Japanese Pantry Staples: Shoyu, Sake and Mirin

June 6, 2022

A well-stocked pantry is the secret to successful home cooking. With the right pantry staples on hand, you can always make a delicious meal – whether you’ve just returned from the market or haven’t been shopping in days. When it’s Japanese cuisine on your menu, three key ingredients will give you the authentic flavors you’re looking for.



Regular or reduced sodium shoyu is the ultimate pantry staple. Shoyu brings balance to any dish and enhances the flavors with umami, the “fifth” taste (beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) – a nuanced savory palate pleaser – that exists throughout much of Japanese cuisine. With shoyu in the pantry, you can mix up delicious dipping sauces, restaurant-quality stir-fry vegetables and meats faster than a delivery driver can navigate to your house. Shoyu is also the secret to taking simple snacks from sad to crave-worthy. Add a splash of shoyu to edamame, avocado toast or roasted cashews and savor every bite. Any dessert lover will tell you that salty richness enhances sweet treats. A splash of shoyu even makes a batch of chocolate chip cookies something remarkable.


Beyond shoyu, what should you stock in your pantry?


Sake and mirin are essentials for almost all Japanese cooking. Both are rice wines, but that’s where the similarities end. They’re each made differently and are used in different ways to help create phenomenal Japanese dishes.


Cooking Sake

Cooking sake (sah-key), Japanese rice wine, is used in marinades and slow-simmered sauces to enhance flavors and often to tenderize meat. While you’ve probably enjoyed sake as an alcoholic beverage, cooking sake – the essential ingredient we’re talking about here – is different. It contains salt, which makes it amazing for cooking but not particularly suitable for drinking. Sake is made from uruchi rice and brewed like beer where yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. In sake, the yeast comes from a special “koji” mold. But no need to worry... once it’s cooked the alcohol burns off, so no one’s going to accidentally get inebriated!



Mirin (mee-ruhn) is an integral part of Japanese glazes and sauces, adding the rich gloss that makes the food so aesthetically pleasing. Mirin has more sugar than sake, for a tangy sweetness that is irresistible, especially in combination with umami-rich shoyu. It’s one of the flavors that makes teriyaki so craveable. Sweet rather than salty, mirin is made by combining steamed mochi rice, cultured rice and shochu, an alcohol. These ingredients are allowed to ferment for at least two months and up to several years. Longer aging leads to deeper color and more intense flavor.


The Well-Stocked Shelf

With shoyu, cooking sake and mirin you can create delicious dressings and bring nuanced, delicious flavors to appetizers, main dishes and more. Experiment with how cooking sake and mirin can combine with your favorite Yamasa shoyu You’ll be following in the footsteps of generations of Japanese chefs putting fresh spins on tradition.

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