What Is Mirin? Tips for Using It in the Kitchen

Mirin is used in sauces for tofu and veggies.

While browsing Japanese recipes, you might have wondered what is mirin? Mirin is a Japanese wine that is most commonly used in cooking. The flavor is quite sweet, which provides a nice contrast in combination with other Asian sauces such as soy sauce. Mirin is a versatile ingredient for all kinds of Japanese dishes.

What is Mirin Made Of

Mirin is comprised of Japanese rice wine, rice yeast, and alcohol. There are three varieties of mirin available that contain varying amounts of alcohol, from 20 percent all the way down to only 1 percent. Fermenting the wine with yeast gives it a longer shelf life and brings out the sweet flavor.

Mirin is light gold in color. Originally it was a very thin liquid, but is now thickened to make it more suitable for culinary uses.

History of Mirin

The Japanese have used mirin for centuries. It started out as a standalone drink, consumed in small cups like those used for sake because if its strong flavor. Eventually, it was discovered that the sweet rice wine was an excellent addition to sauces and cooked dishes, and today this is how mirin is usually used.

Mirin has become available in ethnic markets and grocery stores worldwide, and is sold under many brand names. Cost and quality can vary a great deal, so it's best to try a few different brands until you find the one you prefer. Mirin is sold in bottles, and can usually be found with other Asian cooking ingredients like soy sauce and miso.

How to Use Mirin in Cooking and Food Preparation

What is mirin used for in cooking? Mirin is extremely versatile, and because most of the alcohol burns off while cooking, is appropriate for many different diets, including vegan and vegetarian. When adding mirin to your recipes, a little goes a long way. Add the mirin just a little at a time until you get the flavor you want.


Mirin is an essential ingredient in teriyaki sauce, because of its sweetness and tendency to create a shiny glaze when heated. Authentic Japanese teriyaki sauce is made up of equal parts mirin and soy sauce, with a little added sugar. The sauce can then be used to flavor all kinds of dishes, from vegetables to fish.

Other Uses

There are several stir fry and grilling sauces that use mirin as a key ingredient. Combined with equal parts miso and water, mirin creates a tasty glaze for a vegetable and tofu stir fry. You can also use mirin in dishes such as:

  • Asian vegetable slaw
  • Tempura battered veggies
  • Miso soup
  • Steamed or boiled vegetables and rice (add a tablespoon or two of mirin to the water used for steaming or boiling)
  • Salad dressings
  • Sushi and sushi dipping sauces
  • Poached fruit
  • Glazes for sweet desserts
  • Broths for noodle-based dishes
  • Tofu marinades

In the case of marinades, the nice thing about mirin is that it will not break down the consistency of tofu, like some other wine-based liquids can.

Mirin Substitutes

If you can't find mirin, don't want to use any alcohol in your cooking, or simply don't have any on hand, there are a few substitutes that you can try in your recipes. None of these will give you the exact flavor that mirin imparts, but they are certainly reasonable alternatives. Remember that the key quality of mirin is its sweetness, so make sure you add sugar, honey, or other sweetener to get the most from your chosen substitute.

  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Apple juice
  • Cooking wine or sherry
  • Mix three parts sake with one part sugar, and simmer until the sugar is dissolved

Mirin Recipes

Armed with all of this knowledge about mirin, it's time to try your hand at cooking with it! Here are some tasty and simple vegetarian recipes using mirin as the star ingredient.

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What Is Mirin? Tips for Using It in the Kitchen