<What is it?>
Mirin is a type of rice wine made by ageing a mixture of Shochu (Japanese brandy), Mochi rice and rice malt. During the ageing process, the koji mold in rice malt degrades the starch in the Mochi rice into sugar, which gives the iconic mild sweetness to the wine.
<How is it used?>
Mirin is one of the most important seasonings in Japanese cuisine and mainly used to give sweetness and gloss to sauces, marinade, soups and etc. Its alcohol content also helps tone down the unpleasant smell of fish and meat. One famous example of a dish with mirin would be Teriyaki.
This is not widely known (even here in Japan), but back in time, Mirin was much more popular as a beverage than a seasoning. Even now, certain brands of Mirin can be enjoyed as decent rice wine either straight or in cocktails.
Here are different types of mirin (possibly) available at your local Japanese supermarket.
Made with rice malt, Mochi rice, Japanese brandy and added sugar. Reasonably priced and ideal for everyday cooking. Could be too sweet to drink.
Made with rice malt, Mochi rice and Japanese brandy. This, I would say, is the real Mirin. Moderately sweet with sherry like aroma. Perfect for both cooking and drinking, but a bit on a pricy side.
This is Hon Mirin + added salt. Good for everyday cooking but definitely not for drinking. The added salt makes it possible to avoid alcohol tax; therefore, it is more budget-friendly than Hon Mirin.
-Mirin-style sweet seasoning-
This is imitation mirin and almost non-alcoholic with less than 1% alc. (norm mirin 13%). It’s budget friendly and ideal for sauces and dishes which don’t go through a heating process and you don’t want to taste alcohol in.