Kikkoman Commemorates 200 Years of Nagareyama Shiromirin

October 1, 2014

Washoku, Japanese cuisine, has been the subject of national and global interest since it was registered on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, wherein it is described as "washoku traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese." One of washoku's essential seasonings is mirin, which is produced from glutinous rice, rice koji (fermentation starter) and shochu (distilled spirit) or alcohol. Mirin is a traditional fermented seasoning, as are soy sauce and miso, and it supports the complex flavors that are fundamental to washoku. Mirin has a long history. Since the late 16th century, when sweetened foods were less common and thus highly valued, mirin's sweet, refined flavor had been considered sophisticated, and enjoyed as a kind of sake drink.

In 1814, Monjiro Horikiri, second-generation master at the Sagamiya sake brewery in the Nagareyama area of Chiba Prefecture, was striving to compete against mirin being brought into Kanto (the region surrounding Edo, today's Tokyo) from the Kansai area; that is, mainly Kyoto and Osaka. Horikiri was determined to develop a type of mirin unlike any other, and eventually succeeded in brewing shiromirin which, in contrast to the darkish, cloudy mirin of the times, was light-colored and beautifully clear. Shiromirin took Edo by storm and spread throughout Japan, until it became renowned as a Kanto specialty. This was the forerunner of today's mirin, known as Kikkoman Manjo Honmirin.

As Japanese food culture continued to develop, mirin came to be used more as a seasoning in restaurants. From around the early 19th century, the koikuchi shoyu rich-flavored soy sauce of Kanto increased in popularity, and it was combined with mirin to develop the so-called classic Edo-mae taste—flavors characteristic of Edo. Popular examples of Edo-mae taste include unagi no kabayaki, grilled eel teriyaki basted with soy sauce and mirin, and soba buckwheat noodles, whose accompanying dipping sauce includes soy sauce and mirin.

The merits of mirin lie not only in its natural sweetness, which is derived from rice; mirin gives food an attractive glaze and gloss, while its alcohol content prevents food from becoming overly soft while cooking. Mirin also allows foods to absorb flavors, and eliminates raw or unpleasant odors from ingredients. Because of these effects, mirin can be introduced as a seasoning into a variety of cooking contexts to create sophisticated and flavorful meals.

The year 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the development of shiromirin. To commemorate this special year, Kikkoman is running campaigns and events to promote the benefits of mirin, including teaming with high school students to create recipes using mirin, and hosting cooking seminars that focus on mirin. Kikkoman will continue to produce its Manjo Honmirin with high quality ingredients and traditional brewing technology in its efforts to help deliver great taste to every home.