What is "Hon Mirin"? Basic Knowledge of Hon Mirin for Beginners

What is Hon Mirin?

Hon Mirin is a sweet alcoholic beverage produced and consumed mainly in Japan with an alcohol content of around 14%. It is made from glutinous rice, rice malt, and shochu (rice shochu/ brewer's alcohol), and is then matured and strained. Like soy sauce and miso, hon mirin is one of Japan's traditional brews, and is used as a seasoning for a variety of Japanese dishes, including meat, fish, and vegetables, because of its unique sweetness and richness. Because hon mirin contains alcohol, it can only be sold in Japan by stores that have a license to sell alcoholic beverages.

History of Hon Mirin

Mirin first appeared in the Warring States Period and Azuchi-Momoyama Period, and existing documents include records of tea ceremonies and diaries from that period. There are two theories regarding the birth of mirin: the theory that it was introduced from China and the theory that it originated in Japan. The theory that mirin came from China is based on the fact that a sweet liquor called "mirin" was found in a book written during the Qing-Ming period in China, and was introduced to the Ryukyu and Kyushu regions during the Warring States period, where it was called "mitsurin" or "miurin," and spread throughout Japan. The theory of Japanese origin states that there were sweet liquors such as neri-shu and shiro-shu that existed in Japan since ancient times, and that shochu was added to improve them, giving rise to the present mirin.

Origin of Hon Mirin

The three most famous production areas for hon mirin are Chiba, Aichi, and Hyogo prefectures in Japan. Hyogo Prefecture, in particular, has a long history of producing hon mirin using sake lees from shochu made from sake lees produced in Nada, Itami, and other famous sake brewing areas. According to data from the National Tax Agency for fiscal 2021 by prefecture, Hyogo Prefecture ranks at the top of the nation in both sales and production of mirin, indicating a strong culture of mirin consumption.

Sales Volume Ranking
  1. Tokyo
  2. Aichi
  3. Osaka
  4. Hyogo
  5. Kanagawa
Quantity Ranking
  1. Chiba
  2. Hyogo
  3. Aichi
  4. Omitted due to small volume

What are mirin-like seasonings and fermented seasonings?

There are two types of seasonings similar to mirin: mirin-style seasonings and fermented seasonings (mirin type). Mirin-style seasonings contain less than 1% alcohol and are blended from ingredients such as syrup, rice koji, and umami seasoning. On the other hand, fermented seasonings have both alcoholic fermentation and saccharification/ripening processes, and are made undrinkable by adding salt. Many of these ingredients are made by adding 1.5% or more salt to hon mirin (Japanese sweet sake). Therefore, mirin-like seasonings and fermented seasonings are general foods, and there are no strict regulations regarding ingredients or production methods. Because they are not subject to liquor tax, they are often inexpensive.

What is the difference between hon mirin and sugar?

The inclusion of ingredients other than sugar

Hon Mirin is a polysaccharide made from several sugars rich in sugar and amino acids, while sugar is a disaccharide whose main sweetening ingredient is sucrose, so even sweet seasonings have different characteristics. Hon Mirin is considered to be characterized by its elegant sweetness and refreshing flavor, which gives a mellow taste to the entire dish.

Points created by saccharification and aging

Hon Mirin has a sweet and umami component from saccharification and aging, which produces a flavor different from that of sugar.

Hon Mirin has a lower GI than sugar

GI is a measure of the speed at which blood glucose levels rise. Low-GI foods reduce the rapid rise in blood glucose levels and support a healthy diet.
Sugar and hon mirin are used for the same sweetening, but have very different GI values. While the GI value of fine white sugar is 109, Hon Mirin has a low GI value of 15, making it a low-GI seasoning because it does not raise blood sugar levels. Health-conscious people should consider sweetening in terms of GI.

What are the raw materials for Hon Mirin and how is it made?

Made from glutinous rice, rice malt, and shochu

Mirin is made from glutinous rice, rice malt, and shochu (distilled spirit). Mirin is made without the alcohol fermentation process using yeast, but by mixing rice malt and steamed glutinous rice, and then saccharifying and aging the mixture, succinic acid and amino acids give it a unique rich flavor. In this mirin, the ingredients are decomposed and the substances produced react with each other, producing a high content of sugars and a flavor unique to mirin.

Preparation Process

Glutinous rice is used as the hanging rice. Koji is a filamentous fungus grown on grains and used in the production of brews. Glutinous rice, rice malt, and shochu are prepared, and chemical reactions proceed during the saccharification and maturation processes, producing sugars, amino acids, and other substances that are used to make mirin (sweet sake), or unrefined mirin (moromi). During the saccharification process, the enzyme amylase acts on starch to produce sweetness, and protease produces flavor.

After fermentation, pressing (squeezing) and tailings removal.

After the saccharification and maturation process, the unrefined sake (moromi) is pressed to produce mirin stock solution and koboreme (mirin lees).

What are the components of sweetness and flavor of Hon Mirin?

Sugars (glucose, oligosaccharides, etc.)

The sweetness of hon mirin is produced by the action of enzymes, consisting of several sugars from saccharides produced from rice starch and sugars accumulated during the production of rice malt. Its sweetness has a unique richness and depth, and can be used with soy sauce, miso, and other seasonings to add depth to dishes.

Amino acid

Amino acids in mirin include glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and alanine.

  • Glutamic acid: In addition to the sweetness of hon mirin, it also acts as an umami ingredient.
  • Aspartic acid: Acts as an umami ingredient and is also believed to increase appetite and relieve fatigue.
  • Alanine: Enhances sweetness and is also a material used to produce glucose in the body.

How is Hon Mirin used as a seasoning?

Adds sweetness to simmered or stir-fried dishes

Adding a small amount of Hon Mirin can give a unique sweetness and deep flavor to dishes. When added to simmered or stir-fried dishes, it enhances the flavor and improves the overall balance of the dish.

Use as an ingredient in sauce

Hon Mirin is often used as a seasoning along with sugar and soy sauce, and is also used in yakiniku sauce, okonomiyaki sauce, and tempura sauce.

Use for drinks you want to add sweetness to.

Hon Mirin has a sweet taste, so it can be used in drinks that you want to add sweetness, such as tea and coffee. Add a small amount at a time to adjust the sweetness to your liking.

Effect added component
Rich taste, elegant sweetness Sugars, amino acids, organic acids, etc.
Teri Tsuya. Sugars (glucose, oligosaccharides, etc.)
Improvement of baking color Sugar composition contained
Masking effect (eliminates unpleasant odors) Azeotropes of ethanol, reactants of sugar and amino acids
Better flavor penetration Effect of ethanol on soaking of flavor compounds
Prevention of boil-over Ethanol, sugar

Summary of the appeal and usage of Hon Mirin

From the novice cook to the professional, Hon Mirin is a strong ally for flavor. Good hon mirin, perfected using traditional methods, is an excellent seasoning that harmonizes sweet and savory flavors.

It can be added not only to basic Japanese dishes such as simmered dishes and teriyaki, but also to miso marinades and sweets. Using Hon Mirin will upgrade your cooking and increase the number of dishes you are proud to serve. Good hon mirin will bring you a happy eating experience, so make active use of it.