Mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) is a sweet and syrupy liquid and it is one of the most important condiments in Japanese cooking. It is a kind of rice wine similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content (14% instead of 20%).
Hon mirin consists of 40-50% sugar and 14% alcohol. It is made of glutinous rice, cultured rice, and distilled alcoholic beverage. They are mixed and fermented for about 2 months.
Mirin-like condiment contains less than 1% alcohol but claims to have the same taste as hon mirin. It is made of starch syrup, rice/cultured rice brewed seasoning, brewed vinegar, acidic components and it’s cheaper because it avoids certain alcohol taxes.
Mirin tenderize and adds a mild sweetness and has deep body and umami. It also helps mask the smell of fish and seafood and helps the flavors to “sink in” to the dish. It also keeps the ingredients from disintegrating because of the sugars and alcohol content. Lastly, mirin adds luster to ingredients which is why it is a key ingredient in teriyaki sauce.
Substitution: Although it won’t be exactly the same, you can substitute mirin with sake and sugar. The ratio of sake and sugar is 3 to 1. Mix 3/4 cup (or 1 Tbsp) good quality drinking sake and 1/4 cup (or 1 tsp) white sugar. If you cannot use alcohol in your cooking, you can simply replace mirin with sugar to sweeten the food.