Can I Use Sugar Instead of Mirin?

Table of Contents

Characteristics of Sugar
Characteristics of Mirin
Substitute Sugar for Mirin
Substitute Mirin for Sugar


Mirin, it often appears in Japanese food recipes. I imagine that a lot of people have already known it’s one of the seasoning to add sweetness. But some of them might wonder as followings: What exactly is the difference between sugar and mirin? or Can I use sugar instead of mirin?

Here, I would like to introduce about the difference between sugar and whether they can substitute for each other.


Characteristics of Sugar


Sugar is used to add sweetness to a variety of dishes, from sweets to meals. The main components of sugar are usually sugar cane called sucrose and sugar beet.

As everybody knows, the characteristic of sugar is “sweetness”. White sugar and granulated sugar are characterized by a simple and strong sweetness with simple taste and aroma. In addition to sweetness, brown sugar and sugar cane have more aroma and richness.

Suitable Dishes
・When you want to simply sweeten
・When you want to add a firm sweetness
・Meat dishes


Characteristics of Mirin


Mirin is made from glutinous rice, koji rice, and alcohol such as shochu, and made by aging it over time.

Sugar is characterized by a strong sweetness due to sucrose, while various sweetness components called oligosaccharides and glucose are produced in the process of making mirin. Those components can be produced from the glutinous rice and koji rice in the aging process.
Due to the multiple sweetness components of mirin, it has more complex and flavorful sweetness compared to the simple sweetness of sugar.

Additionally, a pure mirin (hon-mirin) contains 14% alcohol, and this alcohol component can make the dish even better just like the cooking sake does. Using some alcohol in cooking can be expected to have the effects of preventing collapsing, eliminating fishy odors, and improving the penetration of taste.

Suitable Dishes
・Boiled food that easily collapses
・When you want to glaze the dishes
・Preparation of fish dishes


Substitute Sugar for Mirin

Although the effect of mirin cannot be completely reproduced, you can use sugar instead of mirin by mixing it with sake (cooking sake).

When you need 1 tablespoon of mirin, please mix 1 teaspoon of sugar with 1 tablespoon of sake.*
The sweetness of mirin will be replaced with sugar and the alcohol of mirin will be replaced with sake.
It is difficult to produce the complex sweetness and richness of mirin, however, the mixture of sugar and sake is great substitute for it.

*If you can’t get any sake, you can substitute white wine for sake. It may not be really Japanese style, but it’s better than nothing.

*You can also use honey instead of sugar. Honey contains more sweetness than sugar, so you need a little less amount of honey for the recipe. (It should be 1/2 or 2/3 amount of sugar). The great part of using honey is that it can glaze the dish well. But, you should note that some honey has very strong smell, and the whole dish could have that flavor if you use that type.


Substitute Mirin for Sugar

It may be rare case though, you can also substitute mirin for sugar.

When you need 1 tablespoon of sugar, please use 1.5 tablespoons of mirin to get the same degree of sweetness.
That is only a guide, so you can adjust the amount as you like. And please not that the quality of sweetness is different in those two seasonings.

Also, you should consider that mirin contains alcohol unlike sugar. Especially when you make no bake sweets, it might change the taste a lot. Probably making soup dish and simmered foods are more suitable for this hack.


Sugar and mirin are very similar seasonings in terms of “sweetness”. But they have different features and effects, isn’t it interesting?

If you have a chance to get both, please try to experience the difference between those!