Mirin, a seasoning found in many households, was originally a type of high-quality sake. It turns out that mirin, made by aging shochu or brewing alcohol, rice, rice koji, and sugar, exudes a gentle and mild sweetness. This characteristic sweetness made mirin a popular choice even among those who weren't fond of strong alcoholic beverages. Mixtures of mirin and shochu were referred to as "yanagikage" or "honnaoshi," and they were chilled in wells during the summer to be consumed as a part of heat relief.
Furthermore, mirin served as a substitute for sugar as a sweetener. As soy sauce production gained momentum during the Edo period, mirin's role as a seasoning became even more pronounced. The gloss, aroma, and umami resulting from the amino acids in soy sauce combined with the sugars in mirin were highly valued, laying the foundation for the enduring principles of Japanese cuisine.
Conversely, mirin intended for consumption as a beverage remained popular until the 1940s. However, due to post-World War II rice shortages and the rise of beer and whiskey, mirin production was prohibited, and its use as a beverage waned. This gradual shift led to the mirin we know today, with increased extract content. This evolution also gave rise to mirin-style seasonings, incorporating alcohol and syrup.
There are three types of mirin: "hon-mirin" (true mirin), "mirin-style seasoning," and "mirin-type seasoning." Hon-mirin is produced by maturing rice, rice koji, shochu or brewing alcohol, and sugar, resulting in an alcohol content of approximately 14%, categorizing it as an alcoholic beverage. Mirin-style seasoning has an alcohol content of less than 1%, with minimal alcohol content. It involves combining corn syrup and umami seasonings with rice and rice koji. This composition yields a robust sweetness due to the inclusion of sugars like corn syrup. Mirin-type seasoning is derived from elements like rice, rice koji, corn syrup, salt, and alcohol. Its standout feature is its salt content.
Mirin serves various functions in cooking. As alcohol evaporates during the heating process, it simultaneously eliminates food odors. Additionally, the combination of sugar and alcohol prevents starch leakage and maintains the structural integrity of fish and meat, preventing their disintegration during cooking. Owing to multiple sugars such as glucose and oligosaccharides, mirin offers a smoother sweetness than regular sugar and contributes to a glossy appearance. When seeking to eliminate meat or fish odors or prevent disintegration during cooking, consider using mirin seasoning or mirin-type seasoning, both of which incorporate alcohol.
Sakaba Motoki (the bar in the photo)