Best Substitutes for Mirin

Cooking with mirin

Michelle Lee Photography / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

In Japanese cuisine, food is a sensory experience, even in the simplest dishes. Mirin is a key ingredient in Japanese cooking, adding a sweet tangy flavor to teriyaki dishes, miso soup, and stir-fries. The sweet rice wine is similar to sake but with a sweeter taste and a lower alcohol content.

Though many chefs consider mirin a staple kitchen item, it may not be in your pantry. If you are making chicken teriyaki or trying a new udon stir fry and your recipe calls for mirin, you may be wondering what to do if you do not have or cannot find any of this cooking wine.

Although mirin certainly adds an extra layer of flavor to your dish, if you are out, you still have options. There are even nonalcoholic alternatives if you prefer cooking without alcohol.

What is Mirin?

Mirin is a type of rice wine, similar to sake but a little sweeter and with less alcohol. It is made from glutinous rice—sticky rice, distilled alcohol, and koji-cultured rice. Koji, scientifically known as Aspergillus oryzae, is a starch-eating fungus common in Asian cuisine. The fermenting fungus is used to make alcohol, vinegar, miso, and soy sauce.

The Japanese cooking wine may be sweet, but it is a staple ingredient because it also has that mouthwatering umami flavor. Umami is the savory or meaty taste in foods like broth, meat, and cheese.

Traditional Japanese mirin is known as hon mirin. This type of sweet rice cooking wine has an alcohol content of 14%. However, you can find mirin that has a similar flavor, but significantly less alcohol at 1.5%. 

Mirin is one of the main ingredients in teriyaki dishes. The sweet flavor of the wine helps balance the salty flavor from the soy and tamari sauce. It is also added to a broth used for simmering vegetables and fish.

Mirin Nutrition Facts 

You can find all types of mirin at the grocery store. Read the ingredients list to find a brand that contains the traditional ingredients in the Japanese sweet cooking wine, including rice and koji.

Nutrition information for a 15-milliliter serving of a traditional mirin rice cooking wine comes from the USDA.

  • Calories: 25
  • Fat: 0
  • Sodium: 130mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7g
  • Fiber: 0
  • Sugar: 4g
  • Protein: 0

Other brands of mirin may have added sugars like high fructose corn syrup. The mirin with added sugar has more calories than the traditional Japanese cooking wine, but less sodium. Eating too many foods with added sugar makes it harder to follow a balanced diet without consuming more calories than you need.

Why Substitute for Mirin?

Mirin is a key ingredient in Japanese cooking and an item you can find in most grocery stores. However, there are many reasons you may be searching for a substitute for this popular cooking wine.

One of the most obvious reasons is that you don’t have mirin in your kitchen or it’s not available at your local grocery store. Mirin also can be an expensive ingredient that some might not want to purchase if they won't use it often or if they are unfamiliar with it. Either way, you may need a quick substitute so you can get dinner on the table and not have to order take-out.

You may also be searching for a substitute for mirin if you prefer to cook without alcohol. Though the alcohol content in mirin varies, if you need to avoid all alcohol, you may prefer using a nonalcoholic substitute. 

Cooking eliminates a lot of alcohol in ingredients like mirin, but not all of it. Factors like cooking method, cooking time, and the other ingredients in your recipe affect how much alcohol remains in your dish when you serve it.

Food allergies may also have you searching for a substitute for mirin. The brand sold at your grocery store may have a label noting it contains your food allergen or it's made in a facility that uses your food allergen.

Best Substitutes for Mirin

Whether you’ve run out or you can’t use mirin, you have many options that closely mimic the sweet, umami flavors found in the Japanese cooking wine. Here’s a list of a few of the best substitutes for mirin. 

Rice Wine Vinegar

Rice wine vinegar is fermented rice wine and makes a good nonalcoholic substitute for mirin. However, this vinegar is more sour than sweet. When substituting rice wine vinegar for mirin, add 1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar plus 1/2 teaspoon of sugar for every 1 teaspoon of mirin.

According to the nutrition information from the USDA, rice wine vinegar has no calories or other nutrients like sodium. However, the sugar has 8 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 2 grams of sugar per 1/2-teaspoon. Compared to mirin, rice wine vinegar, even with the added sugar, saves calories and carbs. 

Sake

If you want to create the most authentic taste without mirin and alcohol is not an issue, then sake makes the best substitute. Like mirin, sake is made from rice and koji and has a similar taste as the cooking wine.

However, it’s not as sweet. Use 1 teaspoon of sake plus 1/2 teaspoon of sugar for every 1 teaspoon of mirin. 

White Wine Vinegar

If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar makes the next best option. However, to offset the sour taste you need to add a small amount of sugar when using white wine vinegar in place of mirin. For every 1 teaspoon of mirin use 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. 

Any vinegar you have on hand may serve as a good substitute for mirin, including white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. When using vinegar in place of mirin, be sure to add a small amount of sugar or fruit juice to balance the flavors.

A Word From Verywell

When you are looking for a substitute for mirin, you have a number of options. Whether you use a form of vinegar like red wine vinegar or white vinegar, they can be substituted in a pinch. If you are looking for a more Japanese flavor, you may want to opt for sake. No matter what you choose, you may have to experiment with your recipe slightly until you get the flavor you are looking for.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of New England. Fact sheet: Food and culture in Japan.

  2. One Green Planet. Ingredient spotlight: Mirin, a sweet, umami rice wine that’s an essential in Japanese cuisine.

  3. Nordic Food Lab. Koji — history and process.

  4. Colorado State University. Physiology of taste.

  5. USDA, FoodData Central. Eden, mirin rice cooking wine.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Know your limit for added sugars.

  7. Snitkjær P, Ryapushkina J, Skovenborg E, et al. Fate of ethanol during cooking of liquid foods prepared with alcoholic beverages: Theory and experimental studies. Food Chemistry. 2017;230:234-240. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.03.034

  8. Food and Drug Administration. Food labeling: Food allergies.

  9. USDA, FoodData Central. Rice wine vinegar.

  10. National Research Institute of Brewing. The story of sake.

Additional Reading