Mirin is a sweet rice wine widely used in Japanese cooking. Learn what is mirin used for, the different types of mirin, recommended brands, where to buy it, substitutions, and more!
What is Mirin?
Mirin (みりん, 味醂) or sweet rice wine is a sweet and syrupy liquid used as a seasoning and glazing agent. Just like soy sauce, it is one of the most important condiments in Japanese cuisine. Similar to sake, mirin is also a type of rice wine but with lower alcohol content (14% instead of 20%). We use this sweet rice wine in pretty much everything, from teriyaki salmon to hot pots to donburi rice bowls.
What Does It Taste Like
Mirin offers a delicate sweetness and a nice aroma to many Japanese dishes. The sweetness comes from the fermentation process, where the rice starch converts into sugar.
What is Mirin Used for
Mirin tenderizes the ingredients you cook with and adds a mild sweetness to the overall flavor of the dishes. With a deeper body and umami, it also helps to mask the smell of fish and seafood and helps the flavors to “sink in” to the dish better.
Because of the sugar and alcohol content, it also keeps the ingredients from disintegrating. We often pair it with soy sauce and sake to make marinades for meat or seafood dishes.
Lastly, mirin adds luster to ingredients as a finishing touch, which is why it is a key ingredient in teriyaki sauce.
Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
Different Types of Mirin
In general, there are 4 types of mirin: hon mirin (“real” mirin, 本みりん), mirin (みりん), mirin-like condiment (みりん風調味料), and mirin-type condiment (みりんタイプ調味料).
Hon mirin (本みりん), also known as true mirin, contains 14% alcohol and 0% salt. Steamed glutinous rice, rice koji mold, and shochu (distilled alcoholic beverage) are mixed and fermented for about 40 to 60 days. Enzymes in rice koji decompose starch and proteins of glutinous rice and various saccharides, amino acids, organic acids, and fragrance ingredients are produced to form Mirin.
Hon mirin has more alcohol; therefore, you can store it in a cool place for up to 3 months. If you store it in the refrigerator, sugar may be crystallized.
In Japanese grocery stores, you can find imported hon mirin (a bit pricey). Some of the popular hon mirin might have been imported from Japan to Japanese markets oversea including Fukuraijun Hon Mirin (picture on the left), Hinode Hon Mirin, Kokonoe Sakura, and Mikawa Mirin (picture on the right).
The main difference between mirin and hon-mirin is the usage of sake in mirin instead of shochu.
You can purchase Takara Mirin which includes sake (made with rice, water, koji mold, and yeast), glucose, and corn syrup (No High Fructose Corn Syrup is used).
For those who are looking for mirin without high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup, we recommend Eden Foods Mirin which contains only water, rice, koji and sea salt in the ingredient lists.
3. Mirin-style Condiments
Mirin-style condiments (みりんタイプ調味料、みりんタイプ醸造調味料) are cheaper alternative products that resemble the taste of mirin. They are often labeled as aji-mirin (sweet cooking rice seasoning), which means “taste like mirin” and contain 8-14% alcohol and 2% salt. They are made of starch or glucose syrup, water, alcohol, rice, and salt.
Kikkoman aji-mirin is a popular brand that you can find at many Asian and mainstream grocery stores including Walmart and Target.
4. Mirin-like or Mirin-fu Condiment
Mirin-like condiment (みりん風調味料) contains no alcohol or less than 1% alcohol and less than 1% salt. It is made of starch syrup, rice/cultured rice brewed seasoning, brewed vinegar, acidic components. The mirin-like condiment is cheaper because it avoids certain alcohol taxes.
It claims to have the same taste as hon mirin and can enhance the flavors and texture.
It needs to be refrigerated after opening and used within 3 months.
How to Store Mirin
Hon mirin has more alcohol; therefore, you can store it in a dark, cool place for up to 3 months. If you store it in the refrigerator, sugar may be crystallized.
Mirin-like condiment has less alcohol; therefore, make sure to store in the refrigerator and used within 3 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Where can I buy mirin?
You can buy mirin from Japanese grocery stores, Korean grocery stores, Asian supermarkets, or online. Amazon carries a few options:
Q: What are some of the best substitutes for mirin?
You can substitute mirin with sake and sugar, although it won’t be exactly the same. The ratio of sake and sugar is 3 to 1. For example, mix ¾ cup (or 1 Tbsp) of good quality drinking sake with ¼ cup (or 1 tsp) granulated sugar.
I don’t recommend using dry white wine or sweet marsala wine to replace mirin as they have a more pronounced taste and stronger alcohol percentage. You can sub dry white wine when a recipe calls for sake, but not mirin. Sweet Marsala wine has a hint of grape flavor and it will overpower the authentic taste of Japanese food.
Q: Any recommendation for halal Substitution for mirin?
For those who cannot consume alcohol in their cooking, you can look for Honteri Mirin by Mizkan which contains no alcohol.
Or you can substitute mirin with water and sugar. The ratio of water and sugar should be 3 to 1. For example, for 1 tbsp water, mix with 1 tsp of granulated sugar. Another alternative is to mix chicken broth with sugar.
Q: Can I use rice vinegar instead of mirin?
We don’t recommend substituting rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar with mirin since both have completely different characteristics and uses. Rice vinegar has a stronger astringency and it adds acidity to your food. While mirin has a mild sweetness in flavor and it should add luster and a nice glaze to dishes.
How to Cook With Mirin & Mirin Recipes
Use mirin as a key component in sauces, seasonings, marinades, broths, glazes, etc. It pairs well with meat, fish and seafood, tofu, vegetables, and rice dishes. A little goes a long way.
Here are some popular Japanese recipes that feature mirin:
Differences Between Sake & Mirin
Sake & mirin are frequently used hand in hand in a recipe for Japanese cooking. Sake contains higher alcohol and lower sugar contents, while mirin has a higher sugar content and lower alcohol content. Mirin can be used untreated in a dish, whereas sake is often added earlier in the cooking process to allow some of the alcohol to evaporate.
To learn more about the difference between sake and mirin, click here.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 23, 2012. The post has been updated with new content and republished on April 7, 2022.