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Mistakes Made About Japanese Mirin and Rice Vinegar, and the Top Brands and Their Key Products

The featured image would not be possible if it were not for my all-time favorites CityFoodsters and Jeremy Keith.

I started this blog to fill in what the media outlets with no skin in the game aside from a paycheck fail to get right, so I am out to assist my fellow content marketing cohorts because I eff up all the time (so, I got their back this time). I also include one of the most extensive lists of Japanese mirin and rice vinegar brands.

I do this blog because it is my contribution to us Americans and the Japanese as a bridge to understanding each other’s food culture. So I try to get it right because it is also part of my life as a red-blooded Japanese American in the great US of A, the land of Big Gulps and opiates.

During the research of my teriyaki sauce blog post, I happened across a few bad points on mirin, sake, and rice vinegar (and beyond, but that is for another blog post).

I know people were confused about ramen vs. instant noodles, but now I know there needs to be more clarification on a whole lot of other things.

You may be thinking “are there not a million and one sources already about mirin and rice vinegar?”

If you thought that, you are 100% correct about that, so why am I doing another one? I am doing it because the content on the internet gets regurgitated by writers looking to stay employed. So, if there are mistakes, those mistakes keep getting disseminated amongst our flock of fellow Japanese food lovers, and the buck stops here. Well, hopefully, it will. Also, if you are wondering what that means, it is a slang expression for “pass the buck,” which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. 

Questions that probably do not keep you up all night:

I want to use “the word for word” quote although I do not plan on backtracking to track down the mistakes for the sake of having a quote. So, I plan on adding to this blog post over time, as I come back across them (expect updates).

  1. Is mirin and rice vinegar the same?
  2. Is mirin acidic?
  3. What is the differences between hon-mirin vs. aji-mirin/mirin-fu ?
  4. Sad attempts to connect mirin to ramen and dishes it has nothing to do with, like sashimi.

The amount of regurgitated content on the internet is endless

Back in the day, you had to be somewhat knowledgeable because you went to school, were well-read, or had life experiences. Nowadays, you can copy and paste yourself to acclaim or like, most, create a social media account simply touting yourself as a ‘life coach’ or ‘chef.’ I realized that was the case when the content and the online persona did not match when I heard one writer with a half-Japanese name could not pronounce a basic Japanese word, aye guey.

This section is where I babble on about all the BS on the internet, including my own.

All I know is nothing.

Most of these individuals hired into their positions have very little knowledge of the topic they are writing about because they are writers, first and foremost. As for myself, I am a total hack when it comes to writing, but what I know, it is because I grew up Japanese American, or because I love food and have worked hard at learning it for the last couple of decades because that is my entire career history as an autodidact.

Also, I should point out, I am an avid cook, I have done restaurant pop-ups, and I have worked a short stint as a sushi chef in a Japanese owned and operated restaurant although I am constantly learning. I never claim to know anything because I have the worst memory and forget a lot which is partially why I am constantly leaning/relearning.

There are some standout media outlets, bloggers, and influencers

With the advent of the internet, everybody with an opinion can now express it on the world’s biggest soap box, the internet. Before that, all we had was a street corner and a soap box you could stand on (I remember a guy in SF Chinatown doing this, along with a Mr. Microphone), or if you were a big shot, TV, radio, and for the Hearst’s, newspaper.

I will be citing the sources who seem to always get it right/are right (they are in or have been added to my circle of trust) although there is no reason to point out the others who struggle putting on their pants.

I don’t wear pants.

Unfortunately, the byproduct of that power are all the whiny Yelpers, hack media outlets out for clickbait, and influencers doing it all for the likes. So misinformation is rampant because if you want to tout yourself as a food influencer, it does not matter if you know anything about the subject matter.

Fortunately for us, we have some old school and respected media outlets who will turn to experts with knowledge of the subject matter for their write-ups, and they are not like the aforementioned, who want everybody to think they are the expert on the subject. These are the outlets I hope to highlight and provide links to their site.

First things first

Is sweet rice wine (mirin) and rice vinegar (komezu) the same? No, just like beer and vodka are not the same as a white vinegar.

On a similar note, If you get vinegar confused with sherry, you have had some bad sherry.

My circle of trust resources

  • Like always, I have to suggest you use Just One Cookbook as your goto resource.
  • It is good to know and see Healthline have solid information.

Mirin, Sake/Nihonshu, and Komezu

These are the Japanese names and the translations of mirin, sake/nihonshu, and komezu by Kikkoman, a trusted source:

  • What is sweet rice wine (mirin): a seasoning used in Japanese cuisine. Mirin is also consumed as a beverage. It is a very sweet liquor containing approximately 14% alcohol content and 40 to 50% sugar content. In Japanese cuisine, mirin is used in simmered dishes and noodle soup base, as well as in kabayaki (thick and savory soy sauce-flavored) sauce and teriyaki dishes to add luster. The alcohol content helps eliminate raw odors, such as those from fish, improves flavor infusion and helps ingredients to retain structure during simmering. The sugar content imparts a sweetness to cooked dishes, luster to teriyaki bastes, and when heated mirin produces an even more pleasant and savory aroma. Soy sauce and mirin are a delectable combination, by using in equal parts, 1 : 1, you will be able to create the basic tastes of Japanese flavor. [1]
  • Rice wine (sake/nihonshu): sake, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from rice, also is frequently used as a seasoning in cooking, just as wine is. Besides adding its own flavor, sake helps other flavors to be absorbed, counteracts strong odors and tenderizes meat. Sake can be used for teriyaki sauce, marinades and sake-steamed shellfish. [2]
  • What is rice vinegar (komezu): this vinegar is milder and has a gentler flavor than fruit and wine vinegars. Traditionally-brewed rice vinegars, which are fermented for several months, are superior to those that are synthetically produced. Rice vinegar, like other vinegar, helps food keep longer, prevents vegetables from discoloring and removes bitterness. Rice vinegar is used in dressings, sushi rice and pickles. [3]

Red and white wines contain five times the acid than that in sake, notably the tart tasting tartaric acid. Sake contains none. Wines also contain the sour tasting acid ( vinegar ), at a level eight times greater than found in sake” Yet, some media outlets get sake (rice wine) and vinegar confused.

All the information is out there, and any competent writer should be able to regurgitate the content provided by knowledgeable experts like the Sake School of America.

Why the confusion between sweet cooking wine and vinegar

Rice vinegar, mirin, and sake are all made from rice, but you will not find people wondering if rice vinegar and mirin are the same (ok, I was wrong, 3rd most popular inquiry). Although like usual, JOC to the rescue of answering if mirin and rice vinegar are the same and why the confusion:

“The short answer is NO. You may find some websites or online forums that suggest rice vinegar to replace sake and mirin. However, part of the confusion is that rice vinegar is sometimes labeled as rice wine vinegar.”

– JustOneCookbook.com

I do not strictly attribute it to that, and I attribute it to writers who do not know anything about the source material, and they are not recomposing/regurgitating the content correctly. That is the culprit as I had stated earlier.

The top Japanese mirin and rice vinegar brands

Below are the top brands of sweet rice wine (mirin) and rice vinegar brands (komezu) all categorized by pricing, but in alphabetical order:

  • Affordable ($)
  • Moderate ($$)
  • High-end ($$$)

Popular and the highest quality Japanese rice vinegar brand and their ingredients

I have included not only white rice vinegars, but also brown rice (genmai) vinegar.

Brown rice is more nutrient-dense than white rice. Because of this, brown rice may help reduce blood sugar levels and aid in weight management efforts.” – GoodRX.com
Photo Description: the bottle design of Iio Jozo komezu (rice vinegar). It has a gold plastic top with a white label.
High-end ($$$)

One the highest quality Japanese rice vinegars available by Iio Jozo which is grown without pesticides and made in Miyazu, Kyoto, Japan by a 123 year old vinegar company.

Photo Description: a plastic looking bottle with a yellow top with the words "rice vinegar" and the label has "Kikkoman Rice Vinegar" and "brings salads to life" written across it.
Affordable ($)

In the words of Kikkoman “Kikkoman® Rice Vinegar is milder in flavor than other vinegars. There is also a hint of sweetness from the rice it is made from. The well-balanced acidity is excellent as an addition not only to Asian but also to Hispanic, European and American dishes.”

Photo Description: an iconic bottle design which is made of glass. The plastic cap is green with a yellow and green label with the text "sodium free sugar free" and "Marukan" "genuine brewed rice vinegar."
Affordable ($)
Photo Description: This bottle looks a lot like their regular bottle, but the standout differentiator is the words "organic rice vinegar."
Affordable ($)

This is the brand and bottle I grew up with, and it is what I think of when someones says “Japanese rice vinegar.” Unlike other brands, Marukan only does rice vinegar, and they have over 370 years of experience making rice vinegar. That is probably also the reason why they offer a quality organic rice vinegar that is USDA certified, non-GMO, gluten free, and vegan certified at a very competitive price.

Photo Description: Mizkan has a similar look to the Marukan bottle with a green top and a white and green label, except the Mizkan logo is in gold.
Affordable ($)

Mizkan says “Natural Rice Vinegar is versatile enough to use in hot or cold dishes to enhance flavors.”

Photo Description: I really like this label and packaging, it looks good and premium. The plastic lid is black with a gold and tan label with black kana (Japanese lettering).
Moderate ($$)

Made from 100% white rice, this Japanese rice vinegar has a clean, sweet and acidic flavor. Mix it with soy sauce, ginger and garlic to easily marinate meat, seafood, fish and vegetables with an infusion of Japanese flavors. 

Photo Description: like the above labeling except the label has gold lettering atop a black background to make the gold pop, especially when the the rice vinegar is not the typical gold liquid, but a dark brown hue (brown rice vinegar).
Moderate ($$)

Mizkan Premium Japanese Brown Rice (Genmai) Vinegar Made from 100% unpolished brown rice, this dark vinegar has a bold, nutty flavor. Like the above, you can mix it with soy sauce, ginger and garlic to easily marinate meat, seafood, fish and vegetables with an infusion of Japanese flavors. This is a product of Japan.

Be careful which rice vinegar you purchase because there are two popular types of products that often get confused from one another: 1. Rice Vinegar and 2. Seasoned Rice Vinegar (includes salt and sugar which is great for sushi rice).

Seasoned rice vinegar can be used for sushi rice (sushi meshi/shari su) to vegetables and salad dressing.
BRANDPRICE/SIZEINGREDIENTS
Iio Jozo
Pure
Rice
Vinegar
Japanese
Pantry
$44.25
16.9 fl.oz.

Toiro
$40 / 16.9 fl.oz.
Water, Rice.
KikkomanAmazon
$12+ / 20 fl.oz.
Rice Vinegar, Water, Diluted with Water to 4.2% Acidity (42 Grain).
MarukanAmazon
$8 / 12 fl.oz.
Rice Vinegar (Water, Rice).
Marukan
Organic
Amazon
$14-$15
Qty 2
12 fl.oz.
Organic Rice Vinegar (Water, Organic Rice) 4.2% Acidity.
MizkanAmazon
$9-$14
24 fl.oz.
Rice Vinegar and Water. Diluted with Water to 4.2% Acidity (42 Grain).
Mizkan
Premium
Amazon
$14-15
16.9 fl.oz.

Yummy
Bazaar
$8.95
16.9 fl.oz.
100% White Rice, Rice vinegar, Water
Mizkan
Pure
Brown
Rice

Amazon
$14+
16.9 fl.oz.

Yummy
Bazaar
$10
16.9 fl.oz.

Brown Rice, Water
Prices and availability are subject to change.

Popular and the highest quality Japanese mirin type, brand, and their ingredients

Rice vinegar (komezu) contains no alcohol and it is acidic whereas a true sweet cooking wine (hon-mirin) contains upwards of 14% alcohol and 1% to 8% for “taste/mirin-style” and less than 1% for “mirin-like” (mirin-fu).

Back’n’the day, like sherry, people drank mirin although you might not know that since one major media outlet does not know the difference between the two.
Photo Description: a brown bottle with a golden top and yellowish label with black kana (Japanese).
High-end ($$$)

Fukuraijyun Traditionally Brewed Hon Mirin Sweet Rice Wine by Hakusen Shuzou Co., Ltd. Hakusen Shuzo, a 170-year-old, family-run brewery located in the small town of Kawabe, the Gifu Prefecture in Japan. Processed using traditional methods invented in the Edo period, Fukuraijyun Hon Mirin literally provides the genuine taste of mirin sweet rice sake. 

Photo Description: a clear bottle with a golden plastic screw top, white label, and golden logo with the words "Mizkan" and "mirin."
Affordable ($)

Mizkan mirin is a very affordable mirin-like product, and Mizkan has it labeled as “ideal for teriyaki and plum sauce.”

Photo Description: it looks like a plastic bottle with a golden flip top label, and a white label with a ton of kana all over the label in black and green.
Moderate ($$)

Morita Organic Mirin-type seasoning is a sweet cooking sake made in the same way as hon mirin, with salt added. The way it differs from your typical mirin is that it contains organic rice and organic sugar and is certified as organic in Japan. The end product enhances your other ingredients by adding a beautiful luster and sophisticated sweetness to your cooking.

Photo Description: one of the most iconic bottles is the Kikkoman manjo ahi-mirin label. It is a plastic clear bottle with and orange and gold label with a circular graphic with the lettering "Kikkoman manjo aji-mirin sweet cooking rice seasoning" on the label.
Affordable ($)

When it comes to mirin, Kikkoman’s aji-mirin is the most notorious in the Japanese and Japanese American community and it is used heavily in homes and in restaurants.

Photo Description: This looks like a wine bottle, and I am sure it probably is since it's a private label brand. The plastic wrapper atop looks like it covers up a plastic cap, with a label with gold accents and a script font with the words "Genuine" and the Ohsawa logo and "organic."
Moderate ($$)

Ohsawa is a private label brand by Jean Richardson, Japan Gold USA (formerly known as Gold Mine Natural Food Company) out of Poway, CA. Due to her, this brand is able to deliver a legit mirin that is competitively priced and widely available in the US (Kroger, Walmart, Amazon, Vitacost, Ralphs, and the list goes on).

Photo Description: the cheapest looking label out of them all looks outdated, even the red cap. The label is yellow, red, and white with the words "Kotteri mirin" and "mirin style sweet cooking seasoning."
Affordable ($)

“Kotteri” is a word that I know because my love of ramen and dislike of Tenkaippin’s kotteri ramen which I had when I was in Shibuya. It means “thick/heavy,” although Kikkoman describes it as “…because the sugar in Kotteri is already dissolved, it’s easier to blend with other ingredients. It’s also less likely to burn when used in sautéed or grilled dishes. As part of a marinade, Kotteri enables the flavors of all the seasonings to better penetrate the meat to increase overall flavor. ” It also includes vinegar!?

Photo Description: a great looking bottle with a black plastic flip top lid, black labeling and gold kana (Japanese) down the middle of the label.
High-end ($$$)

Founded in 1772, Kokonoe mirin has a history of almost 250 years as a mirin manufacturer. Since the Edo period in Japan, they meticulously and conscientiously craft their mirin by hand, passing the traditional process down to their generations of artisans for a lasting flavor of yesteryear.

Photo Description: a plastic looking bottle with a red flip top plastic cap that looks like the Kikkoman bottle. The label is white with Japanese kana with no English characters.
Affordable ($)

In the words of Takara USA Takara has been making mirin for over 170 years and is known as #1 Mirin brand in Japan.” Like many products for the domestic USA, they are produced here in the US and the same goes for Takara USA. Their Takara mirin is brewed with Calrose from the Sacramento Valley. The brand hypes they do not use HFCS, but you can clearly see that they use corn syrup, and if you want to know the difference, go check out Healthline “High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Just Like Sugar, or Worse?

Liquor laws make finding hon-mirin hard to find (and the sale of) in the United States due to the alcohol content, and I often have a hard time finding even Kikkoman Manjo aji-mirin in Asian markets outside of California.

Oh, how I miss Mitsuwa, Tokyo Central, Marukai, and Seiwa, all within a 3-6 block radius from one another.
BRAND/
TYPE
PRICE/SIZEINGREDIENTS/
ATTRIBUTES
Hakusen Shuzou Co., Ltd.
Hon-mirin
Japanese
Taste
$27.95 /
500 ml
Amazon
$60-$70 /
500 ml
Glutinous rice (from Japan), malted rice (from Japan), rice spirit. Made in Japan.
Mizkan
Mirin

Mirin-fu
Amazon
$3 / 12 fl.oz.
Walmart
$3 / 12
fl.oz.
Corn syrup, Fermented Rice Extract (rice, alcohol, salt and citric acid), Water, and Salt.
Morita
Organic
Mirin

Hon-Mirin
Amazon
$27 / 16.6 fl.oz.
Organic Rice, Organic Malted Rice, Salt, Organic Sugar, Alcohol.

Ohsawa Genuine Mirin
(Yamaki)
Hon-Mirin
Amazon
$19-$20 / 12.68 fl.oz.
Organic Sweet Rice, Organic Distilled Rice Wine (water, organic sweet rice, koji seed), Organic Rice Koji (Rice, koji seed), Sea Salt.
USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free
Kikkoman
Manjo Aji
Mirin

Mirin-style
Amazon
$17-$18 / 60 fl.oz.
Glucose Syrup, Water, Alcohol, Rice, Corn Syrup, Salt.
Kikkoman
Kotteri

Mirin-style
Amazon
$6 / 10 fl.oz.
Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Fermented Rice Seasoning, Vinegar, Sodium Benzoate, Less than 1/10 of 1% as a preservative. Contains Sulfites.
Kokonoe
mirin Junzo Kawamoto

Hon-mirin
Amazon
$41-$43 /
500 ml
Glutinous Rice (domestic/Japan), Koji Rice.
Takara
Mirin-fu
Direct
$9-10
700 ml

Amazon
$40+
QTY2
/
23.7 fl.oz.
Sake (brewed with Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley, koji, yeast, and water), corn syrup, dextrose, and water.
Kosher certified, sulfite free, and gluten free.
Prices and availability are subject to change.

Is mirin acidic?

On one site, they should be testing their knowledge in this kitchen because they are obviously regurgitating without any firsthand knowledge of the subject matter.

“…and mirin is a big contributor to that. Sweet and acidic, mirin is something you should have in your arsenal of pantry items.”

Yea, no. Sad, if you work in a kitchen testing ingredients, but you cannot get this right.

Acidic? Huh, like most content on the internet, I know the person writing the content has never had it, and they are regurgitating what other sites may have gotten confused because they are mixing up mirin with rice vinegar. Why? Is it because “all these ching chong ingredients, are all like the same, like you know” (as an Asian person, vinegar and sweet cooking wine are two different things).

If you had mirin, you would know it is closer to sake because it is a type of rice wine. If they knew that, then they would not be putting out content touting it as acidic because a white wine (is a grape or rice acidic?) may be, but not mirin (a common substitute to mirin is sherry, and a sherry has a low acidity level compared to other (white) wines, via sherrynotes.com).

My circle of trust resources

  • If you read anything on this blog, I always refer people to Nami’san and crew at Just One Cookbook who will almost always get it right, if not all the time.
  • From what I have read, only Annabel Johnson got it right with SimplyCalledFood.com.

What is the differences between hon-mirin vs. aji-mirin/mirin-fu?

“Now, the sweetness of Mirin doesn’t come from adding sugar. Instead, it comes from the fermentation, causing the carbohydrates to sweeten it up.” 

Yup, partially true (also context matters, and it was not further clarified although this is a legit resource).

I have seen this also going around which eludes to hon-mirin which in Japanese means “true/genuine” and is used to denote the quality of the ingredient from katsuobushi to mirin. Where the issue is, is when we do not connect “Manjo” Aji-Mirin, a widely available product by Kikkoman is not a true mirin. The Kikkoman product is meant to taste (aji) like mirin, but the ingredients include: Glucose Syrup, Water, Alcohol, Rice, Corn Syrup, Salt (sugar in the form of glucose syrup and corn syrup is added and salt for other reasons).

My circle of trust resources

  • Yoshiko aka Cooking with Yoshiko, is a genuine nihonjin (Japanese person) living in I think Australia has legit content because of her extensive background as a chef.
  • HOLY cow, I never seen this blog till now, it is called Crock of Time, and I am impressed. It is by Cory Hughart out Cleveland, Ohio.

Sad attempts to connect mirin to ramen and dishes it has nothing to do with, like sashimi.

“…In Japanese cuisine, mirin is used in savory cooking. It is often paired with soy sauce to make a braising liquid, as with this Braised Pork Ramen recipe (pictured above)” along with “… including noodles, sashimi, tonkatsu and tempura.”

They use a Japanese person to cite legit uses, but they are then too compelled to throw and promote their fusion “ramen” recipes.

What is the actual Japanese braised pork recipe you ask that this network is playing off of? It is rafute (Okinawa) or chashu which are both traditional braised pork dishes, and they are not ramen dishes. Except this site cannot help but push their fusion recipes or link mirin to 1). noodles, they just generically say noodles, but for tsuyu, yes, it is a major component. 2). sashimi, raw fish? Is this them just dumping words out that sound, you know “Asiany,” because it would be a stretch to say for nikiri, and I can bet you that a Tom, Dick, or a Layla would have no clue what that is. 3). tonkatsu, it is not for tonkatsu, it is for the sauce which most people just buy. 4). tempura, yea, I won’t click, but it is for the dipping sauce.

My circle of trust resources

  • These resources should not be a surprise, but Umami-Insider.com of course gets it right.
  • Japantimes.co.jp is also another usual suspect in sites I rely on and this article has more content that most sites do not regurgitate.
  • The second, MasterClass who also has classes with Niki Nakayama of n/naka although all of their content is not all great/good.

Resources

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