Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar: Know The Difference

Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar: Know The Difference

Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar are the most common ingredients in making one. But what are they? Know the difference between each component in this article. Besides understanding the do’s and don’t make sushi at home, identify what element will make your dish more special.

Mirin is a sweet rice wine with a slightly sour taste, But its taste depends on the brand that you’re going to use. Rice vinegar is from fermented rice, which is perfect for all sour dishes. Finally, sushi vinegar is seasoned rice vinegar. You can make it using rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. You can only use it in making sushi rice.

But when, where, how, and why should you use these ingredients? If you love sushi, these are all essential. If you want to learn more about Mirin, rice vinegar, and sushi vinegar, keep reading. Let me give you more details and how these components can help you become a professional sushi chef.

What Is Mirin?

Mirin is Japanese alcohol with a sweet and, sometimes, sour taste. Manufacturers make it with a distillate of sake by combining cooked and ground rice. Mirin has about 14% alcohol content and contains 10 to 45% sugar. The alcohol content of sake means no further fermentation and that the starch in the rice turns into glucose.  

Mirin is a sweetened rice wine with an amber color that has less than 1% alcohol. So, don’t worry. You won’t be tipsy when you use it on your dish. Salty flavors such as soy sauce, miso, or savory meats accompany its sweet, tangy taste and syrupy texture. Mirin’s alcohol is cooked out of the fluid during cooking, and a distinct umami taste develops.

Mirin has a distinct aroma, which adds to its flavor. In fact, it consists of 39 main compounds that contribute to its unique smell. A mixture of ingredients that give the liquid a rich fragrance is part of the malted rice and aged mash. Mirin is stronger than you think and can mask the fish’s taste and add a sweet glaze to your dishes.

Uses of Mirin In Japanese Cuisine

In Japanese culture, while Mirin is not required to make sushi or replace rice vinegar, it has different uses. Mirin serves as a tasty addition to Japanese soups and sauces, such as miso soup and teriyaki sauce, because of its sweetness and rich umami taste.

Mirin’s naturally sweet flavor helps counter the salty taste of other condiments, such as soy sauce and tamari sauce. It can make a tasty dipping sauce when combined with wasabi and soya sauce that goes well with sushi rolls.

You can get a delicious barbecue sauce by combining Mirin with tomato paste, cinnamon, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. By using a blend of soy sauce and Mirin, apply a splash of glaze to your skillets. To boost the taste, you can also drizzle a little on soups. These are some of the common uses of Mirin in Japanese cuisine.

Mirin Vs. Rice Vinegar

The same base ingredient comes from both Mirin and rice vinegar. But the main difference lies in making and using these ingredients. When yeast converts the sugar present in the rice into alcohol, it turns into Mirin. On the other hand, rice vinegar starts to form when the fermented rice produces alcohol. Then, it transforms into acid.

Not as acidic as white vinegar, rice vinegar has a mild and slightly sweet taste. Mirin is too sweet for rice vinegar, or you to use it as a substitute. Still, both components can improve the taste of Japanese dishes. You still need to use it correctly if you want perfection and quality on your sushi.

When adding Mirin or rice vinegar to boost the flavor of dishes, you must preserve the correct ratio. For example, for every 3 cups of uncooked short-grain sushi rice, you must add a 1⁄2 cup of rice vinegar. With that said, let’s move on to the next question…

What Is Rice Vinegar?

Rice vinegar is fermented rice. Asian rice vinegar is from rice starch broken down by a mold culture. The vinegar’s full and savory flavor is because the grains are in constant contact during the fermentation process. Thus, the mold, bacteria, and yeasts provide extra taste. The flavor of Asian rice vinegar is a lot milder than that of European rice vinegar.

The taste of Japanese rice vinegar is neutral and mild. Chinese rice vinegar has a more pungent taste than Japanese rice vinegar and can be black, red, or white in color. The color variation is because of the kinds of rice used during fermentation.

Rice vinegar has a mild taste that is more subtle than standard white vinegar and is slightly acidic. It is useful for sushi rice, pickling, marinades, and salad dressings, because of its subtle sweet taste.

Uses of Rice Vinegar In Japanese Cuisine

Rice vinegar is essential in making sushi rice, rolls, and cucumber salads. Aside from adding flavor, it also prolongs its shelf life. You can rely on its anti-bacterial properties, which can also benefit raw fish, seafood, and meat.

What Is Sushi Vinegar?

Sushi Vinegar or Seasoned Rice Vinegar is what you can use in making sushi rice. It doesn’t undergo any fermentation process. Thus, you can create it with a standard recipe, including rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Most of the time, the ratio sushi chefs use is 5:3:1. You can already notice that it has a sweet, salty, and sour taste from these components. 

Keeping the fish and rice from spoiling was a challenging task when there was no electric refrigerator. Thus, vinegar has been a popular way of preserving these foods.

When left at room temperature, cooked rice, due to a bacterium’s spores, tends to spoil within a few hours. All the essential anti-bacterial agents that can slow down a bacterium’s spores are vinegar, salt, and sugar. So, from both practical and taste points of view, using sushi for cooked rice makes sense.

What kind of salt, sugar, and vinegar should you use? Many recipes call for vinegar for rice. As rice vinegar is made from rice, it makes sense; it should go well with cooked rice. When mixed with fish, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and champagne vinegar may be too strong to use as sushi vinegar. 

Some use strawberry and peach vinegar as fruit vinegar, and vegetarian sushi works well with them. Check out this quick guide in making sushi vinegar.

The Difference Between Rice Vinegar And Sushi Vinegar

There isn’t much justification needed for the disparity between the two. Sushi vinegar is rice vinegar that has already been applied with sugar, salt, and often flavor enhancers. Thus, it is useful for making sushi. On the other hand, sushi rice vinegar is a result of fermentation.

The rice wine is from yeast, fungi, and lactic acid bacteria to manufacture alcohol by fermenting rice starches. For example, the mold known as Aspergillus oryzae turns starches into sugar. Then, it creates alcohol.

Using an acetic acid bacteria known as Mother of Vinegar (Mycoderma aceti) and small rice wines to turn sugars into alcohol. It will then form into acetic acid until rice vinegar reaches fermenting the starches in rice.

Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar: Know The Difference

Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar: Know The Difference

So, you already have a better understanding of Mirin’s meaning, rice vinegar, and sushi. Now, let’s take a closer look at their differences. You must know how one component is distinct from another. This way, you’ll know what to put on your sushi.

Culinary Uses

In Japanese cuisine, Mirin’s sweetness and syrupy texture make it an ideal condiment. Its freshness, when combined with vegetable tempura, helps cut through the fried food’s oiliness. When you use Mirin as a dipping sauce, you can balance your sushi made with salty nori seaweed.

A common use for Mirin is as a tenderizer of meat and seafood. Thanks to its high sugar content, Mirin helps break down meat fibers during the cooking process and improve the umami taste. When used as a basting sauce, Mirin also provides a lovely fragrance and gloss to fish and meat.

As a sauce, rice vinegar is too harsh on its own. Instead of gyoza sauce, it is the main ingredient, ideal for dipping dumplings, gyoza, or any potstickers. Its acidity pairs to produce a flavor-packed condiment with soy sauce, garlic, sesame, ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of yuzu. 

Rice vinegar is excellent added to eel sauce to fight saltiness besides sushi rice; it is also useful for picking vegetables, marinade for any Asian-inspired dish; or splashed with soy sauce hoisin sauce in stir-fries. 

The Chinese, Japanese, and Korean varieties are most famous for their mild flavor and pale-yellow color when it comes to rice vinegar. Dark vinegar such as Kurozu is enjoyed as well. You can use it in marinades, sauces, fried rice, pickled vegetables, and sushi. It will help you add flavor.

Because of the dish’s traditional preparation, which involved preserving fish between fermented rice and salt, sushi translates to “sour rice” or “sour-tasting. Instead, rice vinegar has accelerated the fermentation process and enhance the flavor.


The most popular rice wine varieties are Huangjiu (Chinese rice wine), Mirin (Japanese cooking wine), and sake (Japanese drinking wine). They have a soft, mild taste compared with other rice wines and are typically lower in alcohol content.

There are several other types of rice wine on the market. Some have distinct flavors and colors depending on the fermentation process and other ingredients such as spices, herbs, or fruits.

The sweet, acidic flavor of sushi vinegar is close to other forms of vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar. You should only use it in limited amounts, unlike rice wine. On the other hand, Mirin is an amber-colored sweetened rice wine with a sweet, sour, and syrupy texture.

Alcohol Content

Depending on the substance, the alcohol content in Mirin can differ. It can be as low as 1% and can range from up to 20%. Mirin may be drunk on its own or in a cocktail, but not as popular as in previous centuries. The alcohol in Mirin is often cooked out during the cooking process.

Rice vinegar contains less than 1 percent alcohol and is never drunk on its own. Meanwhile, the alcohol or components that you use in making sushi vinegar will dictate its alcohol content.

Nutritional Comparison

Mirin, rice vinegar, and sushi vinegar have their benefits for your health. But make sure that you only consume the right amount to avoid overconsumption.

Rice vinegar and Mirin are both healthier choices, low in calories, sugars, fat, and sugar, from a nutritional viewpoint. The sodium levels are also deficient, unlike many Asian sauces (like oyster sauce). Depending on the brand selected, the exact nutritional breakdown will vary. Still, the table below will give a clear indication of their nutrients.

No nutrition applies to both rice wine and vinegar. It’s hard to compare their nutrient profiles, given their numerous uses. 201 calories, 7.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of sugar and salt are given in one average 5-ounce (147-mL) serving wine.

Meanwhile, 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of sugar, and 710 mg of salt make up 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of seasoned rice vinegar. Seasoned rice vinegar has sugar and salt added, so if you’re trying to limit your intake of these ingredients, go for an unseasoned variety. On the other side, there are zero calories, carbohydrates, or sugar in the unsweetened rice vinegar.

Alternatives To Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar

What if you can’t find these ingredients in your nearest supermarket? Fortunately, there are other alternatives that you can use.

Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar: Know The Difference


Though it is often mistaken for rice wine vinegar, Mirin is actually a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking. It doesn’t just taste like food. The sweetness also provides sauces and glazes with luster and can help them cling to food.

If you don’t have Mirin, there are a lot of different substitute suggestions. For instance, you can only use dry sherry or sweet marsala. Or in a little white wine or sherry, you can dissolve a tiny amount of sugar, maybe a ¼ teaspoon of sugar in a ¼ cup of wine.

You can find yourself in the pantry without any mirin when it’s time to make a teriyaki sauce, stir-fried vegetables, or a soy-mirin marinade. Some mirin alternatives function just as well, so no need to worry.

In a pinch, Mirin’s sweetness can imitate it by a simple sugar and water mix, honey, or agave syrup. To get the right amount of sweetness, a reasonable rule of thumb is a 3:1 ratio of water to sugar. These mirin replacement choices, however, will lack the satisfying umami taste. Here are some of the best substitutes for Mirin.

  • Sweet Marsala Wine
  • Dry White Wine
  • Dry Sherry
  • Rice Wine Vinegar

Rice vinegar

Several alternatives can be substituted for rice vinegar at a 1-to-1 ratio, although the taste can vary slightly. Still, it will help you make delicious sushi.

  • Apple cider vinegar – It has a mild flavor, which is perfect for sushi and other marinades.
  • Sherry vinegar – It’s suitable for most recipes that call for rice vinegar because of its similar flavor. 
  • White wine vinegar – Use it in vinaigrette, marinade, and sauces. 
  • Red wine vinegar – Great for marinades, sauces, and fatty meat dishes. 
  • Balsamic vinegar – Best for salads or baking, with chicken and pizza included. 
  • Lemon or lime – For rice vinegar, double the amount of juice. Ideal for dressings and sauces for salads. 
  • Champagne vinegar – For seafood dishes, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings, its mild flavor lends well. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The most popular ingredients to make it are Mirin, rice vinegar, and sushi vinegar. All of these are necessary if you love sushi. Otherwise, you won’t be successful in making perfect sushi. Finally, here are other common questions.

Can I substitute sushi vinegar for rice vinegar?

You can substitute sushi vinegar for rice vinegar, but you have to be mindful of its tastes. With sushi vinegar, you have to add salt and sugar to controls its flavor. Unlike rice vinegar, it doesn’t have a natural sweet and sour taste from fermentation.

What can I use instead of rice vinegar for sushi?

If you forgot to buy rice vinegar, you could use apple cider vinegar for your sushi. It has a mild taste with a hint of apple flavor. Aside from apple cider, almost any type of vinegar is a good substitute. But sometimes you have to consider its taste. Nonetheless, apple cider vinegar can occur in rice vinegar just about in any recipe like sushi rice, sashimi, and marinades.

Is rice vinegar necessary for sushi?

Rice vinegar is essential for any sushi if you want that authentic taste. If you don’t have one, you can replace it with white vinegar. It is the most accessible kind of vinegar. But notice that the flavor will be slightly different.

Can you use Mirin instead of rice vinegar?

Since Mirin is almost similar to rice vinegar, you can use the first one as a replacement in making sushi. Mirin has a sweet and sour taste. Plus, its alcohol can enhance the umami flavor. Depending on th manufacturer of Mirin, the taste may slightly differ.


Mirin, Rice Vinegar, And Sushi Vinegar are almost similar ingredients in making sushi. Each component has the perfect combination of a sweet and sour taste. Plus, all of it brings acidity and zest to your sushi roll and sashimi.

They have different strengths, however, and we’d not suggest using them in the kitchen interchangeably. In a nutshell, Mirin’s advantage is that salty foods excel as a marinade or ingredient in your sushi by adding a delicious mix of sweetness and acidity. In making sushi, here are some of the best rice alternatives to consider.

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