Mirin and Teriyaki sauce

  |   Cooking, Food, Science   |   No comment

Japanese pantry basics bought, jet lag and karaoke bar hangover dispersed it was time to start cooking. But because I am a food technologist I need to know precisely what I’m dealing with.

In her book “Japanese Women Don’t Get Fat or Old” Naomi Moriyama talks about stocking one’s Tokyo kitchen with essential basic seasoning ingredients:




Sesame Oil

Rice Vinegar

Cooking Sake


Sesame seeds



Each one of those elements is a fascinating elixir of flavour precursors, probiotic by-products and centuries of applied food science. Not going to be easy to cover them in a single post, at least not properly.  The Crackling children were keen to get eating so on the promise of something with the world famous Teriyaki sauce they were held at bay long enough to evolve a strategy.

Starting with Mirin, we will examine a different ingredient each week looking at its use in Japanese cooking, its origins and, of course, its chemical and nutritional credentials. In case you can’t wait, here’s a picture of that Teriyaki sauce over West Australian Kingfish. Recipe and the end of the post.


Mirin 味醂

The English on the label of my bottle of Mirin explains it is Sweet Cooking Sauce. Its ingredients are listed as glucose syrup, glutinous rice, 14% alcohol and Koji. It smells a little like the whiff you might get from a case of liqueur chocolates left over from last Christmas.


It looks very like a drug-testing sample bottle. However, it is a deliciously vital part of Japanese marinades and sauces and if you leave it out someone will surely notice. One its main functions is to impart a subtle sheen on account of all that glucose. See it making the Kingfish glisten up there?


All about the glutinous rice and the koji action.

In general, mirin is made from combining cooked polished rice, koji and shochu which is a distilled spirit made from low grade alcohol.*

The cooked glutinous rice provides the carbohydrate component and the enzyme that converts this in to fermentable sugars comes from Koji, an Aspregillus oryzae mold that grows like crazy on cooked rice by inserting its filaments deep in to the grain.

Mixed with the shochu to prevent any further alcoholic fermentation and if the mash is kept nice and warm for two months the koji will slowly convert the rice starch in to glucose, which gives mirin its characteristic sweetness with around 41% sugar ¹.

I picked up a fairly authentic bottle of Mirin made by a Japanese company in Singapore for about 5USD. The Mitoku Company in central Japan spend 12 months coaxing a very special organic  version called Mikawa Mirin into life using methods that have not changed in a hundred years. I wonder if it is available in WA?


The Koji action releases anti-oxidant rich Isoflavones and of course, the amino acid glutamate. Glutamate = umami and deep, rich flavour. All natural, all pure and adored by the health food crowd. Indecently, there is no difference between these naturally occurring glutamate ions and those in monosodium glutamate.


There will be a separate post coming soon on the reasons MSG is not the reincarnation of Slobodan Milosevic so please familiarise yourselves with this fabulous graphic from Compound Interest to give yourself a head start.


Recipe for Teriyaki Sauce

This sauce on the menu in a Gaijin restaurant is shorthand for “Japanese style somewhere along the way”. Because of its combination of savoury, sweet and glossy it became popular world wide especially in Hawaii. I would lay money that even Pizza Hut as put out a Teriyaki Deep Dish in a strip mall somewhere but I would pay money not to eat it.

Teriyaki sauce for fish or meat from Keiko Ishida’s Step by Step Japanese cooking. Serves 3-4 with rice and vegetable side dishes.


  • 350 g fish or chicken pieces
  • 30ml canola oil

For the Teriyaki sauce

  • 2 tablespoons / 30 mLs shoyu dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons / 30 mLs mirin
  • 2 tablespoons / 30 mLs cooking sake
  • 1 teaspoon of white sugar
  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and seal each side of your fish or chicken
  2. Mix all sauce ingredients together well
  3. Turn up heat in pan and pour in sauce
  4. Coat fish or chicken well with sauce for about one minute and if using fish turn off heat and leave until fish is cooked through, serve immediately. If using chicken put lid on pan and simmer until chicken is cooked through.
    For bone-in chicken make slashes in the flesh for even cooking

    For bone-in chicken make slashes in the flesh for even cooking


*and let me tell you that served warm in a straight glass with a pickled umbeshi plum in the bottom shochu is a wonderful tonic on a cold night and will keep you going though three bars, two restaurants all the way to when the Karaoke parlour kicks out at 2am.



  1. Harold McGee, On Food & Cooking, p757, H&S2004



No Comments

Post A Comment