Rice wine and rice vinegar are popular ingredients in Asian cooking.
Despite their similar names, they have many differences. Yet, you may still wonder whether you can use one instead of the other.
This article explains the difference between rice wine and vinegar, their uses, whether they can be used interchangeably, and alternatives.
Comparison of rice wine and rice vinegar
Though both are made from fermented rice, rice wine, and rice vinegar differ.
Rice wine is a popular alcoholic beverage used for both drinking and cooking. In Japan, it’s known as sake and is the country’s national beverage. Other versions used for cooking include mirin from Japan and huangjiu from China.
The wine is made by fermenting rice starches using yeast, fungi, and lactic acid bacteria to produce alcohol. For example, the mold known as Aspergillus oryzae converts starches into sugars, and a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae produces alcohol.
Rice vinegar is made by fermenting the starches in rice using an acetic acid bacteria known as Mother of Vinegar (Mycoderma aceti) and small amounts of rice wine to convert the sugars into alcohol and then into acetic acid.
Adding to the confusion, rice vinegar is sometimes called “rice wine vinegar.” Like red and white wine vinegar, it’s not an alcoholic beverage despite having “wine” in its name, nor rice wine.
Huangjiu (Chinese rice wine), mirin (Japanese cooking wine), and sake (Japanese drinking wine) are the most popular rice wine varieties. Compared with other rice wines, they have a sweet, mild flavor and are usually lower in alcohol content.
There are many other rice wine varieties on the market, some boasting different flavors and colors depending on the fermentation process and the addition of other ingredients like spices, herbs, or fruits.
Rice vinegar has a sweet, acidic taste similar to other types of vinegar, like apple cider vinegar. Unlike rice wine, rice vinegar is usually only used in small quantities.
Due to their significant flavor differences, swapping one for the other is not recommended.
Both rice wine and vinegar contribute little nutrition. Considering their different uses, it’s difficult to compare their nutrient profiles.
One typical 5-ounce (147-mL) serving of the wine provides 201 calories, 7.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of sugar and salt.
Meanwhile, one tablespoon (15 mL) of seasoned rice vinegar has 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of sugar, and 710 mg of salt. Seasoned rice vinegar has added sugar and salt, so opt for an unseasoned variety if you’re trying to reduce your intake of these ingredients.
On the other hand, unsweetened rice vinegar contains zero calories, carbs, or sugar.
Rice wine is used for cooking and is commonly consumed as an alcoholic beverage. In cooking, it’s usually added directly to dishes or into marinades or sauces like teriyaki as a flavor enhancer.
Most Asian countries have their own variety of wine. For example, the popular Cambodian rice wine liqueur Sombai includes fruits, spices, and sugar cane. Meanwhile, dansul — gamju — is a milky rice wine popular in South Korea.
Regarding rice vinegar, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean varieties are most popular for their mild flavor and pale-yellow color. Dark vinegar like Kurozu is also enjoyed. The vinegar adds flavor to marinades, sauces, fried rice, pickled vegetables, and sushi.
Sushi translates to “sour rice” or “sour-tasting” due to the traditional preparation of the dish, which involves preserving fish between fermented rice and salt. Eventually, rice vinegar was used instead to speed the fermentation process and improve the flavor.
Summary: Rice wine is a sweet alcoholic beverage enjoyed in cooking and drinking. Rice vinegar is a type of vinegar used in sushi, fried rice, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Though they have similar names, they should not be swapped for one another.
Alternatives for rice wine and rice vinegar
Due to their significant differences, using rice vinegar and rice wine interchangeably isn’t recommended. Instead, here are good alternatives you can use for each:
Alternatives for rice vinegar
There are many substitutes available that can be swapped at a 1-to-1 ratio for rice vinegar, though the flavor may be slightly different:
- Apple cider vinegar. Its mild flavor and color lend well to sushi, marinades, and vinaigrettes.
- Sherry vinegar. Due to its similar taste, it’s ideal for most recipes that call for rice vinegar.
- White wine vinegar. Use in sauces, marinades, and vinaigrettes.
- Red wine vinegar. Ideal for marinades, sauces, and rich meat dishes.
- Balsamic vinegar. Best for salads or baking, including chicken and pizza.
- Lemon or lime. Double the amount of juice for rice vinegar. Ideal for salad dressings and sauces.
- Champagne vinegar. Its mild flavor lends well to seafood dishes, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings.
Add a pinch of sugar or other sweeteners to match the sweetness of rice vinegar.
Alternatives for rice wine
- Pale dry sherry. This is a good replacement for mirin due to its similar color and flavor. Use at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Gin. Its similar flavor makes it a good replacement for white rice wine. You may want to use 1/2 to 3/4 the amount or add just a little until you reach the desired flavor.
- White wine. If gin is unavailable, white wine can easily replace white rice wine at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Dry sherry and sugar. To replace Shaoxing wine (dark rice wine), use equal parts dry sherry and a pinch of sugar.
- White grape juice. A nonalcoholic option that lends well to most cooking dishes. Add half a squeezed lemon to increase acidity.
- white wine
- dry vermouth
- white grape juice for a nonalcoholic option
- any other type of rice wine like huangjiu, sake, dansul/gamju, or mijiu
Summary: You can replace rice vinegar with many other kinds of vinegar, though you may want to add a pinch of sugar to sweeten them. Use sherry, wine, grape juice, or other rice wine varieties if you want an alternative to rice wine.
Rice vinegar and rice wine are both made with fermented rice. However, the vinegar undergoes additional processing steps to remove alcohol and produce acetic acid.
These processing differences create dramatically different products that are used for different purposes.
Rice wine is ideal for both cooking and drinking. The most popular varieties include huangjiu, mirin, and sake. If you’ve run out or are looking for an alternative, try swapping for equal amounts of dry sherry, white wine, dry vermouth, or white grape juice.
Rice vinegar is commonly used for sushi, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Add a pinch of sugar to other types of vinegar like apple cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, or white wine vinegar to easily replace rice vinegar.
Despite their common names, you should not use rice vinegar for rice wine or vice versa.