There are plenty of mirin substitutes, that make it hard to justify extra space in your pantry.
Especially if you only cook Japanese food occasionally like I do.
What is Mirin?
It’s a Japanese sauce used to add sweetness to dishes. Mirin is rarely used on it’s own.
Similar to Cooking Sake, it’s fermented from rice, however the fermentation is stopped earlier in the process so Mirin is significantly sweeter. It’s usually about 40% sugar.
And it contains less alcohol. Most mirin also contains salt.
Here are my favourite substitutes…
Best Mirin Substitutes
(in order of preference)
1. Sake + Sugar or Honey
The closest substitute is to add sugar to drinking or cooking sake.
Given mirin is about 40% sugar, use 2 parts sake to 1 part sugar or honey.
For example 2 tablespoons sake + 1 tablespoon sugar or honey.
Sugar will give a closer flavour match. But honey is easier because you won’t have to dissolve the sugar crystals.
If you prefer to keep your sugar intake low, just substitute sake on its own. Unless a recipe is using a lot of mirin, you probably won’t notice the difference.
3. Shao Xing Cooking Wine
Chinese Rice Wine also called Shao Xing Cooking Wine is essentially the Chinese version of Japanese sake. So you can either substitute with or without sugar as per the sake suggestion above.
4. Sweet Sherry
Sherry is made from grapes, not rice. However the flavour profile of sweet sherry is similar enough to mirin to make it an excellent substitute. Although sherry generally isn’t as sweet as mirin.
If you only have dry sherry in the house, it could be used. If using dry sherry consider adding sugar in the same ratio as noted above for sake.
While it won’t provide any of the sweetness, flavour or mild acidity that you get from sake, water is a liquid. And mirin is a liquid so at least water will substitute that function.
If you need to keep your dish alcohol-free, water would be my go-to.
You could also consider adding some sugar or honey in a similar ratio to the sake substitute above.
Commercial kombuchas aren’t as sweet as mirin. And only contain trace amounts of alcohol. But they do have some acidity and a plain kombucha or one flavoured with ginger can be lovely. If you like your sweetness, consider adding sugar / honey in a similar ration to sake.
Don’t use komuchcha with strong fruity flavours that may clash with your delicate Japanese dish.
Whats the difference between Cooking Sake and Mirin?
Both are beverages made from fermented rice but sake is fermented for longer so there is more alcohol and less sweetness. Mirin also contains salt.
For more details on the different types of Mirin see this excellent article.
More Ingredient Substitutes
Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.
Have fun in the kitchen!