Both Sake and Mirin are typical staples in Japanese cooking pantry. Sake, with its complex flavor profile can be used for drinking as well as cooking whereas mirin is used only for cooking. Each contains alcohol and sugar, sake having the higher alcohol with lower sugar content and mirin the opposite. Both add umami and complexity to a dish when used for cooking.
If you find yourself in the predicament of having no sake or mirin for your Japanese recipe, there are alternatives available for you to use as substitutions. Rice vinegar, dry sherry, vermouth, white grape juice, white wine, or balsamic vinegar are all possible replacements for cooking with sake or mirin.
What Can Be Used in Place of Sake or Mirin?
You should consider what type of recipe you are preparing when pondering a replacement for sake or mirin. Mirin is the naturally sweeter option of the two so consider the desired flavor profile you want to achieve as your result.
1. Rice Vinegar
Rice vinegar has a mild flavor, is an alcohol-free option, and is similar to sake as both are made from fermented rice. It is a bit sour so adding a little sugar or sweetener of choice to balance it out is a good option when you are using rice vinegar as a substitute for mirin. It is gluten-free and less acidic than apple cider vinegar.
2. Dry Sherry
Dry sherry is a combination of dry wine and brandy and can substitute for mirin as it has similar acidity. It does lack in sweetness so some sugar or sweetener should be added to achieve a more mirin-like flavor profile. You will not be able to achieve umami flavor with sherry so consider this when choosing a substitute.
Vermouth is a wine that is fortified with brandy and is flavored or infused with aromatics. You can find sweet and dry options that are each good for cooking but dry vermouth would be the better option when substituting for mirin or sake. As with the previous suggestions, adding some sugar or sweetener is recommended to mimic the sweetness of typical mirin.
4. White Grape Juice
Substituting white grape juice in place of mirin or sake is another alcohol-free choice. You will lose most of your umami flavor but achieve sweetness. Adding some lemon juice will help better replicate the flavor or mirin.
5. White Wine
Sake is somewhat similar to wine so it is only natural that other white wines can be suitable substitutions. It packs a punch at an ABV of 14% so choosing a white wine with a higher alcohol content will better mimic the sake flavor if that is a consideration for your recipe.
6. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is an aged Italian vinegar that is slightly thick and has a strong flavor. Its richness makes it a good substitute for mirin or sake. Reducing over low heat can increase its sweetness exponentially.
If you have no sake, mirin, or any of these other ingredients on hand you can just use water (if the sake or mirin is simply for volume or consistency) and adjust your seasonings accordingly. You will, however, miss out on some serious flavor addition to your dish.