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Jun 15, 2010 10:18 AM

How to cut sweetness in Asian food

I was attempting to make a homemade shrimp stir fry last night and it came out a little too sweet... I sauteed red onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, shrimp, and spinach. When the shrimp was cooked through I added mirin, and before I added sesame oil, soy sauce, and red curry paste I whisked those three ingredients together. Then I stir fried some Thai rice noodles into the mix. It was delicious and sticky and wonderful, except for the extreme sweetness that I would like to cut slightly.

I was thinking lime juice? I just thought I'd see if I could find some input.

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  1. sure, lime juice (or some other acid like *unseasoned* rice wine vinegar) would help, as would another splash of soy sauce - preferably low-sodium.

    1. I'd try cutting out the mirin. I use mirin, but not for stir-fried dishes. Typically, I use it for sauces. It imparts some sweetness and adds luster to sauces.

      3 Replies
      1. re: BigSal

        The sweetness in the dish comes from the mirin. Look at its ingredients. The less expensive version (aji mirin) are largely corn syrup (must likely the Karo, mostly glucose kind). How much mirin did you use?

        1. re: paulj

          You're right, it is aji mirin. I live in a small college town and I'm in college so I guess I'll have to stick to sweet inexpensive mirin for a few more months! I think it was probably about a tablespoon or so but I didn't measure, just tossed some in.

          1. re: kbm730

            For a while I use aji mirin because I read someplace that a small amount helped maintain the bright green color when stir frying vegetables. Then realizing it was mostly sweetener, and not all that cheap, I stopped buying it. Now I may use a pinch of sugar instead.

            Or if making a Japanese dressing I'll use seasoned vinegar, or add salt and sugar to plain rice vinegar. I also use the sweet chilli sauce ('for chicken') from Thailand if I want some sweetness in an Asian style dish.

            I just bought some Indonesian soy sauce which is heavily sweetened with palm sugar molasses.

      2. Kind of amusing you would want to cut the sweetness. Because as I peruse recipes in blogs I am amazed at how often sugar is used in Asian recipes. I consider sugar a poison. In any such recipe I will use honey or some xylitol I bought but have not tested

        As for your problem I think the sweetness comes from the noodles. Try it w the noodles on the side, not in the main dish. Taste your mirin. It is also sugary, if so leave it out, get a dry wine of some sort.

        13 Replies
        1. re: zzDan

          I use the rice noodles often even in regular pasta dishes because I like the texture and I've never had an issue with the sweetness before. I think y'all are right, it was the sweet mirin!

          1. re: zzDan

            "I consider sugar a poison. In any such recipe I will use honey or some xylitol I bought but have not tested."
            news flash: honey *IS* sugar.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Honey is much more healthful than white sugar. Blackstrap mollases is delicious and fun to use because it's the rejected stepchild of the sugar refining process. It has all the minerals and vitamins that are stripped out to make your sugar white. It's the lowly residue

              If you like white sugar then go have your fun.

              1. re: zzDan

                1) that's not what you said originally - you implied that honey was an alternative to sugar, when in fact, it is a form of sugar. it's just not refined white sugar. 2) depending on what you mean by "more healthful," probably not so much. and 3) while i'm a huge fan of molasses for certain applications, it's not a direct, automatic replacement for sugar - particularly blackstrap - because of its strong, bitter flavor.

                i'm all for alternatives to the refined white stuff (no chemicals please), but the alternatives are still sugar. coconut palm sugar (made from the sap of the coconut palm tree) is terrific - the flavor is similar to brown sugar, but a bit richer...and its glycemic index is lower than honey.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  By your logic a nice ripe peach is just sugar. Maple syrup is just a form of sugar when in reality the B grade has a lot of minerals that make the sugar within better for you. Better than white sugar definitely. Dittos for honey but less so. Molasses is the ideal sludge sweeter with minerals. I have not had coconut palm sugar. If it's cheap I'm interested.

                  If someone forced you to eat 8 oz of sugar or 8 oz of honey you will pick the honey despite your putting it down

                  1. re: zzDan

                    The minerals and vitamins themselves are good for you, but I don't see how the make sugar itself 'better'.

                    Not all molasses is the 'sludge'. Some is the concentrated cane juice without any sugar extracted.

                    But in this thread we are talking about savory dishes, where the added sweetener amounts to a tablespoon or less. The added nutrition in a tablespoon of honey is negligible.

                    1. re: paulj

                      It's not so much that honey adds. It's that white sugar subtracts from your health when eaten in large quantities. I referred to ye old black strap molasses which is the residue of the sugar refining process with white sugar being what people want.

                      As far as using small quantities of sugar in cooking...go right ahead it is banned from this house

                      1. re: zzDan

                        Since this discussion is about sugar in an Asian noodle stir fry, the amount, if used, would be so small that it wouldn't be "poison." And, added to noodles which are also significantly processed and have nutrients stripped from them, doesn't add anything significantly detrimental on top of everything else in the dish. I wouldn't add black strap molasses to stir fry noodles, even if it increased nutrients, but especially in such a small amount to begin with.

                        It's like saying you wouldn't read a fiction book when you can be improving your mind with nonfiction. It's all about moderation and choices. I fully admit to reading comic strips.

                        1. re: chowser

                          My policy is no white sugar in cooking at home. You want to use a little white sugar here and there. Go right ahead. I veer away from sugar when I eat out but I know I consume it here and there. But I have have my rules at home. No white sugar in the house

                          1. re: chowser

                            chowser, i love that you just said this. my father is a top, highly respected MD in his field, teaches at hospitals, speaks several languages, has more historical knowledge crammed into his brain than anyone i've ever met...and the thing he looks forward to most in the Sunday paper is the funnies :)

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              Yeah, I just can't be that uptight that I refuse to enjoy some aspects of life like that without really good reason.:-)

                      2. re: zzDan

                        Regardless of the vitamins or minerals that may be present in honey, it is my understanding that the levels are marginal compared to other sweeteners. I highly doubt your body can really register the difference. Besides, stuff like honey has a flavor profile that may add things to foods where all you want is a clean, sweet flavor.

                        1. re: zzDan

                          please don't put words in my mouth. i didn't "put down" honey, and i'm well aware that in its purest, raw form it contains a high level of beneficial antioxidants but most of the honey people eat is highly processed. a tablespoon of honey (which, by the way, is equivalent to three one-teaspoon servings) provides less than 1% of the RDA for pretty much all major vitamins & minerals, so the benefit there is negligible.

                          do i prefer honey over white sugar? of course. but i use raw honey, and i'm under no illusion that it's health food.

                          and for the record, one medium (3.5-oz) peach contains 38 calories and 9.7 grams of carbohydrates...8.2 of which are sugar. the remaining 1.2 grams are fiber. so technically, from a purely macronutrient perspective, it *is* primarily sugar...though with the added bonus of fiber, Vitamin C, carotenoids & flavonoids. but you're really reaching with this example...all i was trying to say from the beginning was that your initial statement made it sound as though honey wasn't a form of sugar.

                          oh, and coconut palm sugar isn't cheap - the higher-quality sweeteners (e.g. pure raw honey, pure maple syrup, pure stevi, raw agave...) rarely are.

                2. The shrimp and red curry will already have some sweetness which you don't need to accentuate with mirin. If you think you need an acid to balance the flavors, try a rice vinegar.

                  1. Unless you're concerned about sugar content you might want to keep the Mirin at the same level; then compensate with a mixture of half lemon juice and half white (yes -- not rice wine) plain white vinegar in equal amounts to the Mirin. That'll give you a whole new flavor balance. A balance of sweet, hot, sour and savory is the key to the most exciting Asian-style dishes.

                    Also make sure to use a sesame oil that's of the very dark-amber color.