Japanese cuisine is defined by many different flavors, one of them is mirin.
Similar to sake, mirin is a rice wine, but it has a lower alcohol content and is much sweeter.
This sweetness is achieved through the fermentation process rather than through added sugar.
Mirin is used in cooking, whereas sake will be typically consumed as a beverage.
Mirin is syrupy, tangy, and has an umami flavor that you can’t get combined in one place anywhere else.
In total it is about 14% alcohol, but most of it burns off while cooking.
It is one of the key ingredients used when making teriyaki and kabayaki sauce.
When cooking with it, mirin is usually paired with soy sauce to give a sweet and salty taste to dipping sauces, cooked dishes, and marinades.
It can be used to enhance the flavors of ramen, poke, and stir-frys.
It is one of the ingredient combinations that you will see most in Japanese cuisine.
Unfortunately, some people struggle to find mirin in their local stores, and when they do find it, it can be quite pricey.
Other people prefer to use alcohol-free ingredients in cooking, either for personal or religious reasons.
This is why we have compiled a list of 10 ingredients you can use instead of mirin so you can still enjoy all the food that requires it.
Types Of Mirin
In total, there are 4 different types of mirin you will find on the market.
This is also known as true mirin. It is the ‘typical’ mirin with 14% alcohol.
This mirin also has 14% alcohol but with 1.5% added salt. This makes it unsuitable for consumption as a drink so it avoids alcohol tax.
While this mirin isn’t alcohol-free, it has only about 1% alcohol content. It has the same taste as hon mirin so it is popular for cooking.
Translating to ‘tastes like mirin’, this is an artificially sweetened mirin that is commonly found outside of Japan. It has a lower alcohol content of about 8%.
Mirin and sake are made from the same fermentation process, so they have a similar umami flavor.
Mirin is sweeter than sake because of an additional fermentation process it goes through.
This makes sake a great substitute as you just need to add sugar to mimic the fermentation process to make it taste like mirin.
When cooking with sake as a substitute, add sugar to your recipe a teaspoon at a time.
We find that 2 teaspoons work best for 1 tablespoon of sake, but it varies on your taste and what recipe you are making.
For sauces that will benefit from the sticky texture of honey, you can use that instead of sugar.
Compared to mirin, sake is easier to find in stores. It will be found in the alcohol section rather than a cooking aisle.
During the process that makes mirin sweeter, it also lowers the alcohol content.
So sake has a slightly higher alcohol content ranging from 13% to 17% depending on the sake you buy.
You are able to buy unfiltered sake, also called Nigori-zake, which is cloudy in color and is sweeter than other sakes.
Since it is unfiltered you may find some rice sediments in the bottom of the bottle.
Types Of Sake
Similar to mirin, there are different types of sake available for purchase.
Sake is classified by how much the rice has been milled down before the fermentation process, and if any distilled alcohol has been added to it.
Here are the 4 types of sake you will commonly find.
The rice has been milled at least 50%.
The rice has been milled at least 40%.
small amount of alcohol has been added.
No alcohol has been added.
These types are combined when labeling sake. So you will find Daiginjo Junmai sake which has been milled at least 50% and has no alcohol added to it.
2. Rice Wine Vinegar
Rice wine vinegar (also simply labeled as rice vinegar) works because it is made from mirin or sake.
So you get the appropriate flavors from it as it can come from the ingredient we’re trying to replicate.
The main difference is that it is acidic like vinegar and is significantly less sweet than mirin.
To create the same taste as mirin, use the same quantity of rice wine vinegar and sugar.
For example, if the recipe calls for a tablespoon of mirin, use a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar.
While it may seem like a lot, this extra sugar will also help to balance out the acidity of the vinegar.
Since this is vinegar, you are not able to drink it and it has no alcohol content.
For many people, this is considered the best alcohol-free substitute for mirin.
This is because when it is blended with sugar it gives almost an exact taste.
If you have ever made sushi, then you probably have a bottle of rice wine vinegar in your cupboard already.
This is because rice wine vinegar is used to season the sushi rice along with sugar and salt.
So if you’ve bought it as a mirin substitute, consider making some delicious hand rolls as well.
3. Shaoxing Cooking Wine
Also known as Chinese rice wine, it has a stronger taste when compared to Japanese rice wine.
This is why it is popular to cook with, but if using it as a substitute then use slightly less than you would do mirin.
It has quite a salty taste, so you may want to cut it with sugar but we find it is not necessary for most recipes since it is still quite sweet. This saltiness also makes it not ideal for drinking.
For those of you looking for an alcohol-free replacement, this is not the substitute for you.
Shaoxing cooking wine has more alcohol than sake, with the alcohol ranging from 15% to as high as 20%.
While most of this alcohol will burn away during cooking, it will still leave a taste.
4. White Wine
Possibly the most readily available substitute on this list.
You are able to buy white wine from essentially any shop that sells alcohol. In fact, you might already have a bottle at home.
While you may be tempted to use sweet white wine to replace mirin, sweet white wine isn’t ideal for cooking.
Instead, use dry white wine and add about 2 teaspoons of sugar for every tablespoon of white wine you use.
We recommend using a pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc since they don’t have an overwhelming taste.
The flavor profiles that white wine brings make it work best with lighter dishes, especially seafood.
So consider this when using it as a substitute.
On average, white wine has an alcohol content of 10%.
So while it has less alcohol than sake and Shaoxing cooking wine, it is still not an alcohol-free substitute.
The best part about using white wine as a substitute is that you can easily pour yourself a glass while cooking.
Why not treat yourself for all the hard work you have done making a delicious meal?
5. White Wine Vinegar
For an alcohol-free version, look no further than white wine vinegar (see also ‘The 8 Best White Wine Vinegar Substitutes‘).
We recommend still using white wine if you have the option, but this still works in a pinch.
We have already seen on this list that wine vinegar makes a good substitute.
White wine vinegar has a soft fruity aftertaste which brings a subtle sweetness to the recipe.
As a vinegar, you will need to add sugar in order to cut the acidity.
Add half a teaspoon at a time and taste in between until you get the required sweetness.
You could also add fruit juice to bring the sugar content and enhance the naturally fruity flavor of white wine vinegar.
6. White Grape Juice
Another alcohol-free substitute, but this one doesn’t require any added sugar.
You get less of an umami flavor when compared to the previous 2 substitutions.
But, you can add a squeeze of lemon juice to replicate the subtle tangy taste.
You are able to get concentrated white grape juice which will also work, you will just need to use less to get the required taste.
By using white grape juice, you also get a wonderful fruity taste that you won’t get with many of the previous substitutions. This makes it work fantastic in marinades and glazes.
7. White Balsamic Vinegar
This is different from the dark syrup-like liquid we put on your salads.
While they both start out as white grapes, white balsamic vinegar is pressure cooked in order to stop the liquid from browning, and then it is aged for far less time.
The end result is a milder flavor but it is still sweet and tart. This makes it perfect for glazes and vinaigrettes.
Many people prefer to use white balsamic vinegar when cooking because it doesn’t turn the whole dish a dark color as balsamic vinegar does.
As a substitute, white balsamic vinegar works well to bring a tart fruity taste to a meal, but you will need to add a little sugar to it to reach the same sweetness as mirin.
If you prefer you can also add honey or fruit juice to achieve the sweetness.
You are also able to use dark balsamic vinegar, just expect a stronger taste and a change to the color of your food.
8. Sweet Marsala Wine
This Sicilian fortified wine can match the umami flavor of mirin, and almost reach the correct sweetness.
The wine has a slight acidity, so you will need about half a teaspoon of sugar for every tablespoon of sweet marsala wine to cut through it.
The sweetest marsala wine will be classified as ‘dolce’ meaning it has more than 100g grams of sugar per liter, you will not need to add sugar if you use this wine.
If you choose to go for dry marsala wine instead, then you will need to add extra sugar to reach the right sweetness.
We recommend adding a little amount of white sugar at a time.
As a fortified wine, sweet marsala wine has a slightly higher alcohol content when compared to other wines.
On average it has 15-20% alcohol content, as fortified wine has addition distilled alcohol added to it.
For marsala, the distilled alcohol is typically brandy.
Another easy-to-find substitute, this Spanish fortified wine is known for being a sweet wine that is commonly used in cooking. Ideal as a replacement for mirin.
It is very versatile and brings a delicate flavor to your food.
While it is sweet, it is not as sweet as mirin because it is a dry wine.
So you can add some sugar, or use honey (see also ‘6 Substitutes To Use Instead Of Honey‘) to achieve the sweet flavor.
There is a very sweet variation of sherry made from Pedro Ximénez grapes.
It has over 200 grams of sugar per liter. However, it is very dark and may change the color of your dish.
Sherry has an alcohol content of 16-18%, which is slightly higher than other wines. Once again most of this will cook away.
As a fortified wine, sherry has a spirit added to it during the brewing process. This is usually distilled grape spirit which brings it a unique fruitiness.
Our final mirin substitute is a fortified wine from Italy. Out of all the recommendations on this list, vermouth has the most unique taste.
This is because it is flavored with various botanicals. So this replacement may not be for everyone, but those who love vermouth will want to try it as a substitution.
It is available in both sweet and dry versions. You’ll only need to add sugar if you are using dry vermouth, and even then only add about a quarter of a teaspoon at a time.
Similar to the other fortified wines on this list, vermouth has a slightly higher alcohol count at 15-18%.
Like marsala wine, vermouth is fortified with brandy, but the addition of herbs and spices makes it taste very different.
For these substitutions, you can replace the quantities one-for-one.
So if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of mirin, then use 1 tablespoon of the substitute.
If you need to add sugar we recommend adding a teaspoon at a time until you are happy with the taste.
You can always add more sugar, it is hard to take it out.
Not being able to find the correct ingredients is one of the main reasons why people don’t experiment in the kitchen.
They feel limited about what they can cook which means they don’t get to try all these wonderful recipes from different countries and cultures.
Cooking should be about connecting to other people through food. Don’t let your inability to find or want to not use mirin stop you.
Hopefully, as you can see by now there are many ways to work around having no mirin, and while none of them are as good as using real mirin, they are a close second.
So get out there and start cooking your favorite meals with no restrictions or try something new.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Substitution For Mirin?
If you can’t find mirin then sake is your next best option.
They both start from the same fermentation process so you get a similar taste. Sake does have a higher alcohol content than mirin, but you can cook most of it off.
In order to get the same sweetness, you will need to add either white sugar or honey to your dish.
For every tablespoon of sake, you need to add about 2 teaspoons of sugar.
However, we recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting in between.
If you are looking for an alcohol-free substitute then you should use rice wine vinegar.
Since it is made from either sake or mirin it has the same umami taste, without the alcohol content.
You will need to add sugar to cut through the acidity of the vinegar.
For every tablespoon of mirin you are supposed to use, substitute it for a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar and a tablespoon of white sugar.
While this may seem like a lot of sugar it is necessary to reach the same sweetness level as mirin.
How Is Mirin Made?
Mirin is a type of rice wine, so it is made through the process of fermenting rice.
The rice is fermented with the spores of a mold called koji-kin. This fermented rice is called koji.
In order to make mirin, koji is then further fermented with steamed glutinous rice in a bit of distilled alcohol.
This solution is then left for a few months up to a couple of years. The longer the mirin is left, the higher the quality of mirin.
Koji-kin is beloved in Japan, it has been called the ‘national fungus’. It is used to create other important ingredients like sake, miso (see also ‘4 Miso Substitutes‘), and soy sauce.
What Does Mirin Add To A Dish?
When added to marinades, the sugar content in mirin can help to tenderize the meat and give it a stronger taste.
When cooked into foods it can still help to tenderize ingredients, but it adds an umami flavor and a subtle sweetness. These flavors are prominent in teriyaki sauce.
Can You Make Mirin At Home?
Yes, you can! All you need is sake, sugar, and water.
Heat a quarter of a cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan.
You want to do this on low heat so you make a simple syrup instead of a caramel.
Once the sugar is melted, pour ¾ cup of sake into the syrup stirring constantly. You can add more sake if you want slightly less sweet mirin.
Store it in an airtight container in a cool dark place or your fridge.
Where Can You Get Mirin?
If you are lucky you might be able to find it at your local store, but you will have a better chance if you go to an Asian store (see also ‘6 Substitutes For When You Run Out Of Kaffir Lime Leaves‘).
There you not only find mirin but other ingredients which will make your meal extra delicious.
Some people are not fortunate enough to live next to a good Asian store, Don’t panic, you can find mirin online. You will also have more options of mirin to choose from.
How Do You Store Mirin?
Since mirin has a strong alcohol content, it is quite sturdy and can be stored in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.
If you have mirin which has a lower alcohol content then you can store it in the fridge for up to 3 months.
You can tell mirin is expired as it has a strong, stale taste. This makes it taste quite tangy instead of sweet.
Can You Drink Mirin?
In theory? Yes. Do we recommend it? No.
Mirin has a very high sugar content, so it can feel like drinking alcoholic syrup.
For those of you who have a sweet tooth, this might sound appealing.
We suggest you just stick to drinking sake and if you want a sweeter beverage then go for Nigori-zake sake.