What Is a Good Substitute for Sake in Cooking & Drinking?

Aaaah, sake. When you think of sake (pronounced as sah-kay, by the way), you think of toasts and drinking it with buddies in restaurants. But did you know that this Japanese fermented rice liquor, also called rice wine, is used for cooking and cocktails, too?

We know that you don’t always have bottles of sake lying around in the kitchen, and you might not have time to get them in the store. Not to worry, folks, we’ve got the best sake substitutes, so your food and drinks taste amazing.

Read on to learn what good sake substitute you can use.

The 5 Best Sake Substitutes (Alcohol Options)

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Sake is a traditional wine, again pronounced as sah-kay and not sak-ee, made of rice and water. You can buy sake in grocery stores, whether for drinking or cooking. (*)

There are different kinds of sake available, ranging from dry to sweet and delicate to robust. Some are more expensive, while others are more affordable, depending on the quality and variety.

1.   Dry Sherry

There’s such a thing as dry sherry cooking wine, a very popular cooking ingredient that contains added salt and preservatives. While you can’t drink this, you can use this type of dry sherry in cooking for the sweet and nutty flavors of meals. (*)

That said, we recommend using this only in savory dishes, as the added salt can overpower the sweet taste. We also recommend boiling the dry sherry for the alcohol to evaporate, releasing the sweet flavors. It’s highly recommended for sauces, stews, pies, meats, and stir-fries.

Other than cooking, you can use different varieties of sherry, such as sweet sherry, for drinking or appropriate dishes.

2.   Shao Xing Cooking Wine

Shaoxing wine is a popular type of fermented Chinese rice wine, like sake. It’s excellent as an alcoholic drink or a cooking ingredient, used in Chinese and Asian cuisines.

This drink is made from fermented rice and some wheat and water, having a slightly sweet and spicy nutty flavor with a brown color. You can use this in soups, stocks, marinades, and fillings in dumplings or wontons.

3.   Dry Vermouth

Dry vermouth is a wine aromatized using herbs and spices. There are two kinds of vermouth: red and sweet or white and dry vermouth.

When you cook using dry vermouth, the dish can taste mild and floral to mildly bitter, so be wary of the amount. You can use this good sake substitute with sauces, marinades, soups, creamy sauces, and sweet dishes.

4.   White Wine

White wine is either sweet or acidic, depending on the variety you get. We highly recommend dry wine for cooking, with high acidity and citrus fruit taste.

Plus, we commonly use white wines in dishes like fish, pasta, seafood, mushrooms, chicken, and vegetables. This ingredient can boost and improve your dish’s flavors but allow it to simmer, then add it at the end of the cooking process.

5.   Mirin

Mirin is a kind of rice wine containing more sugar and less alcohol than sake. It has a sweet umami flavor that pairs well with savory dishes and delicious recipes like marinades, meats, sauces, meats, fish, and vegetable dishes.

Mirin can add a slightly sweet flavor and aroma to your dishes and does well with sauces like teriyaki and sushi. In fact, we recommend mirin as the best sake substitute.

 

Top 5 Non-Alcoholic Sake Substitutes

Can’t drink alcohol or serve alcoholic dishes to minors? Don’t worry; there are non-alcoholic substitutes you can still use to achieve some of your desired flavors in recipes.

Try any of these suitable non-alcoholic substitutes for sake:

1.   Rice Wine Vinegar

While rice wine vinegar isn’t the best sake substitute, as it has massively intense flavors.

Also, please note that rice wine vinegar has a sour flavor with intense acidity levels, so we don’t recommend it unless you have no other choice. If you plan on using this sake substitute, dilute it with another non-alcoholic liquid, like water. 1 part rice wine vinegar and 3 parts water will do the trick!

You can also use balsamic or distilled white vinegar, but this has a very strong and unpleasant flavor, so start with very small amounts. This ingredient is suitable for sauces, marinades, dressings, and pickling vegetables.

2.   White Grape Juice

White grape juice is another best sake substitute coming from green-skinned grapes. It offers many health benefits and captures the similar taste you want in recipes that call for sake.

We highly recommend adding some lemon zest. That way, you have a sweet, refreshing flavor with some herbal tones.

3.   Kombucha

Kombucha adds the similar acidity you want in your cooking, though it doesn’t have the distinctive alcoholic taste that sake has.

While you can go for store-bought kombucha, these are usually already sweetened, so we recommend making homemade kombucha. Store-bought kombucha may have sweeteners and flavorings that can alter the taste if the recipe calls for sake.

4.   Apple Cider

Apple cider comes from fermented apples, having a sour and mildly sweet flavor, depending on the types of apples used during production.

When using this as a substitute for sake, we recommend using it in dishes like salads, soups, sauces, dressings, marinades, syrups, cakes, and candies for the acidic flavor. You can dilute apple cider with water to lessen the sourness or add sugar to make it sweeter.

5.   Water 

We know this option will raise eyebrows, but it’s one of the last resorts, like rice wine vinegar. Of course, water will not replicate the sake flavor, but if you’re using sake mainly for consistency, then a flavorless liquid like water isn’t a bad option.

It’s also the optimum substitute for the sake if you want to avoid alcohol or don’t like the sake flavor in food.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you would like to learn more about sake, here are the frequently asked questions asked by our readers:

1.   Is rice wine made from fermented rice?

Sake is made through a brewing process similar to making beer. Rice starch is converted into sugar, which goes through a fermentation process into alcohol through yeast.

Meaning, the rice had its bran removed to give sake the water-like clarity, compared to other rice wines, which are darker. You can make your own sake, but that’s a whole different story!

2.   What makes sake different from other liquors? 

The primary difference between sake and other liquors is the brewing process. Also, since rice is starchy, sake is stronger than the typical grape wine, with an alcohol content closer to fortified wine such as dry vermouth or dry sherry.

3.   How do you drink sake? 

We like drinking sake hot during the winter, though high-quality sake is consumed cold to prevent cooling of the distinctive aroma. You can also use it as a cocktail base and cooking.

If you don’t want to use cooking sake or have no substitute for sake at home, you can skip the ingredient altogether.

4.   What’s the difference between sake and mirin?

Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine, a syrupy liquid used to glaze and seasoning agent. The alcohol content ranges from 1-14% to burn off easily while cooking.

It has a sweet flavor, and there are four types of mirin to use. Like sake, mirin can be used to cook, tenderize meat, and mask fishy odors. It also adds a mild sweetness to dishes and gives you a nice glaze.

5.   What can you use with cooking sake?

There are so many ways you can use sake in cooking, and it has benefits as well, such as:

  • You can use it in marinades to remove meat and fish odors
  • Tenderize meat with moisture sake provides
  • Add umami and a naturally sweet taste to sauces, soups, stocks, sauces, grilled, and simmered dishes
  • Use sake as a key flavoring to dishes, as wine does
  • Sake is a fermented product containing antioxidants, which provides health benefits

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Wrapping It Up

Did you find the best sake substitute you need from our list? If you’re going for Japanese cooking, desserts, or other recipes, head to your local grocery store or check your kitchen for any of these alternatives.

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Up Next: Burgundy Wine Substitute: The Only Wine List You Need!

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