Image Map

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mirin (味醂)

Mirin is another essential in Japanese cooking, and part of any hapa's pantry. A sweet rice wine with a relatively low alcohol, mirin is sometimes with almost 50% sugar.  Mirin was first produced in the 16th century as a sweet drinking wine from a mixture of fermented rice grains. Nowadays it is much sweeter and thicker than what was first used for drinking.  I've taken a swig, and I can't imagine lingering over a glass of modern mirin. Today it is used exclusively for cooking.

Pale golden yellow, mirin is used to provide sheen and sweetness to seafood as well as remove the overt fishy odor.  It is essential in homemade teriyaki sauce, where its sweetness and sugar content make for a perfect glaze. A facsimile can be made with sugar and sake, which also gives you an idea of what it tastes like. Mirin can be confusing when it is labeled as "cooking sake" because in some dishes you use both sake and mirin.

If you have mirin at home, go grab it and look at the ingredient list. Chances are you don't have mirin at all, but mirin-fu chomiryo which means "mirin-like seasoning." The usual suspect's ingredient list: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, fermented rice seasoning, vinegar, and less than 1% of sodium benzoate as a preservative.

I'll pause to let you get your Munch on.

"Mirin style corn syrup"
But seriously, mirin-fu chomiryo or kotteri mirin is flavored corn syrup. The real kicker: even in the Japanese markets here it is hard to find real mirin, called hon mirin (本みりん). Why? Because of alcohol duty taxes for any alcohol imported into the United States. Mirin flavored corn syrup has less than 1% alcohol usually, and therefore does not have to pay the duty for import.

The aforementioned swig of hon mirin was countered with a swig of kotteri mirin. Dear god people. If you have ever wondered why your Japanese dish tastes artificially cloying or sweet, this is probably why.

Aji mirin (rice, water, corn syrup, alcohol, salt) is also made like kotteri mirin, with corn syrup, but it generally has a higher alcohol content. If you cannot find true mirin, definitely chose aji over kotteri or anything labeled "mirin seasoning."

What might frustrate you is that many mirin companies produce both real mirin and mirin flavored seasoning. Even more confusing is that some real mirin don't call themselves hon mirin, like Takara's mirin. Take a look at the alcohol level if the labeling is ambiguous.  Around 12% ABV and you are holding real mirin, but I've seen hon mirin from sake companies as low as 8% which is getting close to aji-mirin.

The best way to decide which is the read deal? Taste.

P.S. It is really hard to photograph mirin in a little bowl...

Recipes that use Mirin:
Chikuwa Teriyaki Donburi
Lazy Spam Donburi
Nasu Dengaku
Negima Nabe
Tamago-Toji Spam Donburi
Toshikoshi Soba
Tsukimi Ramen
Una-Tama Don 
Zaru Soba


  1. Thank you for this post, I was interested to learn the difference between kotteri and aji mirin. Kikkoman's is what is available by me. I will keep buyin aji unless I happen to come across hon. Does mirin have to be purchased or can it be made with sugar and sake?

  2. Sake and sugar would be sooooo much more expensive that's all I can say!