Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors
Mirin Substitute: What Is It and What to Use If You Don't Have Any?
Mirin is a type of rice wine vinegar used in Japanese cooking to give dishes a sweet and salty flavor. It can be difficult to find outside of Japan, but that doesn't mean you have to go without it! In this article, we'll talk about how to find an alternative that still gives your dish that same great taste!
Watch this video on mirin substitutes!
What is mirin?
Mirin is a type of rice wine used in Japanese cuisine. The color and flavor vary depending on the main ingredients, but most are sweeter than sake (with a higher sugar content) and have a lower alcohol content. It’s often used as an ingredient for marinating meat or vegetables during cooking or making sauces like salad dressings or teriyaki sauce with soy sauce, sugar, ginger and garlic. There are many varieties available commercially such as aji mirin or hon-mirin which has added sweetness from being made out of glutinous white rice instead of short grain brown rice (the typical base). A variety called mirin suru dashi also contains salt so you can use it in place of regular table salt too!
Since most people already have rice vinegar on hand it's often easier for them to use instead of buying another bottle of something they might never use again. But there are some benefits and drawbacks. Rice vinegar tastes slightly different from true mirin because it has less sweetness, but if you're watching your calories this can be an advantage since one tablespoon contains about two grams (about 120 calories). Rice vinegar may have a stronger acidity depending on how much was added during cooking which makes it good for pickling foods. It's worth it to experiment with both types of vinegar and see which one you prefer the taste of best!
What can I use as a substitute for mirin?
There are many options for substitutes to mirin. The key is finding the one that yields a similar flavor profile as your dish requires. If you're up for experimenting, take a look at these suggestions:
White wine vinegar
White wine vinegar is a common substitute for mirin because it's readily available and has the same sweet-yet-sour flavor profile. It also tastes better on its own than other substitutes such as rice or sherry vinegars so you might be tempted to drink it straight from the bottle. But don't - it's not an alcoholic beverage! Wine vinegar is made out of fermented grape juice, which means that it contains alcohol - in fact some varieties clock in at about 18% ABV (i.e., twice what most beers contain).
Make sure there are no added flavors, artificial colors or preservatives when shopping around for white wine vinegar to use as a mirin substitute. You'll find them near regular table wines and cooking wines (look for ones that say "cooking wines" or are labeled on the bottle as a type of vinegar). If you're looking for something with more flavor, try checking out apple cider, balsamic and white wine vinegars.
A word to the wise: White wine vinegar tastes much better when it's cold than warm so if you're cooking your dish at high heat that will make this substitution less desirable.
Rice vinegar tastes slightly different from mirin because it has a less sweet flavor, but is a suitable replacement (some would consider the best mirin substitute because it's often on-hand) and if you're watching your calories this can be an advantage since one tablespoon contains about two grams (about 120 calories). Rice vinegar may have a stronger acidity depending on how much was added during cooking which makes it good for pickling foods. It's worth it to experiment with both types of vinegar and see which one you prefer the taste of best!
Tamari or soy sauce (use sparingly)
Tamari is made from soybeans whereas regular soy sauce is made using a fermentation process with wheat and other ingredients such as sea salt and sugar. Regular soy sauce contains less sodium than tamari but both have umami flavor which gives dishes a meaty taste. Since it's salty, too much of this option may make your dish overly salty so be sure to add the amount sparingly - one tablespoon at most! Some people also find traditional soy sauces bitter on their tongue (i.e., not sweet) so if you're not a fan of tamari but want an alternative that has the same umami flavor, soy sauce may be for you.
For those with nut allergies: be mindful to buy tamari made from 100% soybeans and no other ingredients such as wheat or sugar because it's typically labeled as "pure" on the bottle.
Be sure to use this last option with caution! Issues of sweetness and acidity can vary heavily depending on brand. We recommend using only small amounts until testing it out yourself before adding more. It's easier than spending hours cooking something only to find out later that it doesn't taste good.
Vermouth is a fortified dry wine that has been flavored with herbs, spices and roots. It can add some depth of flavor to dishes as well as an earthy quality. This option may be most appropriate for use in sauces or other dishes where you're looking for more substance rather than sweetness. Vermouth also pairs nicely with beef - try substituting it for the mirin when cooking your next pot roast!
The downside? Some people report that vermouth tastes too much like alcohol (i.e., harsh on the nose). If this sounds like something you might experience, there are several other options below to explore:
Sherry is a fortified wine with a sweet-yet-dry flavor, low to medium body and a nutty taste. It's typically used in cooking as an ingredient for sauces or braising liquids that have some depth of flavor - think pan-searing meat after deglazing your pan with sherry! Sweet marsala wine or a dry white wine are similar options.
A word of caution: Sherry does have more alcohol than other substitutes so be aware if you're using it with dishes that are served chilled (i.e., soups).
Can you substitute rice vinegar for mirin?
Mirin is a Japanese rice wine that's typically used in cooking as an ingredient for sauces or braising liquids. It usually contains 17% alcohol, so it's important to only use small amounts of vinegar if substituting. Rice vinegar tastes slightly different from mirin because it has less sweetness but both have a sweet-yet-sour flavor profile and can be found near regular table wines and cooking wines (look for ones labeled "cooking wines" or are types of vinegars). If you're looking for something with more flavor, try checking out apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar!
Where to buy mirin?
Mirin is not a common ingredient in the Western kitchen, but it's very popular in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Mirin can be found at major grocery store chains such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for about $14 per bottle. You may also find mirin at your local Asian grocer for around $11-13 per jar of 127g (or just under four ounces).
You can make this sauce with other ingredients that are more readily available than rice vinegar, like malt syrup and white wine. To substitute mirin, you will need to use equal parts of these two liquids combined together on their own. If substituting barley malt syrup instead of sugar, add less water and let simmer before adding any alcohol so that the flavor will not be too sweet.
Mirin is a rice-based Japanese cooking wine produced from one of three types of sugar that can be found in Asian markets, namely barley malt syrup, palm sugar or brown sugar. The most popular type is called "sweet mirin" which has been boiled with water and then reduced to about half its original volume until it becomes thick like honey consistency (there should only be enough liquid left for two tablespoons). This process helps mellow out the taste by reducing the bitterness from the excessive use of alcohol during fermentation. It also gives more depth to any dish because this means there are cooked sugars present adding complexity and sweetness without making anything cloyingly sweet due to excess amounts of added white/brown sugar.
As with any recipe, always take time to taste as you cook and adjust the flavorings accordingly in order for your dish to have a well-balanced sweet/sour profile. If too much mirin is added then it can make the food overly salty and tangy so proceed carefully!
What kind of mirin to buy?
There are two types of mirin: rice wine and sake. Rice wine is made from fermented rice, while sake is distilled alcohol that can be found in any liquor store.
If you want to use the mirin substitute for cooking purposes, then make sure to buy a bottle labelled as "mirin." If not, it will almost certainly contain more sugar than what would be needed for cooking; these bottles should only be used when preparing sushi or sashimi dishes. For those who prefer the taste of an aged vinegar added with salt instead of sugar (like seasoned soy sauce), there are substitutes available at stores like Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe's that could also work well as both a dipping sauce and condiment.
Final thoughts on mirin substitutes
Hope you enjoyed this article on mirin substitutes!
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