Is mirin rice vinegar? No, here’s how to use each one properly

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 26, 2021

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If you have been interested in Japanese cooking, you’ve very likely come across mirin.

Mirin can be found in dishes like Japanese ramen and teriyaki dishes, but what is it? Is mirin the same as rice vinegar, and are they interchangeable? Let’s find out.

Is mirin rice vinegar? No, here's how to use each one properly

Mirin and rice vinegar share many similarities, and both are excellent when it comes to elevating the flavor of a dish. However, they are not the same, and one usually can’t (or shouldn’t) replace the other as it will change the whole flavor profile of your food.

There is a tangy bitterness to vinegar that mirin doesn’t have, and mirin is instead noticeably sweeter.

It is easy to get confused here due to the fact that rice vinegar has added sugar, something mirin does not, and still, mirin is sweeter tasting than rice vinegar.

To better understand the differences between the two, and why it can sometimes be a mistake to replace one with the other, we are going to have a look at both rice vinegar and mirin separately.

About rice vinegar

Fermented rice is used to make rice vinegar, and it is one of the most popular and frequently used vinegar types worldwide, even though it is more commonly found in Asian cuisine.

It is milder than other vinegar types and popular in sauces, salad dressings, and meat marinades.

It is unusual to use rice vinegar on its own as, for example, a salad dressing, and it is usually used as an ingredient in a recipe. It is commonly used as a base to make sushi vinegar.

There are occasions where you might use it on its own without anything added, but usually, rice vinegar will be mixed with soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, and similar.

It has a higher sugar content than mirin, but interestingly enough, it doesn’t taste as sweet. The tanginess might be the reason for this, and also for why it is rarely used on its own, like many other kinds of vinegar.

Different types of rice vinegar exist:

The different types have slightly different flavor profiles, with black rice vinegar being a little more smokey and mild than white and red rice vinegar.

Rice vinegar is usually gluten-free, but not always, so this is something you need to check if you are gluten intolerant. Find a list of the best rice vinegar substitutes here.

About mirin

Mirin gets its sweetness from the fermentation process, and it naturally contains approximately 45% sugar. It does not contain added sugar, like rice vinegar.

It shares some similarities with rice wine and sake and can be used on its own directly on a dish. The purpose is for it to bring out the natural flavors in the food, rather than to take over.

Here we can see a clear difference between rice vinegar and mirin – mirin can be used as a condiment while rice vinegar tends to always be used in cooking.

Sushi is a food that really pops when you add mirin to it. The sweetness of mirin helps bring out all the salty flavors of fish, rice, and seaweed, giving sushi an even fuller flavor profile than what you may be used to.

It does contain quite a bit of salt (a lot more salt than rice vinegar), which is something to be aware of.

While mirin is usually gluten-free, just like rice vinegar, there is a possibility that wheat or malt might have been added to it, something that would cause it to have gluten.

Different types of mirin are:

There are a few differences between these three, and the most “authentic” mirin would be hon mirin, with 14% alcohol.

Shio mirin is also very true to what mirin really is, but it contains less alcohol for someone who prefers it this way.

Another thing to note is that there are many products that are marketed as mirin out there – products that aren’t real mirin (often called aji mirin), so make sure you get a real product so that you don’t have to compromise on flavor, nor on the benefits of adding mirin to your food dishes.

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You will often see mirin used directly on meat, as a dipping sauce, or as a condiment in some form.

A fun fact is that you can even drink it, which you probably don’t want to do with rice vinegar. It is also a little bit thicker than rice vinegar and more syrup-like in its texture.

Conclusion

We can establish that rice vinegar and mirin are not the same, even though they are sometimes used in the same dishes.

They look similar, but rice vinegar tends to be used in sauce and other foods, while mirin can be used on its own. Both are great to have in your kitchen, but should not be used interchangeably.

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.