Mirin has become a popular ingredient in the West as fans of Japanese food attempt to replicate some of their favorite dishes at home. Mirin may not be easy to find everywhere, especially if you need to find it in a hurry. Here is a look at some of the best mirin substitutes:
Your best bet: Sake
Sake is the perfect mirin substitute even though it is usually used for drinking rather than for cooking. Like mirin, sake is a rice wine and it has a similar effect on food. For example, it can take away the fishy smell if you use it as a marinade for seafood and it can tenderize meats.
Also, you can use it to enhance the umami flavor that is so important in Japanese cooking. Some experts consider sake to be superior to mirin when it comes to bringing out the flavors and aromas of certain foods.
The downsides of sake are that it doesn’t have the same sweetness as mirin and it has more alcohol. Add a sweetener to get a more mirin-like flavor. The alcohol is usually not a problem in cooked dishes since most of it evaporates.
A decent second choice: Sherry
Sherry is a popular cooking wine made from grapes grown in Spain. It is usually classified as either dry or sweet with the sweet being a closer match for mirin.
One of the factors that make sherry such a good substitute is its alcohol content, which is around 15 percent. Mirin’s alcohol content is typically 14 percent, so the two are almost identical in that respect. Cooking will significantly reduce the alcohol in sherry so minor differences are virtually undetectable in a finished dish. Like Mirin, dry sherry has a little tartness that can bring a little acidity to your recipe.
If you need to make your dry sherry’s flavor profile a little more similar to that of mirin in terms of sweetness, you can add a small amount of sugar. You will want to enhance the salty part of the flavor profile as well by adding a pinch of salt.
Sherry cooking wine can work as well, though its alcohol content is typically a little higher than that of dry or sweet sherry.
You can use sherry as a substitute for mirin in any dish, but it works best in ones that contain cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. The reason is that these vegetables are often bitter and that bitterness can hide the slight differences in flavor between mirin and sherry.
In a pinch: Marsala
Marsala is from Sicily and is a wine that has been fortified with brandy. It is often used for cooking. As with Sherry, there are two types of marsala: dry and sweet. Sweet Marsala is the better option when trying to replace mirin. If you are using the dry variety, you will need to add sugar or another kind of sweetener.
A rice-based alternative that will give your food a little acidity just like mirin, rice wine vinegar is great in dipping sauces and dressings. It is alcohol-free, which may be a problem if you need to make certain dishes and you will need to add a little sugar to balance its tartness.
Distilled white vinegar is arguably the easiest to find of all the mirin substitutes, but it is also the blandest. What it will give you is a mild acidity that can replace the tightness of mirin. However, you will need to add a little sugar to cut through some of its sourness.