If you’re a fan of Japanese culture and cuisine, you are most likely familiar with sake.
This alcoholic beverage is a common Japanese version of wine. It isn’t really wine but it’s used much in the same way for cooking that wine is in many other cultural dishes.
Sake is an ingredient that sometimes can be challenging to find. Not all grocery stores or even liquor stores stock sake as a common product.
This means when you need some for a new recipe or your stash runs out, you might be hard-pressed to find some near you. Don’t worry though, there are substitutes you can use to get similar results.
So what is the best substitute for sake? The best substitute for sake is a fortified white wine option. Vermouth, Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, white Madeira, white Port, or Marsala are all good substitutes for different uses of sake.
In this guide, we will walk you through all of the best substitute options for sake.
We hope that by the end of the guide, you will know just what to reach for or search for when you can’t find sake at your favorite store and you need something now.
Keep reading to learn the best sake substitutes and more!
What Is Sake?
Sake is commonly referred to as Japanese rice wine. It is an alcoholic beverage commonly used for both cooking and drinking in Japanese culture. Sake is the national beverage of Japan and they even have a traditional way of serving it.
It is made using rice that has been polished to remove the bran. The rice is then fermented through a brewing process similar to the brewing process for beer.
You will note that sake is more often compared to wine but the overall creation process is actually more like the process for beer.
It’s an interesting change-up. Undiluted sake typically contains somewhere between 18 and 20% alcohol, significantly more than both beer and wine.
There are different types of sake, just as there is a multitude of beer and wine options out there. There are 5 main types. Here is a short description of each one.
1. Junmai-shu: Pure sake with no additional brewer’s alcohol and no starch or sugar added. This blend must be 70% or more milled rice. It is full and rich with a pretty high acidic level. This type of sake is usually served hot.
2. Ginjo-shu: The rice mixture in this type contains 40% milled and 60% non-milled. It has a deep aroma and a very light flavor. Those who brew this type ferment the rice in low temperatures and it is hard work. This option is usually served cold for the best aroma and flavor.
3. Daiginjo-shu: This is a type of sake that falls into the Ginjo-shu category. The percentages are similar with milled rice 35-50%. This is a full-bodied alcohol with a strong fragrance and a delicate flavor. It is also usually served cold.
4. Honjozo-shu: This mixture contains about 70% non-milled rice. With this option, brewer’s alcohol is added and the result is a less potent option. The flavor is light and smooth. This option is usually served warm.
5. Namazake: In this option, the alcohol is not pasteurized. Any of the sake categories can fall into this category, depending on how they are made. If you choose a Namazake option, it will need to be refrigerated for preservation.
Outside of these brews, there are specialty types of sake that include infused sake, Akai sake, taru sake, sparkling sake, nama, namachozo, koshu, and more.
Uses for Sake
The different types are served in different ways; however, the most common use for sake in many countries outside of Japan is in cooking. If you sakerhave ever used wine for cooking, the concept is nearly the same.
Sake is perfect for making marinades for meat and fish. It works really well to tenderize them. It also will remove any smells or aromas that sometimes accompany them, particularly with fish.
When you cook the meat, the alcohol evaporates so that won’t be an issue.
Here are some awesome recipe ideas for sake:
- Sake steamed clams
- Glazed tilapia
- Grilled swordfish
- Sirloin steaks with garlic sake sauce
- Steamed chicken
- Steamed mussels
- Sake-marinated ribs
- Kung pao chicken
- Teriyaki sauce
- Curry dishes
Choosing Your Best Sake Substitute
When it comes to finding the best substitute for sake, you want to consider the end result. Many people use rice vinegar as a substitute and it works really well for the most part, particularly if you want an alcohol-free option.
However, the best substitute for the most similar result is actually wine. Not just any wine will do, although you can try any wine. The very best type of wine to use is a fortified white wine.
Here are some of the best wine options to consider:
- Chinese rice wine
- Dry sherry
Remember this is not a solve-all solution but it’s a good reference to find reasonable substitutes for your sake. We’re going to discuss some specific product recommendations for you here as well.
Choosing the best one is really up to you. Just remember that if you use wine for a substitute, you should go for a dry, white wine. You want a fortified wine. These wines are typically dessert wines.
If you prefer a non-alcoholic option, there are plenty of options available for you too, such as a non-alcoholic dry vermouth.
You can try a wine rice vinegar or you can just go with a rice vinegar as well. While these aren’t exactly the same, they do make a suitable substitute when you need an option.
Ultimately, just know that sake is unique in its own right. If you’re looking for a drinking substitute, you may never find one but if you’re looking for a cooking substitute, we’ll share some decent options below.
Remember that the best wine options are vermouth, sherry, and Marsala but there are some other good options out there as well.
The Best Substitutes for Sake
We’ve shared several of our favorite options for the best sake substitute here.
Most of the time, if you can get sake, that truly is your best option. However, we know sometimes you run out or your favorite store runs out and you need an alternative!
Here are our top sake substitutes:
|Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth
|Versin Non-Alcoholic Vermouth
|Sweet & spicy
|Don Benigno Manzanilla Sherry
|Nutty & sweet
|Pellegrino Dry Marsala
|Rich & sweet
|Columela 30-Year Aged Sherry Vinegar
|Rich & nutty
We’ve provided specific brand and product recommendations but for any of these wines, if you choose a similar type of wine in a different brand, the results will most likely still be similar.
So read on for your best bets for sake substitutes!
1. Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth
From a reliable brand, vermouth from Martini & Rossi is certain not to disappoint.
Vermouth is the #1 best substitute option for sake and we like this brand because it’s reliable and it won’t cost an arm and a leg.
This vermouth option is light with a balanced flavor. It has just a hint of sweetness to it that makes it unique.
It is dry, which makes it good for cooking, and very similar to sake in the end flavor when you use it.
Martini & Rossi uses Artemisia in their vermouth during the distilling process, which helps to bring its unique lightly sweet flavor to the forefront.
You can find the Martini & Rossi brand at many liquor stores so we recommend checking your favorite place to see if they carry vermouth or could get it for you.
- Well-known brand
- Dry vermouth is the best substitute
- Light and balanced
- Slight hint of sweetness
- Slightly sweeter than sake but it’s a subtle difference.
2. Versin Non-Alcoholic Vermouth Alternative
If you like the idea of sticking with a vermouth option but you prefer a non-alcoholic choice, try this one out!
This brand offers you a vermouth alternative that is non-alcoholic so you get all the same flavors and results without any alcohol ever in the mix.
In this mixture, you will notice slightly spicy flavors that have a sweet appeal. You will taste notes of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and citrus combine into a delightful drink or cooking liquid.
You can use this to mix drinks or to cook with and it works well both ways.
The sugars and sweetness in this drink come from the natural combination of the ingredients and not the result of a bunch of added sugars. This is a bit sweeter than vermouth, but it still makes another great option.
- Comparable to vermouth
- Non-alcoholic option
- Sweet and spicy notes
- Works well for drinking or cooking
- The flavor is a bit sweeter than sake.
3. Don Benigno Manzanilla Sherry
A dry sherry is your next best option. This option is a Fino-type sherry. It’s perfectly dry and will work well as a sake substitute.
This is a white fortified dessert wine, so it fits the category well. This is wine so it is made from grapes, Palomino grapes that are harvest near the Spanish sea.
This wine pairs very well with olives, nuts, and seafood, particularly shrimp. It’s typically served chilled but it can also be used for cooking, much like sake is. This wine is very light-bodied and can make sauce, glaze, or marinade quite simply.
This sherry is one of the most highly-rated sherries across the nation. It is readily available but if you’re in search of a sherry and can’t find this one just be sure to look for a dry sherry as your options for a good substitute for sake.
- Sherry is the 2nd best option for a substitute
- Highly-rated brand
- Dry and light-bodied
- Can be cooked with or served chilled
- This particular brand might be harder to find.
4. Pellegrino Dry Marsala
Next on our list of sake substitute is a dry Marsala. Be mindful of choosing your Marsala as some of them are more full-bodied than others.
You want to be sure that you choose a dry light-bodied option for your sake substitute.
This particular choice is both rich and smooth. It is dry with intense fruit flavors that are not overly sweet. It is a fortified wine.
This is also a great option for chicken marsala. This wine is straight from Sicily, Italy. It’s high-quality and affordable.
You will find that the flavor of this option might be slightly more rich than sake but it works well as an alternative, especially for cooking purposes. This will certainly do the trick and it is delightfully satisfying as a drinking wine as well
- Produced in Italy
- Well-made and affordable
- Can be a drinking wine
- Slightly richer than sake typically is.
5. Columela 30-Year Aged Sherry Vinegar
If you’re still on the fence about using wine as a substitute, another great option is a wine vinegar.
We typically recommend a rice wine vinegar but this sherry vinegar is phenomenal and it will work really well as a sake substitute.
This sherry vinegar was made from a slow-aging process. It does have a deep color, while sake and most substitutes have a light color.
However, the flavor is nutty, rich, and sweet all in one small bottle. This vinegar is made in Spain.
This option probably does have a bit of a richer flavor than sake would but it has a robust combination that will have a similar effect in the end. It’s great for sauces, stews, meats, and dressings which make it extra comparable to sake.
- A vinegar alternative to wine
- Slowly aged for full flavor
- Lightly sweet and nutty
- Perfect for sauces, stews, and meats
- Richer flavor than sake.
We hope that you find this guide to the best substitutes for sake to be a valuable and informative resource. There are many great options you can use, including non-alcoholic options if that is your preference.
We invite you to take a moment and review the following question and answer section for some additional information that might be helpful for you as well.
Is Sake Healthier Than Wine?
Sake is sweeter than wine and very similar as far as nutritional content. However, sake actually contains more calories than wine. Sake can have anywhere from 20-25 calories more per serving.
Is Cooking Sake the Same as Sake?
Cooking sake is made the same as drinking sake but it usually has some added salt in it for tenderizing meat. The concept is the same but you might not enjoy it for drinking and it’s possible you will notice the added saltiness to the flavor.