What Is Chinese Rice Vinegar?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

White rice vinegar in bottle and white rice on table
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Chinese rice vinegar is vinegar made from fermented rice. Rice has always played an important role in Chinese cooking and culture and has been used in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years in many inventive ways. There are several basic types of Chinese rice vinegar, along with sweetened varieties that contain everything from sugar to ginger, orange peel, or cloves for added flavor. Rice vinegar, also referred to as rice wine vinegar, can be used to prepare different kinds of foods in Chinese cooking, from sauces to salad dressing. Chinese rice wine ranges in price depending on the variety.

Fast Facts

Also Known As: Chinese rice wine vinegar

Varieties: black, red, white, and seasoned

Most Commonly Found In: Chinese marinades, dressings, and sauces

Rice Vinegar vs. Rice Wine

It’s easy enough to confuse the two since they often sit side by side at the grocery store, but rice vinegar and rice wine are two different products. Rice vinegar is actually rice wine that has been fermented longer. Enjoyed by the Chinese for more than 4,000 years, rice wine is made by a fermentation process involving yeast that transforms the sugars from glutinous rice into alcohol. When making rice vinegar, however, the fermentation process goes one step further, adding bacteria to turn the alcohol into acid. Chinese rice wine is enjoyed as a beverage and an ingredient in cooking while rice vinegar is simply used in recipes.

Varieties

There are three main types of rice vinegar: black, red, and white. Black rice vinegar is made with glutinous or sweet rice, although millet or sorghum may be used instead. Dark in color, it has a deep almost smoky flavor and is mellower and sweeter than the red and white vinegar. The aged process also gives black vinegar a robust and unique fragrance. Black rice vinegar is very popular in Southern China, where chicklang vinegar (Zhenjiang vinegar), the best of the black rice vinegar, is made. Another popular black rice vinegar is Shanxi aged vinegar, a famous traditional Chinese vinegar that dates back 3,000 years. It is made from different kinds of grain, such as rice, sorghum, barley, bran, and chaff and is fermented using solid-state fermentation techniques. The color of Shanxi aged vinegar is dark reddish-brown while its flavor is mellow, sour, and slightly sweet.

Red rice vinegar is also dark in color, but lighter than black rice vinegar. Its taste has an intriguing combination of tart and sweet. Red rice vinegar can be used as a substitute for black vinegar by adding a bit of sugar. It also makes a delicious dipping sauce, and you also can use it in noodles, soups, and seafood dishes.

White rice vinegar is a colorless liquid that is higher in vinegar content. Although similar in flavor to regular vinegar, it's less acidic and milder in flavor than white-wine vinegar. There is also a hint of sweetness that comes from the glutinous rice. The higher vinegar content of white rice vinegar makes it the best choice for Cantonese-style sweet-and-sour dishes and for pickling vegetables. It generally works well in stir-fries.

There are also seasoned varieties of Chinese rice wine, which may contain sugar, corn syrup, MSG, or salt, as well as other natural flavorings.

Chinese Rice Wine Uses

This vinegar is a common ingredient in recipes for Asian marinades, sauces, and salad dressings, as well as mixtures for pickling vegetables. Chinese rice wine can be used on its own as a simple seasoning for salad, vegetables, and rice, and some of the sweetened or flavored varieties can even be used to make a delicious summer drink.

Cooking With Chinese Rice Wine

Chinese rice wine can be combined into a recipe that is uncooked, such as a salad dressing or marinade, or cooked into a sauce or stir-fry. Although it is a natural pairing with other Asian ingredients like soy sauce and sesame oil, Chinese rice wine can be part of non-Asian recipes, as the acidity and subtlety are a nice addition to a variety of dishes.

What Does It Taste Like?

Chinese rice wine is less acidic than white, balsamic, and red wine vinegars. It has a milder and sweeter taste than Western vinegars, save for black vinegar that has a deeper flavor.

Chinese Rice Wine Recipes

A few tablespoons of tart rice vinegar also adds a nice kick to an Asian-inspired salad dressing. Although rice vinegar is most often part of Chinese dishes, creative cooks are using it to add interest to everything from stewed ribs to barbecue rubs.

Where to Buy Chinese Rice Wine

Chinese rice wine can be found in the Asian section of the supermarket as well as Asian grocery stores. The varieties, however, may be limited, with white being the most common and red and black a little harder to come by. It is sold in bottles and will range in price with the white being the most inexpensive.

Storage

The vinegar will last about 2 years when stored in a cool, dark place such as the pantry. After the expiration date, the vinegar can go bad; look for a change in color and an off odor.

Nutrition and Benefits

Chinese rice vinegar has almost no calories, no fat, and very little sodium. It contains amino acids, which are known to strengthen the immune system, combat fatigue, and boost metabolism.