Japanese cuisine is world renowned for its balanced, umami-enhancing flavors. One important ingredient used to elevate the taste of Japanese food is mirin (みりん). Here’s a guide to mirin and a special kind called nikiri mirin.
What is mirin?
Mirin is a type of Japanese sweet rice wine that’s used as a condiment or seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It’s made from a mixture of glutinous rice, koji (fermented rice) and shochu (distilled alcohol from sweet potatoes). Although it’s a type of rice wine, mirin is different from sake and other rice wines because of the specific ingredients, techniques used in its production and its lower alcohol content.
Mirin boasts a subtle balance of sweetness and saltiness derived from the slow fermentation process. High quality mirin does not contain additives yet helps to create umami from the ingredients it's paired with. Because of its sugar content, mirin also has a light golden, glossy color which adds an appetizing shine to dishes.
What are the types of mirin?
Hon mirin (本みりん)
This “true” mirin is a top quality mirin that comes with a higher alcohol content (over 14%). High quality natural ingredients are used and the fermentation process takes a few months. No additives such as salt or sugar are included. Hon mirin is known for its clean and elegant flavors. Given it's considered an alcohol, you can usually only find hon mirin in specialty shops and they usually cost more than other types of mirin.
Given the difficulty in finding hon mirin, you're more likely to find a range of "mirin-like" products such aji mirin, shin mirin, or mirin fu. These products recreate the flavors of mirin with modifications to the ingredients and processing techniques. These mirin substitutes usually contain no or low alcohol content and include additives such as sugar and salt. You can improvise at home if you don’t have mirin by using cooking sake or adding sugar to sake.
Nikiri mirin (煮切りみりん)
Nikiri mirin offers the best of both worlds. It's equivalent to hon mirin in quality and preparation but contains no alcohol. Nikiri means “to boil” and this special type of mirin is made by gently boiling hon mirin to evaporate the alcohol. As a result, nikiri mirin contains no alcohol yet preserves the complex and deep flavor profiles of hon mirin.
If you are looking for high quality mirin without alcohol, nikiri mirin is a unique solution as it has the high quality of hon mirin and produces more refined flavors than mirin-like substitutes. In addition to enhancing the taste and shine of a dish, it can also be used as an alternative to sugar or sweet sauces.
Interested in experimenting with nikiri mirin? Try our nikiri mirin from Aichi Prefecture. To make their nikiri mirin, our producer, Kankyo Shuzo, starts with domestic glutinous rice which is steamed for almost an hour before being cooled and mixed with rice koji and Kankyo Shuzo’s own kasutori shochu (a rare, traditional type of distilled spirit). It’s then naturally fermented for about 2 months before being boiled and filtered. The resulting mirin is sweet with a strong flavor and clean aftertaste (in fact, the company’s name originates from “Make mirin with a strong sweetness and taste!”).
Kankyo Shuzu’s history dates back to 1862 with some of their buildings now being recognized as tangible cultural properties. Using old-fashioned techniques, they produce a variety of fermented foods such as mirin, sake and amazake.
About the author:
Wendy writes about her travel experiences to escape from her city life in Singapore. Her content creator’s journey started when she had the opportunity to live and teach in Okinawa and circumvent the world with Peace Boat. A compulsive-obsessive traveler and culture enthusiast, she believes that when we know more, we travel better. Or in true foodie spirit, when we eat more, we travel better.
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