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Mirin Vs. Rice Vinegar: Is There A Difference?

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, rice wine (mirin) and rice vinegar play an essential role in all kinds of dishes. Despite having the same base ingredient, though, they aren’t exactly the same thing, and it’s important to recognize the differences between the two ingredients so that you get the most out of your meal every time. Here’s the rundown on the qualities that separate rice vinegar and mirin.

What is Mirin?

Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine that has a similar taste to sake, but contains less alcohol and a higher sugar content. Mirin can be used in many different types of dishes, including dumplings, noodles, sashimi, tempura, ramen, and so much more. Mirin is made through fermentation, and contains a mixture of steamed glutinous rice,koji,and distilled rice liquor. The fermentation process can take anywhere between two months and several years. Mirin can be used as an alternative to sake, sherry, white wine, and/or vermouth.

 Mirin pouring onto a spoon.

There are three kinds of mirin: aji-mirin, hon-mirin, and shio-mirin. Aji-mirin has a lower alcohol content and a sweeter flavor, and is made with water, rice, salt, alcohol, and corn syrup. With 15% alcohol, hon-mirin is the most traditional kind of mirin, and is often referred to as “true mirin.” Lastly, shio-mirin is the saltiest of the three, while still maintaining its usual sweetness at the same time.

What is Rice Vinegar?

Rice vinegar is a type of vinegar that is made by fermenting rice in water to create alcohol. The fermentation process gives rice vinegar a salty, acidic taste, and has been known to give an extra sour-flavored punch to such things as sushi, stir-fry, sauce, marinade, and salad dressing. Rice vinegar can be used as a mirin substitute, but just be prepared that it has a more noticeably bitter taste than rice wine. You can also transform the flavor of rice vinegar to match the taste of mirin by adding 1 tablespoon of sugar to ½ teaspoon of the vinegar.

 A bottle of rice vinegar next to rice.

There are five kinds of rice vinegar – white rice vinegar, seasoned rice vinegar, brown rice vinegar, black rice vinegar, and red rice vinegar. White rice vinegar is the most common variation, while seasoned rice vinegar is best enjoyed with sushi rice. Brown rice vinegar, on the other hand, can be used interchangeably with white rice vinegar, black rice vinegar is often used as an umami dipping sauce, and red rice vinegar is made from rice that’s already been fermented, as well as other grains for an interesting sweet yet sour flavor.

Differences Between Mirin and Rice Vinegar

There are quite a few things that set rice wine and rice vinegar apart from one another, starting with alcohol content. As mentioned, mirin is a cooking wine that contains an alcohol content of between 8% and 15%, and because of this, mirin can be enjoyed on its own as a light alcoholic beverage. Conversely, rice vinegar has little to no alcohol left at the end of the fermentation process, and therefore shouldn’t be enjoyed on its own.

Speaking of the fermentation process, rice vinegar goes through a longer aging process than mirin, thus giving it an umami-type flavor. WIth less of an aging process, mirin is left with a much sweeter taste than its vinegar alternative. But what is probably the most key difference amongst them are their uses. If you like to sweeten up your grains, then mirin is the way to go. If you prefer to give your rice more zest, you’re going to want to pull out the rice vinegar and some seasoning. Plus, you can create your own teriyaki sauce with mirin and soy sauce, or use your rice vinegar as a pickling agent.

FAQs

Now that you’ve gotten the rundown on the two ingredients, you’re probably wondering where you can get them. Though mirin can be hard to find in stores in the U.S., you can stock up on rice wine– and rice vinegar!– supplies from the comfort of your own home, thanks to Bokksu Market! Bokksu Market is your one-stop shop for all your Asian groceries, from seasonings and sauces to condiments and noodles. Grocery shopping has never been easier!

 As for storage, you may store both your mirin and rice vinegar in a dark, cool place. Mirin can last up to three months, thanks to its alcoholic content.

Though it’s okay to use the ingredients interchangeably sometimes, if you only have one in your pantry, you might want to pick up a bottle of the other on your next trip to the grocery store just to have it on hand.

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