If you find it hard to distinguish between rice wine and rice vinegar, you are not alone! Even Asian people who are familiar with their cuisine have a hard time telling these two components apart!
Despite having similar names, they are distinct in many ways. Understanding their commonalities and differences helps determine whether you can interchangeably use these fermented rice products in your favorite Asian dishes.
If you are curious about the answers to those questions above, you have come to the right place. Besides describing the distinction between rice vinegar and rice wine, this article also provides you with their usage and alternatives.
So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
Everything You Need To Know About Rice Wine
Before comparing these confusing items, it is essential to grasp basic information about each one. Starting with rice wine, this section will provide you with what it is. I also uncover its most popular varieties and alternatives!
Basic Knowledge About Rice Wine
If other wines are produced from fermented fruits such as grapes, rice wine is distinguished by its usage of fermented rice. This Asian cuisine item contains alcohol yielded from the starch and sugars of freshly steamed glutinous rice.
In essence, rice wine is a sweet type of wine. Therefore, it is alright to consume it as a beverage. Yet, it is essential to notice that rice wine has far less alcohol than American wines.
Besides, rice wine has an essential usage for cooking. Having existed for ages in Asian culture, especially in Chinese cuisine, people used the component to sweeten and impart a robust taste to sauces and marinades.
Depending on what kind of rice you use and how long it is aged, rice wine can become mild or robust, with its color ranging from light yellow to reddish-brown.
Popular Rice Wine’s Varieties
The following names will surprise you with their popularity. You have encountered them at least once in various dishes without noticing! So, let’s discover what these rice wine varieties are!
Sake (Dry Japanese Rice Wine)
Everyone knows what Sake is! It is a well-liked dry wine from Japan, especially adored at sushi restaurants. Typically, people enjoy this staple beverage in elegant little cups.
Similar to other rice wines, Sake is produced from fermented rice. The Japanese select Sake Mai rice of the highest quality, yeast, and water to make this beverage. The fermentation usually takes more than a year for the most refined quality.
This wine rice also comprises various sub-types, with the minimum alcohol content being 15%. Genshu is the strongest Sake out there, with over 20% alcohol content.
People consume various sub-types of Sake differently! While inferior Sakes are somewhat sweeter and served hot or warm, superior Sakes taste better when enjoyed cold.
However, never attempt to heat it over 105 Fahrenheit degrees or cool it below 40 Fahrenheit degrees.
Watch this video: Let’s bring a little Japanese taste to your home by making Sake!
Shaoxing (Chinese Rice Wine)
Also known as the Chinese cooking wine, Shaoxing has accompanied a wide array of Chinese dishes for over two millennia, making it one of China’s oldest rice wines.
The rice wine receives its name from Shaoxing city in China’s Zhejiang Province. The location is renowned for its rice wine production via combining fermented rice with wheat and water. The end result is a transparent and dark wine with great sweetness.
Unlike sake, Shaoxing is preferred for cooking. It enhances the flavor of sauces and meat marinades well with its rich profile of salty and alcoholic tastes. Shaoxing is also essential for preparing wonton, dumpling fillings, and other red-cooked Chinese dishes.
If you want to enjoy Shaoxing as an alcoholic beverage, you must age it for a long time and heat it before consumption. This drinking Shaoxing alcohol contains no added salt.
Yet, you can find the commercial version throughout the U.S. with added salt as a way to circumvent the alcohol tax and sell wine rice at grocery shops.
Mirin (Sweet Rice Wine)
If you love teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and other sauce types of Japanese cuisine, you must be familiar with Mirin – a sweet, syrup-like rice wine from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Hon-mirin is the original Mirin created from steamed glutinous rice, distilled rice liquor, and koji (cultured rice). All ingredients come together and undergo a fermentation process that lasts from several months to many years.
The longer the period, the more flavorful and darker Mirin becomes. Yet, it contains less alcohol concentration than Sake, with 14%. The main use of Mirin is to sweeten various dishes.
In the U.S., you cannot purchase authentic Mirin. Instead, online providers offer imitate Mirin produced from fermented rice, corn syrup, and water.
Imitate Mirin lack the rich and nuanced taste of the authentic one. It only contains less than 1% of alcohol. And like Shaoxing, it has added salt to avoid alcohol tax.
Since rice wine is good for both drinking and cooking, it will have distinct alternatives for each usage.
Specifically, for drinking, you can swap rice wine for the following substitute options:
- Dry vermouth
- White wine
- Non-alcoholic beverages like white grape juice
If you use rice wine for cooking, you can browse one of these substitutes for your recipes:
- White wine with a 1:1 ratio
- Gin with a 1:2 ratio
- Pale dry sherry with a 1:1 ratio for replacing Mirin
- Dry sherry and sugar for replacing Shaoxing
Your Thorough Guide Of Rice Vinegar
So far, I have covered everything you need to know about rice wine. Now, it is high time to dive into a thorough guide of what rice vinegar is. The detailed comparison comes right after this section. Thus, stay tuned and remain focused!
What Is Rice Vinegar?
Rice vinegar’s main component is fermented rice’s dregs (or lees). After being converted to alcohol to produce rice wine, the sugars in rice undergo a second bacteria-laden fermentation process for the dregs to become acetic acid (or vinegar).
The end result is alcohol-free, a tad sweeter, and less acidic than pure distilled white vinegar. If the latter is too powerful for your tastebuds, you can utilize wine vinegar as a less potent substitute.
This sweet and mild ingredient is ideal for salad dressings, meat marinades, and pickling vegetables. Chefs also love it in udon noodle soups or Korean cold noodle soups.
There are two criteria to classify rice vinegar: its strength and whether it is seasoned or not. I will cover this content in the next section.
Classifying Rice Vinegar Based On Strength
Based on strength, you will have the following four types of rice vinegar.
White Rice Vinegar
You will likely encounter white rice vinegar at supermarkets and grocery stores as this condiment is extremely popular. White rice vinegar is transparent, clean, and offers a mild taste.
Brown Rice Vinegar
Despite featuring a brown tint and containing more nutrients, brown rice vinegar still has the same mild taste as its white rice vinegar counterpart. This similarity implies you can use these two first rice vinegar types interchangeably.
Black Rice Vinegar
Made from sweet or glutinous rice combined with sorghum or millet, black wine vinegar possesses a darker hue, a smoky-sweet flavor, and a softer texture than its white and red cousins. It also imparts a unique aroma after undergoing the aging process.
Chicklang vinegar (Zhenjiang vinegar) and Shanxi are the two most popular varieties of black rice vinegar. The former is regarded as the finest type, produced in Southern China, while the latter is mellow and tart in taste with a 3,000-year history.
Red Rice Vinegar
Compared to previous types, red rice vinegar has a pretty displeasing odor with a sweet and sour taste profile. What makes it stand out is that the fermented rice used for production is mixed with sorghum and barley in advance.
Red rice vinegar offers various health advantages like weight reduction or blood sugar stabilization. By adding a touch of sugar, it becomes an ideal replacement for black rice vinegar. It is a great condiment to add to soups, noodles, and seafood meals.
Classifying Rice Vinegar Based On Seasoning
Rice vinegar can also be seasoned or not, giving birth to its two popular types.
Plain Rice Vinegar
Plain rice vinegar’s concept is straightforward! It does not include any salt, sugar, or corn syrup. For that reason, the condiment has a fairly mild flavor.
Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Compared to its plain counterpart, seasoned rice vinegar comprises a more complex taste profile. With salt, sugar, and sometimes corn syrup, this rice vinegar type is sweeter and more flavorful.
It is widely used in Japanese cuisine, particularly in the preparation of sushi rice. However, use the condiment moderately as it contains more calories.
Rice Vinegar Substitutes
Rice vinegar’s taste profile is unique, making it difficult to replicate by using other ingredients. However, in case you run out of rice vinegar, you can make good use of the following alternatives:
- White Wine Vinegar: The ingredient is produced by fermenting white wine and has a similar mild acidic taste to rice vinegar. However, it is not as sweet. Thus, adding sugar is highly recommended.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Produced from apple cider, this replacement adds subtle apple flavor to any dish requiring rice vinegar, such as sushi and vinaigrettes. You can add ¼ teaspoon of sugar to infuse the sweetness found in rice vinegar.
- Sherry Vinegar: Nutty, acidic, and slightly sweet, sherry vinegar is an ideal replacement for rice vinegar. Consider using it with a 1:1 ratio in marinades and sauces.
- Champagne Vinegar: Like other vinegar types, champagne vinegar is the result of sparkling wine fermentation. It has the same rice vinegar’s mild flavor, perfect for salad dressings, seafood, and marinades with a 1:1 ratio.
- White Balsamic Vinegar: This ingredient is lighter in color and taste profile than its dark Italian cousin. This brilliant source of antioxidants and organic acids is a perfect substitute for rice vinegar in salad dressings.
- Lemon Juice: You can use lemon juice in salads and sauces to replace rice vinegar. Its similar acidic taste helps impart a lively quality to any salad dish. The optimal ratio is 2:1.
Comprehensive Comparison Between Rice Wine And Rice Vinegar
With basic knowledge about rice wine and rice vinegar, let’s head into the detailed comparison between the pair!
Rice Wine Vs. Rice Vinegar: The Similarities!
These two Asian condiments share two common points:
- Origin: Both ingredients have their origins in Asia. In fact, they have existed in Asian cuisine for ages.
- Rice as the main component: It is easy to tell from their monikers that they both have rice as the main component. The rice is fermented and undergoes different processes to create the two condiments.
Key Differences Between Rice Wine And Rice Vinegar
When it comes to rice wine vs rice vinegar, there are four vital distinctions to keep in mind.
Rice wine and rice vinegar are processed and made differently. Rice wine comprises freshly steamed glutinous rice fermented with fungi, yeast, lactic acid bacteria, and water. This fermentation process may take from several months to a few years.
On the other hand, rice vinegar is produced by fermenting rice wine with rice dregs (or lees), sorghum, barley, and acetic acid bacteria. After this making process, there is no alcohol left in rice vinegar.
Despite having multiple varieties, rice wine always imparts a sweet and mild taste to every dish. It also contains a low level of alcohol.
Meanwhile, rice vinegar is alcoholic-free and possesses a comparable sweet, acidic flavor profile that will make the sides of your mouth curl when you drink it directly!
Both rice wine and rice vinegar comprise few nutrients. However, since people consume them in varied proportions, it is difficult to determine the nutritional content of each condiment.
Yet, based on the standard per-meal consumption, 150ml of rice wine contains 202 calories, 7.5 grams of carbohydrate, and no salt or sugar.
On the flip side, 150ml of seasoned rice vinegar has 150 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 40 grams of sugar, and 3.55 grams of salt. However, people only add one tablespoon (15ml) of rice vinegar in cooking.
Rice vinegar is helpful in cooking only, thanks to its tart but quite sweet flavor. People often introduce rice vinegar during the initial stages of cooking.
Meanwhile, rice wine is a brilliant choice as both a culinary ingredient and an alcoholic beverage with many varieties (Sake, Shaoxing, Mirin). If you use rice wine as a flavor enhancer for your recipes, you should add it at the end stages of cooking.
Myth Debunked: Are Rice Vinegar And Rice Wine Vinegar The Same?
The answer to that confusing myth is yes! Rice wine vinegar vs rice vinegar refers to the same ingredient, despite their mismatched labels.
The moniker “rice wine vinegar” exists purely as a term for the fermentation processes that transforms rice into alcohol and subsequently vinegar.
All in all, you can use these two terms synonymously. If a dish requires rice vinegar and you only have rice wine vinegar on hand (or vice versa), you can proceed with your available ingredient without the risk of messing up your dish’s flavor!
Always Get The Right Ingredient For Your Recipes
I hope by now, you have understood how different rice wine and rice vinegar are. Besides sharing the common Asian origin and fermented rice as the primary component, they differ in terms of the making process, flavor, nutrition, and usage.
So, make sure you read the recipe carefully and get the right ingredient. A misuse of rice wine for rice vinegar (or vice versa) will result in a significantly different taste profile for your meals!