If you’ve ever tried to make udon noodles or tuna poke, you may have found yourself wondering over a strange ingredient you don’t find in your cabinet. Mirin--what is this? Can I skip it? While recipes often call for just a dash of Mirin, its effect is profound.
It confers a gentle sweetness, a slight tang, and a subtle umami flavor to dishes like ramen and teriyaki. It unlocks the underlying flavor palate associated with Japanese cuisine. While it may not be available on the shelf of every grocery store, several options work well as substitutes.
Below we've outlined a full guide to the best mirin substitutes. Take a look at the on-the-go reference table below.
Thick glazes, sauces, and marinades
Clear soups, pale meat, fish, vegetables
What is Mirin?
Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine with 10-14% alcohol and more sugar than sake. In fact, it's so sweet (about 40% sugar!) that it is sometimes used as a sugar substitute.
Made from an aged mash of malted rice, Mirin has a recognizable aroma characterized by a unique combination of 39 specific flavor-active compounds (1).
While no substitute can replicate this distinct flavor and aroma, several can bestow a similar character to a dish. For a suitable replacement, you need a combination of flavor complexity, alcohol, sweetness, and acidity.
1) Marsala wine
Marsala is a Sicilian brandy-fortified wine with a dark amber color and a nutty, caramelized aroma. It is reminiscent of stewed fruits and brown sugar.
Similarities: Marsala’s alcohol content is very similar to Mirin, but it is lower in sugar, at around 10-20%. Although it tastes different than Mirin, its taste profile includes many of the same umami, savory, sweet, and acidic elements, making it an excellent substitute.
Suggested Conversion: Substitute Marsala wine in a 1:1 ratio to Mirin. Marsala is less sweet than mirin, but in glazes and sauce recipes that already call for large amounts of sugar, the difference will be unimportant.
Flavor Notes: Nutty and complex; tartness of tamarind and stone fruits
Suggested Dishes: Glazes and dipping sauces
2) Dry sherry plus ½ tsp sugar per Tbsp
Sherry is a brandy-fortified Spanish wine made principally from the palomino grape. It has a briny, nutty character with notes of dried fruit.
Similarities: Like Mirin, this wine combines savory umami elements with a complex sweet character. However, it is much less sweet than Mirin and may require added sugar. Although sweet sherries exist, they are generally too mild to substitute for Mirin; dry sherry plus added sugar mimics its flavor more closely.
Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio, but add 1 tsp sugar per Tbsp of sherry or Mirin. If using the dry sherry in a glaze or sauce that contains sugar in the recipe, the additional ½ tsp per Tbsp will not be necessary.
Flavor Notes: Vegetal, pungent, dried fruit.
Suggested Dishes: Marinades and sauces
3) Dry white wine with ½ tsp sugar per Tbsp
White wine is made from grapes with the skins removed before crushing, giving it a pale color and a flavor low in puckering astringency. Many types exist; for this substitution, choose a still, dry, white such as a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Albarino.
Similarities: Light in color, with mild astringency and bright acidity, these wines make an excellent substitute for Mirin’s flavorsome punch.
Suggested Conversion: Use the wine in a 1:1 ratio and add 1/2 tsp of sugar per Tbsp.
Flavor Notes: Fruity, crisp, bright--flavors vary depending on the wine you choose.
Suggested Dishes: Clear broths and soup bases
4) Rice vinegar with ½ tsp sugar per Tbsp
Rice vinegar shares roots with Mirin, as it is also made from fermented rice. In this case, the sugars have turned to acid instead of alcohol, resulting in pale, mild-tasting vinegar.
Similarities: Despite sharing with Mirin the characteristic flavor of fermented rice, rice vinegar is higher in acid and lower in sugar, and it completely lacks alcohol.
Suggested Conversion: Substitute rice vinegar in a 1:1 ratio, but add ½ tsp sugar per Tbsp
Flavor Notes: Delicate with a pleasant malty sweetness; gentle acidity
Suggested Dishes: Fish, vegetables, clear soups
Frequently Asked Questions
Non-alcoholic Mirin Substitute?
Rice wine vinegar will offer the best substitute for non-alcoholic Mirin. However, any mild, light vinegar will do the trick (think white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar if necessary).
Use the same quantity of vinegar in your recipe as the amount of non-alcoholic Mirin it calls for, but add ½ tsp of sugar per Tablespoon of vinegar/Mirin.
You may have found yourself avoiding a number of healthy and flavorful meals because you lacked this simple workhorse ingredient. With the list of substitutes above, you are ready to dive into a whole new world of marinades, dipping sauces, and savory soups!
Leave a note below if you have any questions or comments!