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What is Teriyaki?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Teriyaki is a cooking technique in Japanese cuisine. It consists of broiling or grilling food, usually meat, in a sweet, thick soy sauce marinade called tare. The sauce itself is often called teriyaki in English. In Japan, teriyaki is most often used to cook fish. Teriyaki literally means "luster-grill," because of the shiny appearance of food cooked in the sweet tare sauce.

Tare sauce is traditionally made of soy sauce, mirin or sake wine or both, and honey or sugar. Either brown or white sugar can be used. The ingredients are mixed together over heat until the sugar melts, then boiled until the sauce is reduced to the desired consistency. Ginger, green onions, or both may be added nearer to the end of the cooking process.

Mirin is a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cuisine. It is not typically used as a beverage, and is sweeter and thicker than a drinking wine. Mirin comes in two varieties; hon mirin has about 14% alcohol by volume (ABV), while shin mirin has only 1% ABV. Both kinds can be found at a Japanese market, or in the international foods section of some supermarkets. Mirin adds aroma and a bit of sweetness to tare sauce.

Making tare sauce is simple, and it is easy to customize any recipe to suit personal tastes. The sweetness can be adjusted by the amount of sugar added, the thickness is determined by how long the sauce is allowed to boil, and adding extra ginger or green onions makes a sauce with more kick. Food cooked in the teriyaki method is usually brushed with the sauce multiple times as it is cooked. The food may also be marinated in the tare before it is cooked, so that it absorbs the flavor. Teriyaki is often eaten with rice, and it may be served hot or cold.

In non-Japanese cultures, teriyaki is often used rather loosely, to describe any sweet soy-based sauce. Western versions of teriyaki often include ingredients that are rarely used in Japanese versions of the dish, such as oranges, garlic, and sesame seeds or oil. The sauce may also be used as a condiment in the West, rather than a marinade in which to cook foods. It is sometimes only brushed onto food after cooking, or used as a dipping sauce, such as for chicken wings.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

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