The main difference between mirin and rice vinegar is their taste; mirin is a type of rice wine with a sweet, savory flavor, while rice vinegar has a sour taste due to its acidity. Once cooked, mirin adds an umami taste to the dish, while rice vinegar adds a balanced, slightly sweet, and sour flavor.
Even though mirin and rice vinegar are well-known in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian kitchens, many western kitchens now use them all the time. Read on to learn all the differences between mirin and rice vinegar, including their culinary uses, alcohol content, nutrition, and other related topics.
Table of Contents
Comparing Mirin and Rice Vinegar
Mirin is an amber-colored sweetened rice wine that has less than 1% alcohol. It goes well with salty flavors like soy sauce, miso, or savory meats because it is sweet and sour and has a syrupy texture. During cooking, the alcohol in mirin evaporates, leaving behind a clear umami flavor. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and has a mild, slightly sour flavor that 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:
|Best Uses||Teriyaki sauce, soba noodles, meat tenderizer, glazes, yosenabe||Sushi rice, pickles, marinades, dressings|
|Alcohol content||Ranges from 1%-20%||None|
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. 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.
Rice vinegar is great for more than just sushi rice. It can be used to cut the saltiness of eel sauce, to pickle vegetables, as a marinade for any Asian-style dish, or as a splash in stir-fries with soy sauce and hoisin sauce. For use in more westernized food, splash rice vinegar onto french fries for an "east-meets-west fusion".
The alcohol content of mirin will range depending on the product. It can be as low as 1% and will range from 1% to 20%. Although not as common as in previous centuries, mirin can be drunk 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 drunk on its own.
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.
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)|
- 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.
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 can’t live without? Please let us know in the comments below.