What Is Mirin? And Is It Alcoholic?

If you regularly cook Japanese recipes (or even Japanese-inspired recipes), then you’ve seen it on an ingredient list: mirin aka Japanese rice wine. But what is mirin—sauce? What is mirin used for? Is mirin alcoholic? Let’s mosey into mirin town and find out more!

What is mirin? Is mirin rice wine?

Mirin is a slightly sweet, Japanese rice wine with a translucent golden hue. It’s used as a sauce, a dip, and a glaze in Japanese style cooking. 

What is mirin made of?

Mirin is made of glutinous rice, cultured rice, and alcohol. Mirin is made by fermenting steamed mochi rice, fermented rice called koji, and shochu, a sweet potato-based alcohol, for between 40 and 60 days.

Is mirin gluten free?

Don’t get confused by that glutinous rice. In this case, glutinous doesn’t mean it contains gluten.  It refers to the sticky nature of the rice. Mirin is actually gluten free. 

Is mirin alcoholic?

Yep, that’s right, mirin is a rice wine, so traditional mirin is alcoholic; it’s around 14 percent alcohol by volume and is taxed as an alcohol in Japan. That type of mirin is called hon mirin or true mirin. In a lot of U.S. grocery stores you’ll find aji mirin, which means “tastes like mirin.” Aji mirin is closer to eight percent alcohol and contains added sweeteners.

Wait a second. Sake is also rice wine. So is mirin the same as sake? No, mirin is a little different from its rice wine cousin, sake. Mirin has less alcohol so it has more cooking applications. Sake is sometimes used in cooking, but always added early in the recipe so that the alcohol has more time to burn off. Mirin is also sweeter as it has a higher concentration of sugar.

Is mirin rice vinegar?

Some people also confuse mirin with rice vinegar. While both are fermented and used in Japanese cooking, they’re pretty different. Mirin is sweet and rice vinegar is sour. Also, rice vinegar contains no alcohol. 

What is mirin used for?

Mirin is a great glaze. With its high sugar content, it can be brushed onto anything then put on a grill for a nice crispy crust. You can make teriyaki sauce with mirin. You can mix it with soy sauce to make a dipping sauce. You can even steam foods with it for added flavor. 

Does mirin go bad? Does mirin need to be refrigerated?

If you still have any mirin left over after using it to cook a Japanese feast, make sure to store that bottle in the refrigerator. Mirin will go bad if it’s not stored properly. In the refrigerator, mirin should stay nice and fresh for a few months. Try not to get the condiment mirin confused with the actress Helen Mirren. Helen Mirren does not like being refrigerated.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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