Sometimes referred to as Japanese Sweet Sake, Mirin is a sweet golden rice wine used only for cooking and is an essential item in the Japanese kitchen. It is also used to glaze food. Try to buy hon-mirin which is naturally brewed and contains natural sugars, as opposed to aji-mirin which can contain sweeteners.
Hon-mirin is fermented from varieties of rice that lend it sweetness. The mirin sold in food stores, or aji-mirin, is concocted from alcohol, water, salt and sweeteners; usually lower in alcohol, it is to real mirin what a cooking wine is to a fine wine. Mirin that is not naturally fermented has no umami.
“Good mirin holds flavors together and elevates them, and is also used to add gloss, not just sweetness to food.”
the third type of mirin is Shin-Mirin which translates as new-Mirin. This is basically a mirin-flavoured sauce with almost no alcohol content, and not worth purchasing. (Some factory produce mirin will be sold as Hon-Mirin – you can always judge Mirin quality by checking the ingredients; factory Mirin invariably contains corn syrup.)
Mirin started out as a popular sweet liqueur for women in medieval Japan. As it went out of fashion as a drink, its use as a flavouring went from strength to strength.
If the Mirin is to be consumed directly, say like in a salad dressing, use a good quality mirin, also if the recipe calls for small amount, e.g. a tablespoon that is added to a soup. If the recipe calls for Mirin by the cupful, for example in a slow cooked dish, then I will use a medium quality Mirin.
Try using a tablespoon of Mirin instead of sugar, it will help to accentuate the milder flavours as well as sweetening the dish. Use it in limited quantities since it has quite a strong distinct flavour. It is great in marinades, sauces, dipping sauces and stirfries, and is used for glazing. Also, if your recipe calls for a dash of Port, Marsarla or Sherry, try substituting Mirin instead. Add a dash to tomato or cheese based pasta sauces/risottos.
It is hard to substitute, but sake could be used instead, or at a pinch, rice wine and 1/2 – 1 tspn sugar or honey for every tspn of mirin.
Check out our easy Japanese recipes here and here. Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series, vegetarian recipes from our first blog from 1995 – 2006. You might also like our Ingredients information here.