We’re all familiar with vinegar and its many uses. It’s used for so many things, from cleaning, to cooking, to pickling, and other tasks in between. But how familiar are you with the various forms of vinegar?
You can choose from options like white vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cleaning vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and more. Two options that are commonly compared are rice vinegar and mirin.
What is the difference between rice vinegar and mirin? One of the biggest differences between rice vinegar and mirin is that mirin has a much sweeter taste, while rice vinegar is tangy and slightly bitter. Both are made from fermented rice, water, and salt, but while mirin is sweeter, rice vinegar has added sugar and mirin does not.
In this guide, we will walk you through rice vinegar vs. mirin and discuss all of their qualities and differences.
Our hope is that you will be able to reasonably differentiate between the two by the end of this guide and will have figured out which one you’re going to try next!
The Difference Between Rice Vinegar and Mirin
Both mirin and rice vinegar are typically used in cooking for enhancing the flavor of the dish.
They are used similarly and considered to be very nearly the same but they are also quite different as well. They each have unique uses for cooking that set them apart from one another.
As we progress through this guide, we will talk about each of these products on an individual basis.
We will start with rice vinegar and then work our way through mirin. Once we have given you an overview of them individually, we will wrap up the guide with a quick summary review for a simple reference of the differences.
We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started!
Rice vinegar is a popular type of vinegar. It is made from fermented rice, typically from areas of East and Southeast Asia, primarily China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.
Rice vinegar is most commonly used in Asian cuisine, but it can be used for other foods as well.
Rice vinegar is most commonly mixed into other foods. It’s used in dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Rice vinegar is not like normal vinegar. The way that it is brewed makes it far less acidic. It is typically left with a mild and slightly sweet flavor with some leftover tanginess of traditional vinegar.
There is more than one type of rice vinegar. The different types also have different colors and flavors.
Here are the types of rice vinegar:
- White rice vinegar
- Red rice vinegar
- Black rice vinegar
Of these, black is the most mellow-flavored option, but it has more of a smoky-sweet flavor.
It’s not considered a mild flavor like white and red are. There are also rice wine vinegar options, but they fall into their own distinct categories as well.
Rice vinegar has absolutely no alcohol content in it. If it does have a slight alcohol content, it is extremely low. Any residual alcohol content will be lost when cooked.
Rice vinegar is also typically not gluten-free. Many rice vinegar products use wheat as part of the mixture. This is something to watch the label for.
Rice vinegar contains more sugar than mirin but the sugar doesn’t make it sweeter. The end result is something slightly sweet with a bit of sour tangy flavor as well.
Rice vinegar is rarely used as a condiment by itself. It can be turned into a dipping sauce or a condiment of some sort, but the tangy flavor doesn’t make it ideal for using it by itself.
In Chinese dipping sauces, you might find it mixed with lime juice, sesame, ginger, sugar, and soy.
When it comes to cooking uses, rice vinegar can be used on meat, but it’s usually mixed with other things for a marinade. Rice vinegar is more commonly used for things like soups, seafood, and noodles.
The primary ingredients in rice vinegar are fermented rice, water, salt, and added sugar. Some manufacturers may add other sweeteners instead of sugar, like high fructose corn syrup. The sodium levels in rice vinegar are relatively low.
When you use this type of vinegar in cooking, you get all of the salty flavors without the abundance of salt and sodium.
Uses for Rice Vinegar
The best use for rice vinegar is in cooking. We mentioned before that it’s not something that will taste good by itself, just like you wouldn’t drink apple cider vinegar by itself.
While it’s not as sour as vinegar, it is a vinegar product and therefore much better when mixed into things to create robust flavors in a combined dish or sauce.
Rice vinegar is most popularly used in Asian dishes, but it has other uses as well.
Here are a few foods that are great with rice vinegar:
- Stir fry
- Noodles (lo mein)
- Salad dressing
- Fruit and veggie dishes
- Basting sauces
- Sushi rice
- Fried rice
- Sesame chicken
- Cucumber salad
- Glazed salmon
- Dumpling or egg roll sauce
- Soba noodles
These are just a few items that commonly have rice vinegar in their recipes. There are many other options as well.
Additionally, you can use rice vinegar for some cleaning projects. It is non-abrasive but makes for a strong cleaning solution. It is mixed with water for cleaning purposes.
You can use rice vinegar to clean countertops and sinks or to mop your floors. It does not completely replace white distilled vinegar for cleaning.
Mirin is considered a condiment, but it’s very useful for cooking as well.
This product is used in primarily Japanese cooking but is popular in many other Asian dishes as well.
Mirin is more like rice wine. It is comparable to sake in some ways but has less alcohol and more sugar.
When mirin is made, the sugar in it is actually a natural part of the fermentation process.
It turns out to be very sweet, but there is actually no sugar added to the ingredients.
There are 3 primary types of mirin:
- Hon mirin
- Shio mirin
- Shin mirin
If you’re looking for “true” mirin, hon mirin is your answer, but beware of sellers trying to market mirin-like condiments as hon mirin.
Shio mirin is much like true mirin but has significantly less alcohol in it. Mirin has an alcohol content of 14%. If you are using it in a sauce or cooked dish, the alcohol does cook out of it.
In some cooking practices, chefs actually boil the mirin before using it, even when making sauces, to reduce the alcohol from it.
Mirin is used for enhancing the natural flavors of a dish, but it can also be used as a condiment, or even drink, by itself.
Mirin is commonly used as a dipping sauce for sushi rolls. It adds a natural sweet flavor that really draws out the salty flavors in seaweed.
Mirin is very good for flavoring meat and seafood. Its natural sugar content is around 45%, so your meat will be nice and tender also.
The alcohol content in mirin draws out the flavor and texture of any dish. It’s very popular for umami uses. It makes the delightful smell of the meat stand out and gives it a beautiful glaze as well.
When compared to rice vinegar, mirin tastes sweeter but does not have sugar added to it. Rice vinegar actually adds sugar to its ingredients. Mirin is made with water, rice, salt, and natural fructose/glucose from fermentation.
Mirin is typically gluten-free. It is made from fermented rice specifically and the rice doesn’t contain gluten.
However, watch the labels because some distributors add malt or wheat to their mirin mixtures, which could potentially cause it to have gluten.
Mirin does contain quite a bit of salt, more than rice vinegar by almost 3x. However, the sodium content is still relatively low and not anything to worry about.
Uses for Mirin
When it comes to cooking, mirin is typically used to marinate meat, make a dipping sauce, or flavor stir-fry.
Mirin is a Japanese cooking wine, ultimately, which is one of the most notable differences between mirin and rice vinegar.
Mirin can be incredibly useful in the kitchen. It can add delicious flavor to things that may never have been considered. While it is a Japanese product, it has a lot of usefulness, even when you’re not making Japanese cuisine.
Once you’ve tried some uses with mirin, you might find that it’s a staple product for your kitchen that you just can’t do without. Anything you make will be sweet and tender. This is the best way to give your dishes a rich umami flavor.
If you’re not familiar with the term umami, it is a category for a specific taste. You hear things described as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is in its own category. It is best described as savory, but with hints of sweetness.
Mirin typically has a light syrupy texture to it. It’s slightly thick compared to rice vinegar. It is used for making teriyaki dishes quite a bit.
Here are some great recipe ideas for using mirin.
- Steamed seafood
- Steamed vegetables
- Japanese fusion meatballs
- Sushi dipping sauce
- Grilled fish glaze
- Steak glaze
- Teriyaki sauces
- Marinated green beans
- Braised short ribs
- Udon or soba noodles
- Fried chicken marinade
- Various slaw mixtures
- Kebabs with marinade
As you can see, mirin can be used in a myriad of different ways.
The flavor is sweet and tends to pull out the natural savory flavors of many meats. It’s great for noodles and dipping sauce and can even be used by itself. However, mirin truly stands apart with meat.
You can make marinades or basting sauces for your meat. It is best if you make some sort of sauce that cooks with the meat, as the natural sugars will make your meat amazingly tender and flavorful.
You really can’t go wrong with it!
Rice Vinegar Vs Mirin – Final Comparison
We’ve covered a lot of ground here. It’s quite apparent that while rice vinegar and mirin are sometimes used for the same types of dishes, they are actually very different in the end.
They are both a liquid product that is typically used in some sort of sauce form. That’s really where the similarities end.
Rice vinegar is essentially alcohol-free. While it is sweet, it also has a bit of a sour and tangy flavor to it as well.
Rice vinegar is not good by itself. It’s mixed with other ingredients to make flavorful sauces. These sauces can be dipping sauces or meat sauces.
The most common use of sauce from rice vinegar is for noodles. Rice vinegar is used in Asian dishes, mostly noodle dishes. It can also be used for mild cleaning needs.
In contrast, mirin is a Japanese cooking wine. It does contain alcohol (around 14%), which can be cooked or boiled out of it.
Mirin can be used by itself as a dipping sauce. It is used to make things umami (sweet and savory).
Mirin doesn’t have a lot of usefulness outside of the kitchen. It does make meat incredibly tender and delicious and makes the perfect marinade for any type of meat.
You can use rice vinegar as a replacement for mirin if you don’t have any or are having trouble finding some. However, just know they are not truly the same.
We hope that you’ve found this guide to rice vinegar vs. mirin to be a valuable and informative resource.
While these two products are slightly similar, they have a lot of differences that set them apart from one another and the end results are different when they are used.
We invite you to take a look at the following question and answer section for some additional information that you might find helpful as well.
Does Rice Vinegar Taste Like White Vinegar?
As a vinegar product, rice vinegar will have that familiar tang to it. However, outside of that, it is quite different from white vinegar. Rice vinegar is far more sweet with only a mild hint of sour flavor, while white vinegar is quite sour.
Is Rice Vinegar the Best Substitute for Mirin?
If you’re in a pinch, you can substitute rice vinegar for mirin.
However, you might find that rice wine vinegar or a sweet Marsala wine actually makes a better substitute. You can also substitute dry sherry or dry white wine for similar effects.
Can You Get Drunk from Mirin?
Mirin is most commonly used for cooking purposes. When it is cooked, the alcohol is reduced or cooked out. However, we mentioned earlier that mirin has about 14% alcohol in it naturally.
This alcohol can be cooked or boiled out. However, in some Japanese homes, mirin is actually consumed as an alcoholic beverage. With such a high alcohol content, it’s certainly possible to get drunk from consuming it.