Are you interested in adding mirin to your pantry or off-grid camping ingredient choices for delicious recipes like homemade teriyaki sauce? Need to know how long it lasts? Does it mirin need to be refrigerated?
In short, mirin does not need to be refrigerated when stored. Like all fortified alcoholic beverages, the flavor gradually deteriorates over time, but you can use it as long as it tastes acceptable. It’s best within a few months of opening.
Introduction to mirin
Mirin is a sweet type of rice wine that has been used in Japanese cuisine for centuries. This popular ingredient has a subtle sweetness and umami flavor, making it the perfect accompaniment to many dishes. The word “mirin” literally means “sweet sake” in Japanese, and it is made from glutinous rice fermented in distilled alcohol. Mirin adds an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity to sauces, soups, stews, marinades, dressings and more. When stored properly, mirin can last for years before losing its flavor profile.
Mirin availability in the US
Finding mirin in the United States is more challenging than finding fortified wines from Europe. Like European cooking wines, the highest quality mirin is only available in stores that have a license to sell alcohol.
The mirin you find in grocery stores always includes additives like salt which allow it to be sold as food without an alcohol license. In fact, most of what you find in American grocery stores is not true mirin, but mirin-like seasoning. Look in the Asian food section where you find soy sauce. These Mirin’s availability depends on your location, and some of the local stores in Texas don’t carry it at all.
Your best chance of finding a good selection of mirin will be to shop at Asian grocery stores, specifically at a Japanese specialty store if you can find one. Look for an online store to find a better selection of different types of mirin.
Types of mirin
Hon-mirin translates into “true mirin” and is a sweet wine which the Japanese sometimes drink. As an alocholic beverage (which is not popular in the US), hon mirin is difficult to find and likely expensive. Hon-mirin is somewhat similar to sake, but it has less alcohol and a higher sugar content. It’s subtle sweetness comes from the fermentation process and there should be no added sugar or corn syurp on the ingredient list.
Shio-mirin translates as “salt mirin” is brewed mirin with added salt to qualify it as a cooking wine for sale grocery stores. This variety is easier to find in stores.
Aji-mirin translates to “tastes like mirin” and is essentially a mix of sugar (including glucose syurp), rice, alcohol, and salt, combined to provide a similar flavor to pure mirin for cooking. These blends are common for Japanese cooking (even in Japan) due to low cost and availability. Aji mirin typically has a lower alcohol content than brewed mirin varieties.
There are also a number of Japanese phrases for a mirin-like condiment or fake mirin but you won’t find them on labels in the United States.
Check the ingredients
My bottle of Kikoman Aji Mirin follows Japanese labels, but many bottles in the US forgo these terms and labels are based on American standards (and most of us can’t read the Japanese characters for extra clarification). Your best bet is to take a closer look at the ingredients to see what you are getting. Here is a label from a bottle of “Organic Genuine Mirin Sweet Rice Seasoning”. Despite the Americanized name, it has the key ingredient (rice koji) of brewed mirin and no added sugar. The sea salt makes it undrinkable and is intended for use as a cooking wine.
How to store Mirin
Keep bottles of mirin unopened until you are ready to use them. Store them in a cool dark place, out of direct sunlight. In the original bottle, mirin basically has an indefinite shelf life. After you open the bottle, be sure to seal the cap tightly after each use – oxygen is your enemy and will slowly turn the alcohol to vinegar.
Substitution for mirin
If you are unable to find quality mirin or don’t have any on hand, you can substitute a combination of sake and sugar. Use 1 teaspoon of sugar for each cup of sake, and heat the combination to dissolve the sugar. Reducing the sake will give you a thicker consistency for some uses like glazes.
In a pinch you can also a different cooking wine like sweet marsala wine or sherry – just realize these have a very different flavor and will change the recipe quite a bit.
Cooking with mirin
Mirin is widely used in Japanese cooking, especially to make sauces and glazes such as teriyaki sauce. This is where I discovered it and it’s the secret ingredient in my homemade teriyaki sauce which I use all the time for stir-frying. It can also be used for marinades (especially for fish), dipping sauces, and soups. Mirin adds a sweet touch to dishes like fried rice or noodle dishes but can also be added to braises like beef or pork.
I’ll be posting my own recipes, but until then check out some recipes from bon appetit to give you a few ideas.
Common questions – Quick Answers
Cooking Wines: How to store Marsala & Sherry for Long Life
Also check out our other articles on food storage