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Some mass-produced brands have more corn syrup and other sweeteners in them; they’re sometimes labeled aji-mirin, which roughly translates as “tastes like mirin.”

What is it?

Mirin is a sweet golden-yellow low-alcohol wine used in Japanese cooking as a sweetener. It’s more refined and mellower than table sugar and has a distinctive fragrance. When used in a basting sauce, mirin gives meats and fish an appealing gloss. In a marinade, mirin tenderizes, in addition to providing flavor.

Mirin was once drunk as an apéritif, just as the Spanish sip sherry. This was back when mirin was made artisanally with authentic ingredients, including glutinous rice. Today, most mirin is made from other starches and is mass-produced, making it unsuitable for drinking straight.

Don’t have it?

A substitute for mirin is 1 Tbs. sake or white wine plus 2 tsp. sugar. Sake is another kind of
rice wine made for drinking; it’s not as sweet as mirin and has a higher alcohol content. if you’re looking for a substitute for mirin, a sweet sherry might be a better bet.

How to choose:

The best mirin may be labeled hon-mirin: honjozo (which means “true mirin: naturally brewed”). Even though this isn’t “real” mirin in the artisanal sense, it does retain some of the traditional processing steps. Lower quality mirin is sold under the name mirin-fu chomiryo (“a kind of mirin”) and aji-mirin (“mirin taste”). Mirin is usually available in the Asian foods section of well-stocked supermarkets, but you’ll find the best selection at a specialty market.

How to store:

Refrigerated, mirin will retain its flavor for two months.

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