Mirin: Adding Umami Flavor to Asian Dishes

Mirin in Japanese cooking.

Mirin in Japanese cooking.

There is no doubt that Japanese cuisine is extraordinary. A large part of that awesomeness comes from the ingredients used in their cooking and one such ingredient is mirin. Here we will learn what it is, where you can buy it, and various other little fun facts about this incredible food item.

Topics Covered

  • What is mirin?
  • Is mirin gluten-free?
  • Does it need to be refrigerated?
  • What is a good substitute for mirin?
  • Where can I buy it?
Ohsawa Genuine375ml Ohsawa Genuine Mirin – 100% organic ingredients – sweet rice, rice koji, sea salt and distilled rice wine.
Clearspring Organic Mikawa150ml Clearspring Organic Mikawa Mirin – 100% organic ingredients – sweet rice, cultured rice, and water.
Kikkoman Kotterin Mirin3x 300ml bottles of Kikkoman Kotterin Mirin – Not organic – Corn syrup, water, fermented rice, vinegar, various flavorings, and sodium benzoate.

What is mirin?

Mirin is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking and is similar to sake. It’s responsible for that umami flavor that Japanese dishes are so famous for and pairs exceptionally well with soy sauce. The only problem is that it is not as healthy as cooking sake because it has higher sugar content and lower alcohol content.

The key ingredients are steamed glutinous rice mixed in with cultured rice, which is then fermented over two months with a popular Japanese alcohol beverage named shochu.

Interestingly, it was first created and used as a luxurious alcoholic beverage during the Japanese civil war (1467 – 1603). The beverage is naturally sweet and eventually, regular sugar became harder and harder to find during the war period. So, as a sugar substitute, the Japanese started cooking with mirin. It’s a custom that is hundreds of years old and continues to this day.

Is mirin gluten-free?

Each brand is different – so some will be gluten-free and others not. The best thing to do if the label doesn’t state whether it contains gluten is to check the ingredients list to see if there is any wheat in or to check the manufacturer’s website.

However, true mirin (hon-mirin) will always be gluten-free because it contains nothing other than fermented sweet rice and alcohol which is a byproduct of the fermentation process.

Does it need to be refrigerated?

There is no harm in keeping it refrigerated. Also, storing it in your pantry or a cupboard is perfectly fine too, as long as the temperature is not excessively hot.

What is a good substitute for mirin?

Sometimes mirin, or at least the gluten-free variety, will be unavailable to us for whatever reason. The good news is that there are various other substitutes you can use.

Dry sherry, drinking sake, or even sweet marsala wine are good alternatives. Also, mixing 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar with 1/2 a cup of dry white wine will get the job done.

Where can I buy it?

Most major grocers may or may not stock it – so it all depends. Your best bet is to visit your nearest Asian grocer as they are guaranteed to have it. Alternatively, check online.

Related Content

As mentioned, cooking sake and regular drinking sake are both good substitutes.

Get a long list of cooking recipes that makes use of mirin at bonappetit.com.