The Best Sake Substitutes: Exploring Alternatives for Japanese Rice Wine

The best sake substitutes: Exploring Alternatives to Japanese Rice Wine

Sake, commonly referred to as Japanese rice wine, is an integral part of Japanese culture and cuisine. However, finding sake is not always easy, as it may not be readily available in all grocery or liquor stores. In such cases, it becomes essential to find suitable substitutes that can provide similar results in cooking. This article aims to explore the best sake substitutes, offering a range of options for those seeking alternatives to this traditional Japanese beverage.

Understanding Sake

Sake is made from rice that has been polished to remove the bran. The polished rice is then fermented through a brewing process similar to that used for beer. Although sake is often compared to wine, the process of making sake is actually more similar to beer production. Undiluted sake typically has a higher alcohol content, ranging from 18% to 20%, compared to beer and wine.

Different types of sake

Sake comes in several varieties, each with its own unique characteristics and serving recommendations. Here are the five major types of sake:

1. Junmai-shu

This pure sake contains no additional brewer’s alcohol, starch or sugar. It is made from rice that has been at least 70% milled. Junmai-shu has a full and rich flavor profile, often with a high acidity level, and is usually served hot.

2. Ginjo-shu

This type of sake is made from a rice blend of 40% milled rice and 60% un-milled rice. It has a deep aroma and light flavor. Ginjo-shu is fermented at low temperatures, resulting in a delicate flavor. It is typically served cold to enhance its aroma and flavor.

3. Daiginjo-shu

In the Ginjo-shu category, Daiginjo-shu is made from rice that has been milled between 35% and 50%. It is a full-bodied sake with a strong aroma and delicate flavor. Like Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu is best enjoyed cold.

4. Honjozo-shu

This sake blend contains approximately 70% unpolished rice. Brewer’s alcohol is added to create a less potent option. Honjozo-shu has a light and smooth flavor and is typically served warm.

5. Namazake

This category of sake refers to options that are not pasteurized. Depending on the production process, any of the other sake categories may fall into this category. Namazake requires refrigeration for preservation.
In addition to these main types, there are also specialty sakes such as infused sake, akai sake, taru sake, sparkling sake, nama, namachozo, koshu, and more.

Uses for Sake

While sake is enjoyed as a beverage, its most common use outside of Japan is in cooking. Similar to using wine for cooking, sake is perfect for making marinades for meat and fish. It tenderizes the meat and removes any unwanted odors or flavors, especially with fish. When sake is cooked, the alcohol evaporates, leaving its flavors behind and enhancing the overall flavor of the dish.

Replacing Sake in Cooking

When looking for a sake substitute, it is important to consider the desired end result. While rice vinegar can be used as a substitute, the best option for achieving a similar result is fortified white wine. Dry white vermouth, Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, white Madeira, white port or Marsala are all suitable substitutes for various uses of sake in cooking. These fortified white wines offer a depth of flavor and complexity that is very similar to sake.
Here are some of the recommended sake substitutes:

1. Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth

This popular brand offers a dry vermouth that provides a balanced flavor profile with a slight hint of sweetness. It is an excellent substitute for sake in cooking, providing a similar taste when used in recipes.

2. Versin Non-Alcoholic Vermouth Alternative

For those who prefer a non-alcoholic option, this vermouth alternative is a suitable choice. It offers sweet and spicy notes that allow you to replicate sake flavors without the alcohol.

3. Don Benigno Manzanilla Sherry

A dry sherry, such as Don Benigno Manzanilla, can serve as a viable substitute for sake. This nutty and sweet sherry adds depth and richness to dishes, especially when used in marinades or sauces.

4. Pellegrino Dry Marsala

With its rich and sweet flavor profile, Pellegrino Dry Marsala is another excellent option for replacing sake in cooking. It adds complexity and enhances the taste of various dishes, making it a versatile substitute.

5. Columela 30-year aged Sherry Vinegar

Although not a wine, this aged sherry vinegar offers a rich and nutty flavor that can enhance the flavor of dishes that require sake. Its unique characteristics make it a compelling substitute option for those seeking a non-alcoholic alternative.

Bottom line

While sake is a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine, it can be difficult to find. Fortunately, there are several suitable substitutes that can provide similar flavors and results in cooking. Fortified white wines such as vermouth, Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, white Madeira, white port or Marsala are excellent options for replacing sake in various recipes. In addition, non-alcoholic alternatives such as vermouth alternatives or aged sherry vinegar can provide a similar flavor profile without the alcohol content. By exploring these alternatives, individuals can continue to enjoy the flavors of Japanese cuisine even when sake is not readily available. Experimenting with different substitutes can open up new culinary possibilities and add unique flavors to dishes.


What can I use to replace sake in cooking?

There are several options you can use to replace sake in cooking, including fortified white wine (such as dry vermouth), Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, white Madeira, white port, marsala, or even rice vinegar.

Can I use non-alcoholic alternatives to replace sake?

Yes, there are non-alcoholic alternatives that can replicate the flavors of sake. Non-alcoholic vermouth alternatives or aged sherry vinegar can provide similar flavor profiles without the alcohol content.

How do fortified white wines compare to sake in cooking?

Fortified white wines such as dry vermouth, sherry, Madeira, port or marsala can provide similar depth of flavor and complexity to sake when used in cooking. They can enhance the flavor of various dishes and serve as excellent substitutes for sake.

Can I use rice vinegar in cooking instead of sake?

While rice vinegar can be used as a substitute for sake, it will impart a slightly different flavor profile to your dishes. Rice vinegar has a tangy and acidic taste that may not perfectly mimic the taste of sake. However, it can still work well in certain recipes.

Are there any special considerations when substituting sake in marinades?

When substituting sake in marinades, it’s important to choose a substitute that provides a similar tenderizing effect and removes unwanted odors in the same way as sake. Fortified white wines or rice vinegar can be suitable alternatives to achieve these desired effects.

Can I substitute other types of alcohol for sake in cooking?

Yes, there are other types of alcohol that can be used to substitute for sake in cooking, depending on the recipe and desired flavors. Some options include white wine, dry white vermouth, or even a combination of chicken or vegetable stock with a splash of vinegar for added acidity. Experimentation is the key to finding the best substitute for your particular dish.