Sake can do a lot of things to improve your cooking. It serves as a good deodorizer and tenderizer of meat and fish. It also imparts deep umami flavors while enriching the overall aroma and taste of any dish.
On top of all these, sake contains antioxidants and minerals that can impact your health positively. But if ever your pantry suddenly runs out of the beloved sake, you can use some of the following great alternatives for your dish.
- Dry Sherry
- White Wine
- Dry Vermouth
- Chinese Shao Xing Cooking Wine
- Rice Wine Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Apple Cider
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
There are two types of rice used in making the famous Japanese sake. They are called Kouji Mai (麹米) and Kake Mai (掛け米). Each type of rice gives birth to a specific kind of Japanese sake.
If you are still unable to find any alternatives from the list mentioned above, read on as we deep dive into the full comprehensive list of sake substitutes for cooking below.
Before that, let’s dig out a bit of history for this popular ingredient
12 Best Substitute For Sake
Originating from the Land of the Rising Sun, Sake has been a key ingredient in many culinary dishes all around the world.
The alcoholic beverage is produced from high-quality rice, clean water, mold, and yeast which are mixed and fermented together.
During this process, the starch in the rice is converted into sugars which are subsequently fermented into alcohol. The whole production is akin to the brewing of beer.
Whether you have run out of it or you cannot have access to sake due to your geographic location, here are 12 Best Substitute For Sake to consider.
Dry sherry is a type of alcoholic drink produced by fermenting grapes. While it may sound a lot like wine, the two are quite different. Sherry is unique because it undergoes a fortification process using a type of distilled spirit. As a result, dry sherry contains a higher level of alcohol than its peers in your liquor cabinet.
Dry sherry is one of the most recommended alternatives for sake because of its flavor profile. Like the famous Japanese wine, dry sherry imparts mildly sweet, acidic, and sharp flavors. It readily complements the other flavors of your dish.
This is perfect for marinades, sauces, soups, and recipes with meat and seafood. Depending on your preference, you can use a 1:1 ratio (e.g. 1 cup Sake: 1 cup Dry Sherry). You can also add spices and sweeteners to add layers to its mouthfeels.
White wine is probably the easiest one to have as replacement of Japanese sake. And it’s best recommended to pick up dry white wine rather than its sweet version.
Lower your expectations because white wine’s flavor is quite different from sake. You can notice the apparent fruitiness, tartness, and sweetness of white wine.
But do not fret because even though white wine does not taste very sake-like, it has low chances of ruining your recipe. It is a recommended alternative because it is safe to use in cooking. And you can always spice it up with sugar, salt, and other flavorings.
White wine is best to use in dishes with pasta, vegetables, meat, and seafood. You are free to use the same volume of white wine as sake.
A quick reminder though, always add the white wine in the early phase of cooking so it can simmer with the other ingredient for some time.
Vermouth is a close kin of sherry that may just be sitting inside your liquor cabinet. It is also an alcoholic beverage made from grapes and fortified with distilled spirits. On top of this, unlike sherry, dry vermouth is aromatized with herbs and spices.
For such reason, vermouth has a unique blend of flavors. The differences in taste of sake and dry vermouth are quite notable.
It takes guts to use it in a dish because its flavor profile is a double-edged sword. It can either improve your dish or flunk it completely.
Vermouth can be a good alternative to sake in sauces, marinades, and soup. It is also best to test run it before going all the way into big batches.
Moreover, use a small portion of vermouth until you find the volume that works excellently for your dish.
Chinese Shao Xing Cooking Wine
This might probably be the best alternative you can use in place of Japanese sake. Shao Xing cooking wine is what others call the Chinese counterpart of sake. This is because both of them are made by fermenting rice, water, and yeast.
Sake and Chinese rice wine have a similar flavor profile. They both taste nutty and a little sweet and spicy. Rice wine enriches and adds depth to the flavor and aroma of your dish.
Apart from the taste, Chinese rice wine, like sake, is a good remover of meat, fish, and seafood odors. Hence, you can expect it to do best in marinades, sauces, soups, and stews.
However, your creativity is not limited to these. You can always try experimenting with your other recipes.
Apart from Chinese wine, there is also another gem you can find hiding behind the stalls of Asian grocery stores called Mirin. Like sake, mirin is also from Japan and is produced by fermenting rice, water, mold, and yeast.
There are a few differences between mirin and sake you must bear in mind. First, mirin has more added sugar than sake.
This is why mirin tastes a lot sweeter than sake. Secondly, mirin has a lower alcohol content than sake. Lastly, mirin has a little bit of syrupy texture compared to sake.
Nonetheless, mirin continues to be the most frequent alternative to sake in Japan and other Asian countries. In the west, mirin is quite rare, so it does not come as a frequent option.
Like sake, mirin is a good ingredient in sauces and marinades.
One of the non-alcoholic beverages you can use as a substitute for sake is kombucha. It is an effervescent drink made by fermenting sweetened tea. You can make this at home or opt to buy the commercially produced ones.
Similar to sake, kombucha has a tarty and sweet taste that can improve the overall flavor of any dish. But due to the absence of alcohol in kombucha, you cannot use it as a tenderizer and deodorizer of meat, fish, and seafood.
You will also notice the absence of the distinct and crispy finish of the alcoholic taste of sake.
You can use kombucha in soups, stews, and marinades. It is also highly recommended that you carefully select brands of kombucha to use because some of them have additional sweeteners or flavors that might upset your dish.
Seasoned Rice Vinegar
If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic beverage as a substitute, seasoned rice vinegar is one of the best options you have. Like sake, this vinegar is made from fermented rice. This probably explains why sake and rice wine vinegar have similarities in flavor.
Seasoned rice vinegar has mildly sweet, acidic, and bitter flavors. You should note though that the vinegar may have a more intense and bolder tongue feel than sake.
For this reason, we highly recommend that you either dilute the vinegar or add sweeteners to subdue its acidity as well as bitterness.
The most ideal dilution that will bring the wine vinegar closer to sake’s flavor profile is 1 part rice vinegar to 3 parts water. You can add a teaspoon or two of sugar to augment its sweetness.
Seasoned rice vinegar is a very good substitute for dressings, soups, and sauces.
Another vinegar that may be sitting in your pantry is balsamic. This is a brown-colored vinegar made by slowly fermenting white grapes that results to an intensified mix of flavors.
Like wine, balsamic vinegar’s taste becomes deeper and richer as years pass by.
Balsamic vinegar can contribute sweet, slightly acidic, and umami flavors to any dish. These are similar to what sake does to your dish.
On a side note, expect some changes in the color and texture of your dish because of the red-brownish color, thick, and syrupy-like appearance of the balsamic vinegar.
You can use this vinegar in salads, pasta, marinades, sauces, and even in desserts.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a kitchen staple you can use as a substitute for sake, especially when in a pinch. Like all types of vinegar, apple cider is produced through the fermentation of apples, which results in an acidic and citrusy flavor. Depending on the brand, it can also have some sweetness in it.
You have to note that apple cider vinegar is not the best alternative to sake, but it can certainly add some flair to your dish. Just beware of the volume to avoid the overpowering acidity of the cider in your dish.
Also, add sweeteners like sugar and honey to complement the apparent citrusy of the vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is perfect in marinades, sauces, and soups.
Distilled White Vinegar
The last type of vinegar this article recommends as a substitute for sake is distilled white vinegar. Unlike some of its peers, white vinegar has a milder acidity, which makes it a good food ingredient.
However, as compared to sake, white vinegar lacks umami or deep flavor. It also does not offer sweetness because white vinegar is made by fermenting alcohol followed by long distillation processes.
Like in using apple cider, make sure to use white vinegar cautiously. Complement its acidity with sweeteners, spices, and other flavorings to deepen the taste of your dish.
You can use white vinegar in marinade, soups, stews, and sauces.
White Grape Juice
Apart from the types of vinegar (mentioned above), you can also use fruit juices such as white grape juice as a good non-alcoholic substitute for sake. It has the same color and consistency as Japanese rice wine.
Hence, it wouldn’t affect so much the overall mouthfeel and texture of your dish.
As for the taste, white grape juice has a fruity, citrusy, and mildly sweet flavor. You can notice the difference in taste between sake and juice, but juice still works as a viable option.
This is probably the easiest to have and the most surprising alternative to sake. How can a tasteless liquid replicate the taste of sake? The answer is simple, it does not.
Many people recommend water primarily because of what it can do for the dish’s overall texture and consistency. It has almost the same consistency as sake, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it being “too thick”.
Another good reason for using water is that you avoid ending up with a weird-tasting dish just because you used an alternative poorly.
On top of this, you can have all the freedom to just use spices, herbs, and condiments to achieve the flavor you’re looking forward to.
Lastly, water helps you to avoid alternatives that are alcoholic and too acidic for you.