What Is Mirin Good For?

Mirin Magic

Mirin Nutrition Facts

If you’ve ever traveled to Japan or eaten at an authentic Japanese restaurant, you’ll notice that their savory, umami-flavored dishes teriyaki, for example often have a hint of a delicate sweetness.

The first thing that may come to mind is sugar, but you’ll be surprised to know that the flavor probably comes from a type of rice wine mirin, to be exact.

While drinking wine or using it for cooking is not advisable, it’s important to shed light on this popular condiment, which is an integral part of Asian cuisine. Keep reading to learn about mirin: its uses, how it’s made and why Japanese cooking just isn’t the same without it.

What Is Mirin?

Sauces in Japanese cuisine have a rich, subtle tang that you cannot seem to find in most other dishes, and mirin is most likely responsible for it.1 Often incorrectly called a “sweet version of sake,”2 and/or confused with rice wine vinegar3 (more about this later), mirin is rather a slightly thick, amber or golden condiment4 with its own distinct characteristics that set it apart from these two.

Mirin is a type of sweetened wine made by fermenting glutinous rice with rice malt and mixing it with alcohol.5 Often used in place of sugar due to the light sweetness it imparts, it is usually added to dishes that are cooked and allowed to simmer. It's also added to teriyaki, as it provides the appetizing glaze this dish is known for.6

Making mirin starts by mixing steamed sticky rice that has developed a mold called Aspergillus oryzae (this is called koji7) with distilled spirits, known as shōchū by the Japanese. After letting it fermented for 40 to 60 days, a sweet liquid with 14 percent alcohol content is produced.

According to "A Dictionary of Japanese Food," distinguishing between genuine mirin and fake mirin, which has low alcohol content, is very important. Real mirin, called "hon mirin," is often found in good supermarkets and sake shops.8 Beware of “aji-mirin,” which translates to “tastes like mirin,” and is sold by big brands like Kikkoman, as well. While does not have alcohol, it is most likely enhanced with added sweeteners like corn syrup.9,10

 

Mirin Versus Rice Vinegar: What’s the Difference?

As mentioned above, mirin is often confused with rice vinegar. However, these are two very different products, although they do come from the same base ingredient, which is fermented rice. According to Kitchn, the difference between the two lies in how they’re produced and used.

While mirin is produced using fermented glutinous rice (wherein the yeast converts the sugar in the rice into alcohol), rice vinegar also called rice wine vinegar is made when the sugars in rice are fermented to first produce alcohol, and then into acid. Rice vinegar is different from typical white vinegar it’s less acidic and has a mild and somewhat sweet flavor.

Both rice vinegar and mirin can enhance the flavor of your cooking, though it’s crucial that you know how to properly use them and which one is used for which cooking task they are not interchangeable.11 Adding too little might not impart any flavor, while too much of either can spell disaster for your meals.

Different Culinary Uses for Mirin

Mirin works as a delicious finish to Japanese soups, such as miso soup, and is a primary component of authentic teriyaki sauce. Mirin works great when used with condiments like tamari and soy sauce, owing to its naturally sweet flavor that contrasts with the others’ saltiness.12 Food Network lists some of the ways that mirin can be added to foods:13

Mix with soy sauce and wasabi to make a rich dipping sauce that goes well with sushi.

Add a splash to your chicken and shrimp stir-fry a couple of minutes before taking them off the stove. Use a bit of soy sauce to balance out the sweetness.

Blend mirin with cinnamon, cumin, tomato paste, garlic, five-spice powder, and salt and pepper, to make a delicious barbecue sauce.

Drizzle a small amount before serving soup, like chicken soup, for added flavor.

After pan-frying breaded chicken, deglaze your skillet using soy sauce mirin.

Combine with apple cider and use as a sweet glaze for baked ham.

How to Make Mirin

Making authentic mirin sauce is a tedious and time-consuming process, mainly because it involves fermentation. Rice, koji and alcohol are mixed together, so that the starch in the rice will be transformed into sugar. The mixture is then strained to eliminate the solid particles. Hence, it can take 40 days or up to two months to produce the distinct flavor of this Japanese condiment.14,15

While there are mirin recipes out there that claim to give you the same flavor as the real deal, be aware that these recipes usually involve using a huge amount of sugar to mimic mirin’s distinct sweetness but at the cost of your health. For example, Genius Kitchen’s substitute Japanese “hon-mirin” recipe calls for 1/4 cup white sugar or corn syrup!16

Mirin Substitutes: Alternatives You Can Use in a Pinch

It’s better to look for authentic mirin from Japanese or Asian specialty stores, so you can be sure that you’re getting a high-quality product. Look at the label closely, and make sure that you’re not buying highly processed varieties. However, if you’re in a pinch, or there’s no Asian specialty store near you, there are alternatives you can use.

One mirin substitute would be honey mixed with a bit of white wine17 this will give a sweet and slightly acidic flavor reminiscent of mirin. Dry sherry or a sweet marsala wine are also good mirin substitutes, according to Bon Appetit.18

Try These Mirin-Infused Vegetable Recipe Ideas
Ginger Baby Bok Choy Recipe

Mirin adds flavor to a wide range of meat and seafood, but it also works as delicious flavoring agent for vegetable dishes as well. Here are two recipes you can try out.

Mirin Healthy Recipe Recipe

Ingredients:

6 heads baby bok choy

1 1/2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

1/2 teaspoon Dr. Mercola's raw honey

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon Dr. Mercola's coconut oil

1 pinch red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 scallions

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

 

 

Note: Have all ingredients ready as the stir frying is rather quick.

Procedure:

  1. Remove the bottoms from the bok choy heads. Separate the leaves and cut across into small pieces, keeping stems and leaves separate.
  2. Mix together the vinegar, tamari, mirin, honey and toasted sesame oil in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Over high heat, warm the sauté pan or wok, add the coconut oil, making sure it covers the pan. Add the bok choy, red pepper flakes, scallions, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
  4. Add sauce mixture and cook for about one minute, until mixture thickens. Add bok choy leaves and cook for another 30 seconds.
  5. Place the bok choy in a serving bowl, add a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

This recipe makes four servings.
(From Dr. Mercola’s “Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type” book)

Roasted Broccoli With Soy-Mirin Glaze

Ingredients:

1 head(s) uncooked broccoli, large (1 3/4 lbs)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

1/2 tablespoon mirin

1 teaspoon minced garlic, fresh

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and use parchment paper to line a cookie sheet.
  2. Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets, then trim the stalk and slice into 1/4-inch thick disks.
  3. Toss broccoli with coconut oil and evenly spread on the pan. Place in the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
  4. While the broccoli is roasting, whisk mirin, soy sauce and garlic together in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooked broccoli. Sprinkle with sesame seeds as garnish.

This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Weight Watchers19)

Mirin Nutrition Facts

Apart from having alcohol (albeit in low levels), mirin has high amounts of sugar. One tablespoon of this condiment can give you as much as 4 grams of sugar.20 If consumed in excessive quantities, this can throw your blood sugar levels out of order and put you at risk of insulin and leptin resistance.

For this reason, you should use mirin in very limited, moderate amounts. In addition, stay away from processed brands like aji-mirin, which can pack as much as 6.5 grams of sugar per tablespoon.21 Here are the other nutritional facts:22

Mirin - Rice Cooking Wine

Serving Size: 1 tbsp — 17 g
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 25 1 %
Calories from Fat 0  
Total Fat 0 g  
Saturated Fat 0 g  
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 130 mg 5%
Total Carbohydrates 7.0 g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0 g  
Sugar 4 g  
Protein 1 g  
Vitamin A0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium0% Iron 1%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Mirin Adds a Distinct Flavor, but Use It in Moderation

If you’re preparing a Japanese meal, then mirin is something that you may need. Don’t confuse it with sake or rice vinegar rather, this sweet cooking wine has its own identity, thanks to the delicate sweetness and glaze it imparts to dishes. It’s important to remember that not all mirin you see in store shelves are the real thing. Stay away from “aji-mirin,” as it offers nothing but a sugar overload.

Aside from its high amounts of sugar, mirin also has low amounts of alcohol. While there’s little risk of overloading on alcohol from mirin, using this condiment too much can have severe repercussions on your health. These are both very valid reasons to use this condiment in moderation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Coffee Beans

Q. What does mirin taste like?

A. Mirin has a naturally delicate sweetness. It also has a mild acidity that can greatly enhance the flavor of any dish.

Q. Where can you buy mirin?

A. High-quality, authentic mirin can be purchased from Japanese or Asian specialty stores. so you can be sure that you’re getting a high-quality product. Look at the label closely to ensure that you’re not buying highly processed types.

Q. What is aji-mirin?

A. Aji-mirin is a product whose name translates directly to “tastes like mirin.” It’s sold by Kikkoman and other big brands. However, this is very far from being authentic mirin, as it is most likely enhanced with corn syrup.