Japanese ingredients for your healthy life

The history of Mirin

A very important ingredient

Today, mirin is such an important ingredient in Japanese food. Itfs use in many dishes can not be easily substituted. Itfs versatile nature allows it to easy be thrown into a stir fry without too much thought and it goes so well with almost anything. The mirin we use in cooking today have of course a long history and has undergone many modifications and improvements throughout many centuries. Letfs have a look at what itfs been through and how things have changed.


To start things off, letfs a get a little background on what mirin is and the different types that there are today. Mirin is a form of rice wine like nihonshu. What is important to know is that there is slightly less alcohol in mirin making it quite good for cooking. The best mirin, known as true mirin, is referred to as hon mirin and this has 14% alcohol and it takes around sixty days to make during a fermentation very similar to wine. Another type of mirin that people refer to as shio mirin contains salt as well as alcohol. Lastly, shin mirin has just a little alcohol in it. Realistically, all the variations are just ways to avoid taxes and bring down cost while attempting to preserve authenticity of flavour. In Japan, foods that contain alcohol are taxed based on the proportion of alcohol and this means that mirin with less alcohol is taxed less meaning it can be sold for less. In reality, these forms as pretty good and nearly as good as hon mirin but just not quite as good. In some places, itfs possible to find mirin that is made with shochu too, this gives it a sweet taste.


There are two types of mirin. One is the epure mirinf, and the other is the emirin-flavoured seasoningf. The biggest difference between these two is that one contains alcohol while the other one does not. Because of the Liquor Tax Law, pure mirin is taxed on its alcohol content; therefore, a product that was made without alcohol in order to avoid taxation is the mirin flavoured seasoning. Apart from being taxed, the pure mirin which is categorized as alcohol needs to meet many regulations such as requiring a licence to sell etc, but because it is alcohol, it contains many effective properties as a cooking ingredient. Alcohol holds properties such as preserving the shape of ingredients when cooking or infiltrating the delicious flavour components into the ingredients. The emirin flavoured seasoningf is therefore more cost effective as liquor tax does not apply.

A long time ago...

Mirin was originally consumed as a high-end sweet liquor until sake became the general drinking alcoholic beverage in the Edo era. Mirin contains about 40 to 50 percent sugar and 14 percent alcohol. The sugar content adds the sweetness to the cuisine and the alcohol suppresses the raw-smelling odour of meat and fish. Additionally, Mirin acts as the polisher to bring out the eshinef which is an essential element in making Teriyaki.


Now, have you ever wondered when the origin of mirin was? There are in fact, a few hypotheses, but none of these are apparently clear. I will introduce theories that are more well-known.


  1. There was a sweet alcohol called Miirin in China, and it was brought to Japan during the Age of Civil Wars. Undoubtedly, there is a Chinese liqueur called shao xing jiu which is sweet and smooth.
  2. Another theory states that Mirin developed from sweet alcoholic beverages that have long existed in Japan such as nerizake and white sake when shochu was added to prevent decay.


Both of these theories make sense. Both of the theories have been recorded in publications, so they are certainly true. However, there is no indication which one actually originated first, so it is not that clear in reality.


Koji is indispensable in manufacturing Mirin, but it is only after war that the techniques to handle koji advanced. Therefore, the sweet flavour of mirin was very light until post- war as there was no technique to bring out the sweetness by using koji. For such reasons, it is assumed that mirin was not used as a common domestic seasoning ingredient in homes until after the war. Additionally, it was around the end of Taisho era which is quite recent, that the flavour started to taste more like what it does now. Moreover, it was after the 30s of the Showa era that mirin started being used as a common domestic seasoning ingredient in homes.


During the Age of Civil Wars in Japan, Mirin was cherished as a high-quality good,and enjoyed as sweet liquor rather than as a useful ingredient in cooking. It started being consumed amongst the common people as well during the Edo era, and it was towards the end of the Edo era when it started to become established as an ingredient in cooking. Although it is difficult to fathom drinking mirin now as we only know it as an ingredient, after learning the long history of mirin as a consumed product, it does stimulate your curiosity to try consuming it. In fact, it is not impossible to drink it, but there are some epseudo-mirinf that contain some synthetic chemicals. If you were to drink some, you should drink the epure mirinf, but because it is not made for drinking, it probably wonft taste nicec


Today, mirin is a household good. It can be found throughout the world and not just in Asian grocery stores but also is large national supermarkets in many countries. Mirin has come a very long way from its origin to now being a completely mass produced ingredient with many variations. In the age we live in now, mirin is less special than what it was centuries ago only because it is much easier for anyone to purchase some but this certainly takes nothing away from just how useful and fantastic mirin is. If you are someone that has never tried it, then please make your own history and buy some and give this food with a long history a go in your cooking.