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"Don't use mirin, use ****?"

Shopping one day we had mirin on our list for our prochef son who makes sushi. Couldn't find it and asked a sushi preparer. She said that we shouldn't use mirin at all. All it was was MSG and Japanese sushi makers don't use it. She named an alternative which I recognized at the time but now cannot recall (rice wine?).

What was it, do you suppose?

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  1. It's rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Some lower end places use that MSG powder instead. But I don't think a reputable place would use it.

    1. I think the most authentic way to prepare sushi rice is with rice vinegar, seasoned with sugar and salt. You can buy it preseasoned, or you can season plain rice vinegar to taste.

      Mirin is a lot more syrupy and I've only seen it called for in very Americanized recipes for sushi rice. The best-quality mirins are inherently sweet and do not have added sugar or MSG. You can find this kind of mirin in health food stores.

      1. Mitsukan seasoned rice vinegar, maybe? .

        1. I have never heard of adding mirin to sushi rice. Usually you add vinegar, sugar and salt. I use mirin when I'm cooking or I add it to things that need a dash of sweetness

          1 Reply
          1. re: bitsubeats

            Thank you. I will look for that. I didn't realize that "mirin" is actually another "sake". I think the brand we had was Sun Luck and the ingredient list (in the context of this discussion) is a joke.

            I'll buy the good stuff now.

          2. She was wrong. "Cheap" mirin is often simply sake with corn syrup, but hon-mirin is a traditional sweetener made from sweet rice and koji. And many sushi recipes still use mirin. It adds a wonderful depth of flavor.

            My favorite mirin is Mitoku's Mikawa mirin, and, according to what I've read is either the only or one of the only makers still using traditional methods. A bit of salt is added in order to be able to import it into the US. Eden makes a natural mirin with regular rice which is pretty good. Mirin is expensive, but since only a little is used it's not bad per use -- even the good stuff.

            I found the Mikawa mirin online at Simply Natural.

            1. When I run out of mirin, I substitute sherry...but I don't use either in sushi. And I don't think mirin has any MSG in it, either, altho I could be wrong.

              1. One substitute is rice vinegar and sweet chili sauce. You can strain out the chili seeds.

                1. I've never ever heard of mirin in sushi rice either. I mean, it goes in the crazy-good eel sauce, but that's beside the point. They have the "seasoned rice wine vinegar" but that doesn't taste nearly as good as straight up rice wine vinegar.

                  You just add the vinegar, salt, and sugar to taste. Personally, I find that very salty sushi rice is supremely delicious.

                    1. re: Antilope

                      If you can get your hands on "Fukuraijun Honmirin" from Gifu, it is one of the best made in Japan. I believe that it is aged for three years before it is bottled. It is so good you can drink it straight. I worked at Takashimaya in Tokyo for two years and the mirin was often brought in for select gourmet specials.

                      You can find it here on the New York Mutual Trading website:


                      I also had tonight the "Akasake Mirin" as part of a ponzu sauce. Really good as well, but definitely recommend the Fukuraijun if you are only going to invest in one bottle.

                      1. re: Yukari

                        Great site - do you know if you can buy anything retail? I've got some Izakaya chef friends in NYC I could call, but it's been a while since I was a regular. Or maybe I can contact them to find out what the best retail outlets are.

                        How is everything at food&wine?

                    2. Mirin is NOT MSG! there are three types of mirin, but it is basically a sweet rice wine containing corn/glucose syrup, alcohol, rice, and a little salt. It is used mainly as a seasoning in Japanese cuisine, bringing out the flavor in dishes or masking the fishiness of a dish. Some recipes for sushi rice contain mirin, or the alternative you mentioned which was probably sake, or rice wine. Arguably it makes little difference after you've added the rice vinegar, and the sushi preparer was probably right in saying that no Japanese sushi chef's use mirin.

                      1. I would probably skip the mirin for sushi, but not because mirin is bad. Sushi is short grained sticky rice with rice vinegar with few exceptions, and it is served with other items such as vegetables and fish in the form of maki rolls, nigiri clumps, or in a bowl.

                        Traditional mirin is made from sweet rice, koji, and shochu, and it is a wonderful and essential element of traditional Japanese cooking. It sometimes has salt added for US import. Inexpensive, mass produced varieties can be made with rice wine and sugar, but never buy mirin made with corn syrup or msg. Such varieties add little other than sweetness, and besides giving you a disappointing taste experience, they can be very bad for you.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mrbitey

                          When you say the varieties with corn syrup or msg are 'very bad for you', do you have in mind the usual claims about how bad HFCS and MSG are (which have been discussed to death on other threads), or do you have some information that is specific to mirin?

                          I used to buy and use the less expensive mirin, usually labeled as aji mirin. But now if I want a similar touch of sweetness, I use a squirt of agave syrup. It's not so much that I consider agave to be more healthy, it's just more convenient and multipurpose.

                          Regarding MSG, there are other Japanese seasonings that are much higher in that. Instant dashi powder, for example. For the amount of Japanese style cooking that I do, the dashi no moto is more convenient and a lot less expensive than bags of bonito shavings and packages of kombu.

                        2. White vinegar, salt, sugar