Mirin – a Japanese rice wine – is a staple in countless delicious recipes. Here’s what to do if you don’t have any on hand.
Mirin is a Japanese rice wine used in many recipes and sauces. But it’s not easy to find on store shelves unless you’re in an urban area. And even then, if you’re already elbow deep in a new recipe for dinner before you realize you need mirin, not even Amazon Fresh’s 2-hour delivery will save you.
We can help, though. The five best substitutes for mirin are:
- Rice vinegar
- Fruit juice
- Other types of wine
Keep reading for the deets on each.
Mirin is a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking as a condiment to make sauces like teriyaki.
If you’ve ever had sake before, mirin is a slightly sweeter version with lower alcohol content. However, mirin is made for cooking, not sipping.
For fans of Japanese cooking, it’s worth buying a bottle to keep on hand. But if cooking Japanese food is just a once-in-a-while thing for you, one of these substitutes should work fine.
“The easiest substitute for mirin is just sugar,” she says.
Per her recommendation, start with just 1 teaspoon of sugar to replace each tablespoon of mirin in a recipe (that is, use one-third of the amount of mirin called for if you’re using sugar) — then adjust to taste.
“The sweetness of mirin is much milder than granulated sugar, so it helps to add sugar little by little,” Chou says.
And although we’ve included some other potential mirin substitutes below, Chou recommends against using these.
“The flavors will likely overpower a dish that calls for mirin,” she says. “Although some sources may recommend adding sake to sugar as a mirin substitute, using sugar by itself works best.”
Sake is similar to mirin. They are two different types of rice wine with some significant similarities in taste. However, where mirin is sweeter and made for cooking, sake contains a higher alcohol content and is made for drinking.
Sake can be used instead of mirin as a 1:1 replacement, but it may affect the flavor profile of your dish. Many folks who use sake in place of mirin say it helps to add just a bit of sugar (1 teaspoon per tablespoon of sake) to add sweetness and cut through the taste of the sake.
Another commonly used mirin substitute is rice vinegar, also known as rice wine vinegar. This is a vinegar made from rice wine, so it has a similar taste profile… you know, if you forget the vinegar part.
Because it’s vinegar, using it will add a sour kick to your recipe, which can overpower more delicate flavors.
If you use rice vinegar, it’s a good idea to cut the amount called for in half and then add some sugar (at the same ratio as above, 1 teaspoon for every tablespoon of rice wine vinegar) to replicate the sweetness of mirin.
Another option you could consider is fruit juice. Although you’ll need to be careful with this one, your carefully crafted recipe could have a discordant hint of orchard freshness.
If fruit juice is all, you have on hand, using something milder tasting (e.g. white grape juice or apple juice) may work. If you’re using juice, only use half the amount of mirin called for in the recipe.
Some people will also add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to help cut the sweetness of the liquid, be mindful that a little can go a long way when it comes to these citrus fruits.
If you don’t have anything else, another wine will work, be it a cooking wine tucked away in your spice cabinet or a bottle of drinking wine. For the latter, a dry white is the best bet. Sherry and marsala wine are two surprisingly good alternatives.
Still, you may want to tweak a few things to ensure these wines don’t affect the taste of your dish too much. First, slash how much you use in half, at least. So if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of mirin, use 1/2 a tablespoon or less of your substitute wine. Then, you may also want to add some sugar for sweetness.
Follow Chou’s guidelines and add sugar at 1/3 of the amount of the mirin called for in the recipe.
There are also a few different types of mirin. Some may be easier to find in your area than others, but you should be able to order any of these online too. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Hon mirin: Hon mirin or “genuine mirin” is the *real deal* in the mirin world. It’s 14 percent alcohol and contains zero added sugar, with all the sweetness coming from the natural fermentation process.
- Aji-mirin: With a literal translation of “flavor of mirin,” this less expensive alternative takes a few shortcuts from the traditional preparation with added sweeteners. These versions may contain as little as 8% alcohol.
- Mirin-fu chomiryo: This term means “mirin-style seasoning.” These alternatives offer the taste of mirin but with only trace amounts of alcohol (or none) and lots of added sweeteners. Because of this, they tend to be less expensive than others listed.
Aji-mirin and mirin-fu chomiryo are acceptable substitutes taste-wise for hon mirin. Especially when compared to the non-mirin subs we listed above. However, they tend to be made with lower quality ingredients and — if traditional, high quality, and authentic is what you’re after — don’t hold a candle to the legit stuff.
Don’t let your lack of mirin turn into an e-mirin-gency. (OK, that was a stretch, even for us.) If you’ve got sugar in your pantry, then — according to chef and dietitian Cindy Chou — you’ve got the best mirin substitute money can buy.
Sake, fruit juice, rice vinegar, or other wines may also work in a pinch. But we’ll stick with the pro’s recommendation (and order a bottle of hon mirin for next time).