What are the Best Substitutes for Sake in Cooking?

Sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made of polished and fermented rice. It has its special place in Japanese cuisine and is often used in cooked dishes, marinades, soups, stir-fries, steaming and baking. 

The main purpose of using it in cooking is to get rid of odors, add an umami taste and flavor to dishes.

Perhaps you can’t find sake in your local stores or want to use an alcohol-free substitution for sake in cooking. Today we’ll discuss the most popular substitutes for this beverage and will find out flavors that match your dish. 

So, the best substitutes for sake are Chinese Shaoxing wine, dry Sherry, white wine, dry vermouth , Kombucha, Chinese rice wine, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, apple cider, white grape juice and water. 

10 Substitutions for Sake in Cooking To Try

1. Chinese Shaoxing Wine

Chinese Shaoxing wine is a variety of Chinese cooking wine made of rice. It’s one of the most popular rice wines in China and you can find it from Asian stores or supermarkets. 

Chinese Shaoxing wine can come for help in enhancing the flavor of stir fries, chicken and beef dishes, as well as noodles, soup broths, wontons and dumplings and many Chinese and Asian meals. 

It has a sweet and complex flavor with some spicy and nutty notes. You may use it as a marinade for meats too. 

2. Dry Sherry

Dry sherry is an easier alternative to sake and you may have a bottle of it at home. It has a complex flavor with slight bitterness, crips, tangy and nutty taste.  

It is often used in European and American dishes and if sake is not the best alcoholic beverage for you to use in cooking, then go for a more familiar taste by adding dry sherry into the dish. 

There is a sherry cooking wine specially made for cooking and if you have the chance to get it, then it will be a better choice. 

3. White Wine

White wine is another easy substitute. Sometimes sake is confused with white wine, so white wine can be used to replace it in many dishes. They come with similar flavor and taste. 

White wine goes well with roasted dishes, pasta, fish, seafood, risotto, mushrooms, vegetables and chicken meat.

It’s better to add it during the cooking process to make it simmer with other ingredients. This way, it will give all its flavor to the dish. 

4. Dry Vermouth 

Dry vermouth has a sweeter flavor and is more suitable for dishes where you prefer adding sweetness. It’s a fortified grape wine like white wine only with a stronger flavor. 

It contains mixed flavors of spices and herbs that make it taste complex and complement many cooked dishes by enhancing their flavor.

Thanks to its floral and herbaceous bunch of flavors it serves as a good base for marinades and sauces. You can use it with meats, fish, cream soups, soup broths and of course with sweet dishes. 

5. Kombucha

Kombucha is a unique beverage made of fermented tea. It is native to Northeast China and is used in cooking to add a strong flavor to dishes. 

Kombucha stands out with herbal, floral, fruity and sweet flavors that go with meat marinades, pastas, and many hot and cold dishes. You can also use it to add an acidic touch to the dish. 

Avoid using it with delicate-tasting dishes as it has a sharp flavor and may ruin the overall flavor of the meal. If you have the required ingredients, you can make homemade kombucha and avoid the extra sweetness that store-bought bottles carry. 

5. Chinese Rice Wine

Chinese rice wine is made of glutinous rice and is a clear, colorless alcoholic beverage similar to sake. Add it to stir-fries, chicken, beef and vegetable dishes as well as noodles and soup broths. 

Chinese rice wine has a spicy, vinegar-like and caramel taste. It’s complex and delicate at the same time. 

Overall, it is a great substitute to use in almost all recipes calling for sake. You can use it in place of sake in small amounts and the end-dish will taste quite subtle. 

6. Balsamic Vinegar

Here comes an alcohol-free substitute for sake and it’s the well-known balsamic vinegar. You may have it in your pantry. If not, then it’s easy to get from common grocery stores. 

Balsamic vinegar is made of white grapes and has a well-balanced taste of sweet and sour flavors. 

It’s recommended to add balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking to maintain its pleasant acidity and slight sweetness in the dish. 

You can use it as a dressing, marinade or as a finishing sauce or add to salads, roasted vegetables, lamb dishes, grilled meats, seafood, risotto, stews and sweet recipes. 

7. Rice Wine Vinegar

Rice wine vinegar may not be your everyday-to-use wine in cooking but it’s the most suitable variety of vinegar between other vinegars to use as a sake substitute. 

Rice wine vinegar is an essential ingredient in many Asian recipes. It is sweet and acidic at the same time and tastes awesome in salads, sauces and marinades. 

Compared to sake, rice wine vinegar is stronger in taste. That’s why it’s better to mix 1 tablespoon vinegar with 3 tablespoons of water to replace ¼ cup sake.

8. Apple Cider

If you don’t have one of the previous vinegars in hand, no worries. Apple cider can be used in place of sake too. Apple cider is produced by fermented apples. It comes with a combination of sour and sweet flavors and goes with salads, sauces, marinades and soups. 

Apple cider is often used in preparation of sweets, candies, baked goods and syrups. If you like, you can add some sugar into it to make it more suitable for sweet recipes. 

9. White Grape Juice

White grape juice is sweet and slightly acidic at the same time and it makes it a good alternative to sake in salads, vegetable dishes, sauces, marinades, baked dishes and desserts. 

It’s another non-alcoholic substitute to use instead of sake. Thanks to this, it has a more delicate flavor and more versatility in cooking.  

10. Water

And our final substitute is water in case you have no wine or vinegar in your kitchen. This one is a perfect option especially for those who don’t like the flavor of sake or any other alcoholic beverage, wine or vinegar. 

Using water in place of sake won’t provide your dish the same flavor but if your recipe calls for sake just as a liquid ingredient, then water can work the same way. 

On the other hand, you can mix water with some of the above-mentioned beverages to have a less flavorful liquid as a sake substitute. 

FAQs on Sake

Can you substitute mirin for sake?

Yes, you can substitute mirin for sake because both come with similar features. Mirin is as popular in Japanese cuisine as sake and it’s made of rice too. 

Note that mirin comes with a lower alcohol and higher sugar content and it’s considered as a syrup for glazing and dressing. It also tends to burn quicker than sake, therefore be careful with the ratios when using it in cooked dishes. 

What does sake taste like?

Sake has a complex flavor and despite the fact that it’s made of rice, it tastes fruity like a mixture of apples, bananas and other fruits. It’s a slightly sweet alcoholic drink. 

How to make sake at home?

Ingredients: 50g rice, 1000-1100 ml water, 250g rice koji, 5g sake yeast and yeast nutrient, clear glass jar, cotton cloth and rubber band. 

Wash the rice and steam for 20 minutes. Put the rice in a jar and pour water on it. Stir and leave it until its temperature reaches 40° C. 

Add koji and yeast to the jar and stir. Cover with a clean cloth and fix it with a rubber band. Keep it at room temperature and stir it once a day for 10 days. 

After 10 days you can pour it through a sieve and squeeze with a fine cheesecloth. The remaining liquid is the sake and it’s ready for use.


As you see it’s easy to make sake at home but if you can’t wait for 10 days or don’t have time for it, then either use the store-bought one or the substitutes we offer in this article. 

We have chosen the substitutes for sake in cooking and you can use them for particular recipes calling for this special ingredient. 

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