I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of sake substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitutes for sake include dry sherry, dry white wine, or other rice wine varieties like mirin or Shaoxing wine. Looking for an alcohol-free sake alternative? Rice wine vinegar diluted with water is okay in a pinch. And dashi is great for adding lots of umami.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I steamed a couple of sea bass filet to test out several different sake substitutes.
Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice, specifically a sakamai rice. There are loads of sake varieties available, but it generally has a light, mildly sweet flavor with an umami twist.
You’ll find it used in everything from sauce and marinades to baking!
Sake is pretty unique, so I couldn’t find an exact flavor match. But I was able to find a few decent substitutes.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Shaoxing wine||Use ¾ Shaoxing wine + ¼ cup water||9/10|
|Mirin||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, adding something acidic||9/10|
|Dry sherry||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Dry vermouth||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Dry white wine||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Dashi||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Homemade sake||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Common uses of sake
Here are some popular ways to use sake and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a standalone drink: Dry vermouth, white wine, and sherry don’t taste like sake. Each has a distinct flavor, but they all taste clean, making them a good substitute for sake when it comes to casual drinking. You can also use them as a base for your cocktails.
- For steaming and cooking rice: Shaoxing wine and mirin are great substitutes for steaming and cooking rice. Go with dashi if you need an alcohol-free alternative.
- For sauces, broths, and marinades: Dashi is an excellent non-alcoholic substitute for sake in broths and marinades. You can also use Shaoxing wine or mirin.
Shaoxing cooking wine is another type of rice wine and a decent match for sake (despite its Chinese origins).
Like sake, it’s got rich, umami notes that’ll take your dish to the next level.
Although, be warned – its flavor is distinct and robust, so it won’t be to everyones taste. I’d describe it as herbal. It also tends to have added salt (which is why you’ll see it labelled for “cooking only”).
Start by using a small amount and build up from there if you like it.
I mixed about ¾ cup of Shaoxing wine with ¼ cup of water to steam my sea bass and it worked perfectly!
How to substitute: replace sake with ¾ the amount of Shaoxing wine + ¼ cup water
This might surprise you, but dry sherry is also a good alternative to sake.
It’s a Spanish fortified wine, which means it has a similar alcohol content to sake. And both the liquids have a familiar dryness.
The charm of sherry lies in its nutty, almost savory flavor.
It will add a delicious layer of complexity and richness to your dishes, just like sake would.
The best part? Dry sherry is a great standalone drink too.
Psst… you can use sweet sherry in a pinch, but it will have very noticeable effect on the final flavor. And you’ll need to cut back on any other sweet ingredients.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with dry sherry.
Dry white wine
You might already have this substitute sitting in your kitchen. Yes, it’s the ever-reliable dry white wine!
Dry white wine is a super easy substitute for sake. It’s easy to get hold of a bottle and the crisp flavor profile is very similar to sake.
Plus the high acidity means it works wonders as a meat tenderizer.
Go for a bolder variety with a higher ABV, like a 13% Chardonnay, to get the best match. Avoid sweet wines.
And pick one you like to drink, so you can have a chilled glass while you’re cooking.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with dry white wine.
Dry vermouth is a fortified wine like sherry, but it’s infused with aromatics.
This gives it a unique herbal flavor profile and a hint of bitterness that makes for an interesting sake substitute.
Some people even describe it as medicinal.
Go slowly if you’re replacing sake with vermouth, and consider doing a ‘test’ run first to make sure you like the results.
The herbal flavor was delicious with my sea bass. But if you have lots of other strong ingredients, you might find they clash.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with dry vermouth.
If you’re into Japanese cooking, you might have some mirin lying around.
It’s another Japanese rice wine, and you can use it to replace sake with some adjustments.
It has a lower alcohol content than sake and more sugar, making it noticeably sweeter.
To balance this out, I added a generous squeeze of lemon juice before using it to steam my sea bass. The bright, tart flavor of the lemon juice helped temper the sweetness.
If there’s sugar in your recipe, skip it!
Quick tip: some mirin brands have added salt. If yours does, you’ll also want to cut back on any added salt in the recipe.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with mirin, and add a spritz of lemon if preferred.
If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic alternative to sake, dashi is a good option.
This Japanese broth is made from kombu (kelp) and bonito flakes (dried fish), giving you a deep umami flavor and hint of the ocean.
Although it’s pretty subtle compared to sake.
You can make dashi from scratch, but a quick mix of dashi granules and water will do the trick if you’re short on time.
Psst… if you miss the acidity sake provides, try adding a spritz of lemon. And a little sugar if you want some sweetness.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with dashi.
Looking for the most authentic substitute for sake? Why not take a shot at making your own homemade version?
It’s not an instant solution though. With a two-week fermentation time, you’ll need to plan ahead.
But it’s a fun DIY project and there’s minimal hands-on work. The recipe I used was from the Bru Sho (video below)
You can find most of the ingredients in a well-stocked Asian market. The only thing I had to order online was the koji starter, which helps in the fermentation process.
The recipe also includes an extra step of straining the fermented liquid from the rice, resulting in the clearest homemade sake.
How to substitute: replace sake in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade sake.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top sake substitutes, but the list doesn’t end there!
Here are other sake alternatives you can try:
- Rice wine vinegar + water – this is far from an ideal substitute for sake, but in a pinch, diluting rice wine vinegar with water can work. Go for 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. You can also swap the vinegar for lemon juice.
- White rum – again, you’ll need to dilute this with water before you can use it!
- Kombucha – this was a surprising alternative, but kombucha is another solid alcohol-free alternative for sake. It has a lightly tangy, sweet flavor and will add acidity to your dish. Homemade is best, because the store bought stuff can be full of sugar.
- Chicken or vegetable broth – this is another non-alcoholic alternative for sake in cooking. Broth has a light, savory flavor with a hint of umami. And you can always up the umami-ness with some MSG.
Substitutes to Avoid
There are A LOT suggestions for sake substitutes on the internet, so there were bound to be some duds in the mix!
White grape juice was one I tried that I didn’t like. The commercial stuff is far too sugary to work as a substitute.
Vodka was another suggestion, but it didn’t add much to my sea bass. Vodka is generally tasteless so isn’t able to replicate any of the flavor sake adds to a dish.
11 Best Sake Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
For kome koji (malted rice)
- 400 grams steamed rice
- 1 ½ grams kome koji (malted rice)
For rice wine
- 1 gallon filtered water
- 400 grams kome koji (malted rice)
- 15000 grams steamed rice
- 4 grams neutral hop, or 5 grams citric acid
- Spread the steamed rice in a casserole. Let it cool down before sprinkling the kome koji. Stir the rice and cover with a damp kitchen cloth. Leave in a warm, dry place for 30 hours. Check in every 10 hours to ensure the rice is still warm and moist. In 20 hours, you should notice a cheesy smell.
- Add your komei koji rice in the fermenter, then the gallon of water. Then, add the freshly made steamed rice and mix everything. Add hops or citric acid. Sprinkle in the yeast then mix everything together. Close the lid and leave in a dark place overnight.
- For the next 2-3 days, push down and mix everything together. Let sit for 2 weeks.
- After two weeks, you can bottle this up. Or you can filter the sake and let it sit an extra night to achieve crystal clear sake.