10 Best Mirin Substitutes
For those whose taste buds have been forever enchanted by the unique flavor that is umami, mirin is no mystery. Mirin is a special Japanese rice wine rich in flavor, sticky, and sweet. It is usually paired with soy sauce to get that one-of-a-kind sweet and salty taste.
Mirin also has a syrupy consistency, which is perfect for glazes. The combination of mirin and soy sauce is the base for many Asian stir-fries and teriyaki sauce but also works very well with other kinds of food.
As a rice wine, mirin is similar to sake, but it has a lower alcohol and higher sugar content. There is no added sugar in the traditional fermentation process.
There are three types of mirin in Japan: hon mirin, also known as true mirin with about 14% alcohol; shio mirin, with 1.5% alcohol; and shin mirin, with less than 1% alcohol. The last one is, in fact, mirin-like seasoning.
As a rice wine, mirin is similar to sake, but it has a lower alcohol and higher sugar content.
Shin mirin is also easier to come by outside Japan, as it is produced in larger quantities, and it is cheaper. Traditional mirin is made by combining steamed glutinous rice, cultured rice, and a distilled rice liquor. Then it is allowed to ferment for anywhere from two months to several years.
The longer it ages, the darker the color and the more intense the flavor. Mirin produced this way has a complex and rich flavor with loads of umami.
Mirin pairs well with soy sauce, but it can also be used in other combinations. It comes with a mild sweetness and it is especially good with grilled foods because grilling burns off the alcohol and leaves only the sweet taste behind.
Mirin can be used in varied recipes and combinations and is a key ingredient in the Japanese cuisine. It goes well with ramen, pork, fish, beef, and seafood (it lessens the fishiness of some fish), tofu, and mushrooms. It is also used in various marinades.
Mirin Substitutes Ranked
However, there are countless situations when a recipe calls for mirin and you may not have it available in your pantry. In these situations, there are some good mirin alternatives available.
Aji-Mirin means tastes like mirin, so this type of mirin is not the real thing: it a substitute. It is what you find in most markets outside Japan, as the original, traditional mirin is very rare and expensive. With a lower or non-existent alcohol content and a higher sugar content, Aji-Mirin is very different from hon-mirin.
While it is not exactly the mirin used in authentic Japanese cuisines, you can use it in your daily cooking as it will do a good job of adding that umami flavor.
Sake is probably the best mirin substitute. To get the same flavor, sake should be mixed with white sugar to make it sweeter. In substituting mirin with sake, also be aware that mirin has a lower alcohol content. Adding sugar will also lower the alcohol content of sake.
As a ratio, if a recipe requires 1 tablespoon of mirin, use 1 teaspoon of sake and 2 tablespoons of sugar for a similar flavor.
Sake is best used in marinades as it removes odors from meat and fish. It is usually added before cooking to remove some of the alcohol content. Sake makes a good job of tenderizing meat and adding umami flavor.
3. Shao Xing Cooking Wine (Chinese Rice Wine)
The Chinese equivalent of sake, Chinese Rice Wine, is also called Shao Xing Cooking Wine. In replacing mirin, Chinese cooking wine acts just as sake does, so it should be combined with sugar.
The Chinese cooking wine is a rice wine made specifically for cooking. It has a salty, harsh alcohol flavor and it’s not intended for drinking. It is used in most Chinese foods from stir fry sauces to soup broths, marinades, and wontons.
4. Rice Vinegar
Rice vinegar is another good replacement for mirin. Also known as rice wine vinegar, it is non-alcoholic.
The rice wine is put through a fermentation process to get this product, so the alcohol turns to acetic acid. It is especially suitable as a mirin substitute in dipping sauces and dressings. Rice vinegar has a mild flavor and a slightly sweet taste.
As a vinegar, it is sour, so add half a teaspoon of sugar to every teaspoon of vinegar to counteract the sourness.
5. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is an Italian vinegar, made from boiled down white grapes, including all its skin, seeds, and stem. It must then be matured in wooden kegs for at least 12 years to be called balsamic vinegar. The best quality balsamic vinegar is aged between 18 and 100 years: the longer, the better, and the more expensive.
It has a thick consistency, as the moisture evaporates during the maturation process. It has a dark color and a strong flavor, with a rich and slightly sweet taste.
Balsamic vinegar is used in salad dressings, dipping sauces, gourmet marinades, and soup broth. Because of its rich flavor, it is also suitable as a mirin substitute.
To get a taste similar to mirin, add a small quantity of sugar as balsamic vinegar is not as sweet.
6. Dry Sherry
Dry sherry wine is a cooking wine made from wine and brandy. It has a stiff, acidic flavor, similar to mirin, but it’s less sweet.
That’s why home and professional chefs alike recommend adding sugar to sherry, all depending on each individual’s taste.
The usual quantity, however, is half a tablespoon of sugar for every tablespoon of sherry (this is equal to a tablespoon of mirin). However, the substitute combination will lack a very important part of mirin, and that is the umami taste.
So, choose this or another substitute depending on how much you want to have that in your dish.
Vermouth, a flavored wine fortified with brandy, is like dry sherry and is also an excellent substitute for mirin.
Vermouth is sweetened and infused with herbs and spices, so it adds a delicate flavor to food. There are two kinds of vermouth: red, which is the sweet one, and white, which is the dry one. Both are suitable for cooking.
Add sugar to recipes where you substitute vermouth for mirin, as it is less sweet than the Japanese rice wine. As a general recommendation, 2 tablespoons of sugar are necessary for every 1/2 cup of vermouth that you use. However, it all depends on individual taste. This is perfect for glazing, dressings, and dipping sauces.
8. Marsala Wine
Marsala wine is a type of fortified wine from Sicily that is perfect for sauces with a rich caramel and nutty taste. There are two kinds: dry marsala and sweet marsala, with sweet marsala being the most suitable replacement for mirin.
If you use the sweet marsala wine as a mirin substitute, there is no need to add any sugar as it is just as sweet as the original product.
You can use Marsala for any of the typical mirin dishes, but you can also use it for sautéing vegetables and marinating meat and poultry. It is a multipurpose and flavor-friendly ingredient.
9. Dry White Wine
Mirin is wine, so white wine would be a suitable substitute. The results will be fairly similar, but not identical to using mirin. Experiment with white wine, preferably dry, and you could discover different flavors, probably on the fruitier side. Or try sweet white wine.
If using white wine (either dry or sweet) as a mirin substitute, make sure you add sugar. You will need 2 tablespoons of sugar for every tablespoon of white wine you use. This proportion is equal to a tablespoon of mirin. Look for Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, or Sauvignon Blanc.
10. White Grape Juice
White grape juice is another substitute for mirin. It is alcohol-free, and it is sweet on its own as it is made from skinned grapes. To replicate the tangy taste of mirin, add a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of white grape juice for best results.
While using white grape juice instead of mirin means giving up some umami flavor, it also means adding a fruity flavor to your dishes and making them more diverse.