Aji mirin vs. hon mirin | They are not the same and it matters!

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 26, 2021

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If you are interested in Japanese cuisine, you probably have stumbled upon the word “mirin.” If you are wondering if aji mirin is different than the mirin a recipe calls for, you are in the right place.

Mirin is a rice wine that is used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Hon mirin is pure, authentic mirin. It does not have any additives and has a high alcohol content.

Aji mirin translates to “tastes like mirin” and is also known as a mirin-like condiment.

Aji mirin is artificially made to taste like real mirin. While it tastes very similar to authentic mirin, they have different ingredients. Aji mirin can be found at grocery stores and contains one percent or less alcohol.

Aji mirin vs. hon mirin | They are not the same and it matters!

There are more than these two types of mirin, but this article discusses both aji mirin and hon mirin and the differences between them.

How is mirin made?

To make mirin, you combine steamed glutinous rice, koji (cultured rice), and a distilled rice liquor (shochu). Then you leave it to ferment for at least two months.

The shochu in the mix forms complex proteins, and the enzymes in the koji decompose the glutinous rice into glucose, sugars, and amino acids. This is what gives it that sweet taste.

You can make your own mirin at home by combining sugar and sake. Heat up the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved, then set aside to cool.

Aji mirin is made with corn syrup, water, fermented rice seasoning, sodium benzoate, and vinegar. It is not made the same way as hon mirin.

Also read: Drinkable vs cooking sake vs mirin: how to know which to use

What is aji mirin?

Aji mirin is synthetic mirin (not really mirin at all) that is sold at grocery stores around the world. It is more commercially produced than hon mirin and is found almost anywhere.

It is the cheapest type of mirin, and Japanese people will say it tastes like chemicals.

Aji mirin is made to taste like hon mirin, but they have different ingredients and are made differently. Aji mirin usually has added sugar, corn syrup, and salt.

Aji mirin is also known as mirin-fu chomiryo, or a mirin-like seasoning, and shio mirin, which means new mirin. These kinds of mirin are so artificial that they are basically mirin-flavored corn syrup.

Aji mirin is an adequate substitute for hon mirin. That is because it is made to resemble hon mirin.

Aji mirin has a lower alcohol percentage than hon mirin, so it can be a better choice if you don’t like cooking with high amounts of alcohol. (Alcohol is flammable. Cooking with flammable ingredients can be dangerous!)

What is hon mirin?

Hon mirin is the real deal. Hon mirin should only contain glutinous rice, koji, and shochu. If it has other ingredients, it is not hon mirin.

To purchase true hon mirin, you must buy it online. Most grocery stores do not carry hon mirin.

The only way to get hon mirin at a store is to go to an authentic Asian cuisine grocery store (unless you live in Japan). Otherwise, your best bet is to buy it online.

I like this one from Ohsawa, that as a bonus also uses only organic ingredients.

Hon mirin has an alcohol content between 10 and 14%, meaning it is technically drinkable as an alcoholic beverage. Aji mirin is not drinkable because of the added ingredients.

Also read: supply, tax and quality all go into the price of mirin

Will using aji mirin instead of hon mirin affect the flavor of the food?

Yes, using aji mirin instead of hon mirin can affect the taste of your food. Hon mirin is better at taking away the fishy smell in seafood, which helps enhance the taste.

The short answer is that aji mirin is a sweetened, synthetic version of hon mirin. It has different aromas and properties than authentic mirin.

Even though it is cheaper and easier to get, it may not be the best choice for a recipe that calls for mirin.

Why is hon mirin better?

Hon mirin does not have added sugar, corn syrup, or salt, making it the healthier option. The sugar in hon mirin is all-natural sugar.

Also, hon mirin has a higher alcohol content. The alcohol in cooking wines helps reduce fishy or other peculiar odors in food like the gaminess of meat.

That’s why mirin is often used in sushi and seafood. If you are looking to cover up a fishy smell or smells that come from canned food, hon mirin is the better option.

Hon mirin is much better for adding sweetness to a dish and adding complex new flavors as well, it embodies the true umami.

Why use aji mirin?

Since aji mirin has only one percent alcohol content, it can be safer to cook with, since it is not as flammable. (You should always be cautious when cooking with alcohol.)

Aji mirin is also more affordable and easier to get. If you don’t have time to order hon mirin online and wait for it to be shipped, you can use aji mirin. If the recipe doesn’t call for much mirin, aji mirin will work just fine.

Aji mirin is also much cheaper. If you want to try your hand at cooking Japanese dishes but you are on a budget, aji mirin is a much less expensive option.

Also read: How to use the unique flavor of mirin & 12 best substitutes if you don’t have it

How do I know which mirin I bought?

To know which type of mirin you bought, take a look at the ingredients. If there are only three ingredients (glutinous rice, koji, and shochu), it is authentic mirin, or hon mirin.

If the ingredients say high fructose corn syrup, water, fermented rice seasoning, sodium benzoate, and vinegar, you have aji mirin, or synthetic mirin.

Mirin is a great ingredient to add to almost any dish. While aji mirin is easier to get and more affordable, it is not true mirin.

It is not made with fermented rice, so it is not a rice wine like hon mirin. They add sugar and alcohol to aji mirin to make it taste similar to hon mirin.

Hon mirin is harder to get, but it is the real deal. For authentic Japanese dishes, always splurge for the hon mirin. It makes all the difference!

Read next: Japanese cooking ingredients (27 most used items in Japanese Cuisine)

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.