Home Cuisines Japanese Mirin Vs Rice Vinegar – How Do They Differ?

Mirin Vs Rice Vinegar – How Do They Differ?

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Sesame chicken next to mirin and rice vinegar

Mirin and rice vinegar are both much-loved ingredients in Asian cuisine. They are fermented liquids that have rice as their common “building block”. In cooking, they are useful for bringing acidity to a dish. Rich, fatty meat is given new life from a burst of acidic flavor. Splashed into a stir-fry; whisked into a marinade to help flavor and break down the meat; or stirred into sauces, they are indispensable in many chef’s kitchens.

Although mirin and rice vinegar are commonly used by the Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian cooks, their use is now commonplace in many western kitchens. Are you looking to improve your knowledge of Asian ingredients? You may be wondering what is the difference between mirin and rice vinegar? They sound the same thing, but they have a few significant differences. Let’s take a look at these now.

Comparing mirin and rice vinegar

Mirin is an amber-colored sweetened rice wine that has less than 1% alcohol. Its sweet and tangy flavor and syrupy texture complement salty flavors like soy sauce, miso, or savory meats. During cooking, the alcohol in mirin is cooked out of the liquid and a distinct umami flavor develops. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and has a mild, slightly sour flavor which is more subtle than regular white vinegar. Its subtle sweet flavor makes it useful for sushi rice, pickling, marinades, and salad dressings.

A summary comparison table:

FactorMirinRice Vinegar
AcidityMediumHigh
SournessMediumHigh
SweetnessHigherLower
Best UsesTeriyaki sauce, soba noodles, meat tenderizer, glazes, yosenabeSushi rice, pickles, marinades, dressings
Alcohol contentRanges from 1%-20%None
ConsistencySyrupyWatery

Culinary uses

Mirin’s sweetness and syrupy texture make it an ideal condiment in Japanese cooking. When combined with vegetable tempura, its freshness helps cut through the oiliness of the fried food. Sushi made with salty nori seaweed is balanced when mirin is used as a dipping sauce. Rice vinegar is too harsh on its own as a sauce. Instead, it is a key ingredient in gyoza sauce – perfect for dipping dumplings, gyoza, or any potstickers in to. Its acidity pairs with soy sauce, garlic, sesame, ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of yuzu to make a flavor-packed condiment.

A popular use for mirin is as a meat and seafood tenderizer. Thanks to its high sugar content, mirin helps break down meat fibers and also enhances the umami flavor during the cooking process. Mirin also adds a lovely aroma and gloss to fish and meat when used as a basting sauce. Beyond sushi rice, rice vinegar is excellent added to eel sauce to combat the saltiness; it is also useful for pickling vegetables, as a marinade for any Asian inspired dish; or splashed into stirfries with soy sauce and hoisin sauce. For use in more westernized food, splash rice vinegar onto french fries for an “east-meets-west fusion”.

Chop sticks holding a piece of sushi
Rice vinegar is a key ingredient in sushi rice.

Alcohol Content

The alcohol content in mirin will range depending on the product. It can be as low as 1% and will range up to 20%. Although not as common as in previous centuries, mirin can be drunken on its own, or in a cocktail. During cooking, the alcohol in mirin is mostly cooked out. Rice vinegar has less than 1% alcohol and often none at all – it is never drunken on its own.

Related reading:
What does sake taste like?
Check out our 10 recommended substitutes for apple cider vinegar.
View our comparison of ponzu and soy sauce.
See the differences between teriyaki and tonkatsu sauce.

Are mirin and rice vinegar gluten-free?

Most mirin and rice vinegar products are gluten-free; however, it is important for those on a gluten-free diet to check the label before use as they can contain wheat-based ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

Teriyaki salmon
Teriyaki salmon is a delicious gluten-free meal option.

Nutritional comparison

From a nutritional perspective, rice vinegar and mirin are both healthy options, low in calories, carbs, fat, and sugar. Unlike many Asian sauces (like oyster sauce), the sodium levels are also very low.

The exact nutritional breakdown will vary depending on the brand chosen, but the table below will provide a good indication of their nutrients. The rice vinegar example below is for seasoned rice vinegar, if you choose an unseasoned option the sodium and sugar will reduce to zero.

 Mirin (1 Tbsp)Rice Vinegar (1 Tbsp)
Calories400
Carbohydrates102
Fat00
Protein00
Sodium15mg5mg
Cholesterol00
Sugar4g2g

References: mirin nutrition or rice wine vinegar nutrition.

Fast facts

  • Mirin is a type of rice wine and is similar to sake; rice wine should not be confused with rice wine vinegar.
  • Add a generous splash of mirin to seafood to reduce the “fishy smell” of the meal.
  • Hon Mirin is on November 30, also known as Mirin Day.
  • Rice vinegar can be used as a natural substitute for facial skin toner.
  • The term vinegar loosely translates to “sour wine” in French.
  • Rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are two terms that can be used interchangeably. They are both made by fermenting the sugar derived from rice into alcohol, then continuing the process by fermenting that into acetic acid.
Soba noodles and meatballs.
A mirin-based dipping sauce is delicious.

Summing up

Mirin and rice vinegar are similar in their uses in the kitchen. They both bring acidity and zest to Asian recipes. However, they both have different strengths and we wouldn’t recommend using them interchangeably in the kitchen. For example, people often ask if mirin can be used in place of rice vinegar in sushi rice. This isn’t a good idea as mirin has a sweeter flavor that would provide a weird imbalance to the food.

In a nutshell, the benefit of mirin is adding a delicious combination of sweetness and acidity to salty foods; it excels as a marinade and for glazing. Rice vinegar is excellent in sushi rice and is also useful combined with additional ingredients to bring sour, acidic balance to a dish.

Do you have a favorite Asian-inspired sauce that you couldn’t live without? Please let us know in the comments below.