What Is Mirin, and How Should I Use It?

This rice wine adds sweetness and acidity to sauces, soups, and marinades.

Published May 4, 2022.

You might not know mirin by name, but if you’ve ever eaten teriyaki sauce, ramen, or countless other Japanese sauces, soups, and marinades, you’ve experienced its flavor. 

Japanese cuisine is known for using umami as a mainstay among its savory and fresh flavors, and mirin is a big contributor to that. Sweet and acidic, mirin is something you should have in your arsenal of pantry items.

Here’s more on mirin, including what it is, how to use it, and how to substitute for it.

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What is mirin?

Mirin is a low-alcohol Japanese ingredient made from mochi rice; fermented rice (koji); and shochu, a distilled spirit made from potatoes or rice. The mixture sits for anywhere from two months to several years, during which time it develops a deep and complex flavor profile.

Mirin is golden in color and has a syrupy consistency, and it is most commonly used to add a sweet acidity and depth to sauces, soups, and marinades.

What’s the difference between hon-mirin and aji-mirin?

The traditional form of mirin is hon-mirin (“real mirin”), which is made exclusively from fermented rice and is available online and in some liquor stores. Supermarkets sell a product labeled “aji-mirin” (“tastes like mirin”), “sweet cooking wine,” or “sweetened sake,” that's made with sweeteners, alcohol, rice, and salt.

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We’ve found that in applications where mirin is a main ingredient, it's worth seeking out the traditional, high-quality mirin. However, in recipes that call for a smaller amount, it's fine to use the supermarket stuff, which is much cheaper.

What’s the difference between mirin and sake?

Mirin and sake are both rice wines, so many people believe the two can be used interchangeably in recipes. But this isn’t always the case. Sake, for example, is often slightly more alcoholic. For this reason, sake is added to certain recipes at an earlier stage than mirin would be to allow for the alcohol to cook off. 

Mirin is also sweeter—but there aren’t any added sugars. Complex carbohydrates develop during the fermentation process, giving it a higher concentration of natural sugar than sake.

What can I substitute for mirin?

It’s worth having a bottle of mirin in your pantry, as the real thing can make all the difference to your dish. But if you don’t have mirin on hand, there are two mirin substitutes we recommend.

  • Sweet sherry makes an adequate substitute. Just use an equal amount of sweet sherry for the mirin your recipe calls for. 
  • You can also use 1 tablespoon of white wine plus a teaspoon of sugar for every tablespoon of mirin in your recipe.
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What should I make with mirin?

As mentioned, Japanese cuisine makes great use of mirin. ATK has many recipes that take advantage of its sweet, acidic brightness, such as our Glazed Pork Chops with Sesame, Mirin, and Ginger, which incorporates mirin into a glaze that coats the juicy chops.

Cook’s Country’s Teriyaki Meatballs and Seattle Chicken Teriyaki recipes also use mirin for a burst of umami flavor in perfectly balanced teriyaki sauces. And in this recipe for Miso-Marinated Salmon, mirin contributes salty sweetness to the simple, four-ingredient marinade.

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