“Mirin” Sweet Rice Sake Beyond Seasoning
Last October, American food professionals visited fermented food producers to deepen their knowledge of Japanese fermentation culture during the “Hakko Tourism in Japan” tour campaign. As part of the tour, organizers held a tasting session where guests gave candid advice from the perspective of the American market to food product manufacturers looking to enter the United States market.
Mirin is a sweet rice wine used as a seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It has a mild flavor and slightly sweet taste that enhances the flavors of the food it is cooked with. Mirin can be found in most grocery stores, and it is easy to use. When most people think of mirin, they think of a sweet rice wine used as a seasoning in Japanese cuisine. But many people don’t know that mirin has a range of other uses – from being a natural tenderizer for meat to adding delicious flavor to cocktails. Mirin is generally made from fermenting several ingredients together: steamed sweet or glutinous rice, koji (malted rice used as a fermentation starter), and wine—typically sake (rice wine) or shochu, distilled rice wine. Mirin adds depth, shines to sauces and glazes, and balances out any gaminess or fishiness in meat or seafood. In general, the color of mirin is golden, though the exact shade can differ across brands. When poured, mirin has a slight syrupy thickness, but it is not nearly as heavy or sticky as maple syrup or honey.
Types of mirin
The ingredients are glutinous rice, rice malt, and shochu. It is made by combining steamed glutinous rice and rice malt, adding shochu, preparing it, pressing it, and storing and aging it for six months to a year (sometimes longer). The alcohol content is around 14 degrees. It has a mild, deep sweetness. It is classified as an alcoholic beverage under the Liquor Tax Law.
High-quality glutinous rice is used as the raw material and boiled in a Japanese kettle. Mirin is made by the traditional method of sugaring and aging mirin moromi (the softly solidified product with ingredients in the brewed liquid for making mirin) for an extended time after preparation. Mirin is made using Otsu shochu (rice shochu), the original mirin production method. The brewing and maturation period is relatively more extended than the industrial process.
This industrial method has been used since the end of World War II, in which the utilization of starch and protein is increased in a short period of time through processes such as pressurized steaming and high-temperature liquefaction. It uses Kou-type shochu, such as white liquor, instead of Otsu-type shochu. The brewing and aging period is relatively short, from 40 to 60 days.
Fermented seasoning mirin (Kashio mirin)
Where does the price difference come from?
The enzymes in the rice malt break down the glutinous rice’s starch and protein to produce glucose and amino acids, which give mirin its distinctive flavor. In other words, mirin is a seasoning made from glutinous rice extracted over a long time through the power of koji. Mirin-like seasonings” and “fermented seasonings” are similar to mirin but differ in both production methods and ingredients. I recommend hon-mirin. Compared to sugar, which has an intense sweetness, hon-mirin has a mild and elegant sweetness. This is due to the different types of sugar contained. Sugar mainly consists of sucrose, whereas hon-mirin primarily consists of sucrose and oligosaccharides. This gives it a mellow, complex sweetness and a richer flavor.
Hon-mirin as a better sweetener
The main components of mirin that contribute to its cooking effect are as follows.
- Sugars (glucose, isomaltose, oligosaccharides, etc.)
- Amino acids (glutamic acid, leucine, aspartic acid, etc.)
- Organic acids (lactic acid, citric acid, pyroglutamic acid, etc.)
- Aromatic ingredients (ethyl ferulic acid, ethyl phenylacetate, etc.)
Source: Knowledge of Hon Mirin
In addition to sugars, amino acids, organic acids, and aromatic ingredients, the alcohol used as a raw material have a pleasing effect on the food. The above ingredients are produced through saccharification and maturation in the presence of alcohol over a long period of time. According to “Bioscience, Biotechnology, Biochemistry,” Japanese researchers analyzed aroma compounds in mirin. Although only quantitatively major components of esters, acids, alcohols, and aldehydes had been identified and recognized as aroma components in mirin, they found that minor components might have low detection thresholds as the candidates of aroma-active components.
The sweetness of mirin is extremely mild, consisting mainly of glucose and various disaccharides, trisaccharides, and oligosaccharides such as isomaltose, nigerose, kojibiose, and maltose. Some of these sugars are both sweet and bitter, and their complex combination of tastes imparts a full-bodied taste to foods. Obviously, hon-mirin is a lower GI seasoning compared to mirin-like seasoning. As Maho Tanabe mentions, mirin is 15 on GI Index in her article “Enjoy Mirin in Sweets!”. This is 4.8 times lower than maple syrup, and you still feed your gut microbiome with long-fermented seasoning.
Scientifically speaking, hon-mirin is beyond seasoning. We learn and experience the complexity of sweetness, which needs to be researched, and we can use mirin as a better sweetener alternative. None of the “healthy sugar alternatives,” such as coconut sugar and raw honey, feeds our gut microbiome well, except hon-mirin. Mirin is a delicious, versatile ingredient in many dishes to enhance flavor. If you are looking for a way to add some extra flavor to your food, mirin is an excellent option. Hon mirin is the real deal Japanese seasoning made from fermenting several ingredients together. Try adding it to your next dish and see how it enhances the flavors of your food.
1. Kokonoe Mirin https://kokonoe.co.jp/
2. Knowledge of Mirin https://www.honmirin.org/knowledge/
3. Shu Kaneko, Kenji Kumazawa, Aroma compounds in Japanese sweet rice wine (Mirin)
screened by aroma extract dilution analysis (AEDA), Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, Volume 79, Issue 3, 4 March 2015, Pages 484–487, https://doi.org/ 10.1080/09168451.2014.980218
4. Fujiwara A, Okada E, Okada C, Matsumoto M, Takimoto H. Association of Free Sugars Intake with Cardiometabolic Risk Factors among Japanese Adults: The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey, Japan. Nutrients. 2020 Nov 25;12(12):3624. doi: 10.3390/ nu12123624. PMID: 33255814; PMCID: PMC7761430.
Tateki Matsuda is the founder of Biohacker Center Japan, holding degrees in Applied Nutrition and Sports Movement Science. As a Professional MMA fighter in the UFC and health consultant in Boston, he combines his expertise in biohacking, nutrition, and athletics to optimize performance and promote holistic wellness.