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Mirin vs Sake

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So we've posted a few recipes which use mirin and/or sake. If you're Japanese, or a Japanese food enthusiast, you'll know what they are and how much they enhance a dish. Otherwise, have a read. 

Mirin (味醂)

In medieval Japan, mirin started out as popular sweet liqueur, and due to it's natural sugars, mirin was incorporated in many of their dishes. Today, it's an essential Japanese cooking ingredient.

Hon (true) mirin is a form of rice wine but with lower alcohol content (14%) than drinking sake (20%). Hon mirin is made by natural fermentation of glutinous rice (mochi-gome), rice yeast (kome-koji) and shochu (a vodka like spirit) for about 2 months. When shochu is added halfway through the process, it stops the fermentation and then helps convert the complex carbohydrates to sugar, thus creating a naturally sweet product. Mirin actually contains about 40%-50% sugar.

A variation is shio mirin, that is, salt added mirin. Another is shin mirin or mirin-fu chomiryo which are mirin like seasoning condiments having much less alcohol content, less than 1%. The usual ingredients are corn or glucose syrup, rice, alcohol and water. These types of mirin are cheaper to produce as they attract lower alcohol taxes. 

Sake (酒) or Ryorishu (料理酒)

Sake is a famous and popular Japanese drinking alcohol, it has a strong taste but people enjoy the delicate aroma and refined flavours of the rice. It's made by fermenting polished rice with koji mold and has a alcohol content of 18-20%. The brewing process is more similar to beer than wine.There are many types of sake, and just like wine in western cooking, choose a sake you would drink for your cooking needs.

Cooking sake or ryorishu is made especially for cooking. Most cooking sake have salt added, which is fine for cooking where salt is required. There are cooking sakes available where the alcohol content is lesser, about 14%, but with no added salt. Ryorishu won’t have the refined taste for drinking, but good quality ones have a bigger and complex taste that can stand up to cooking and other ingredients like sugar and soy sauce.

Mirin or Sake?

Both mirin and sake assist in reducing strong smells in fish or meat and help other ingredients sink into the protein. They also enhance the flavours of the other ingredients in the dish, and impart their own flavour and aroma.

Mirin is the sweet element in Japanese cooking, it adds a natural sweetness and a nice sheen to dishes and glazes. It is used to balance the salty flavours of soy and miso.

Sake is used if you do not need extra sweetness in the dish, you would use mirin or a combination of mirin and sake for added sweetness and to balance the flavours of your dish. 



Takara Organic Hon Mirin
Traditionally brewed. Nothing added.

Takara Hon Mirin
Traditionally brewed. Bit of sugar.

Takara Cooking Sake
14% Alcohol. No added salt.

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