it is simply a case of having no mirin in your store cupboard you can safely substitute mirin for any of the alternatives we have listed above.
Thank you for reading our article, and happy cooking!