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What Is Rice Vinegar?
Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. The sugars in rice are converted to alcohol (rice wine) and then, through a bacteria-laden second fermentation process, into the acid we know as vinegar. The result is typically far less acidic and milder than pure distilled white vinegar or those made from grape-based wine or malt, making it a subtle addition to salad dressings, stir-fries, pickles, marinades, or splashed lightly over sautéed vegetables.
Are Rice Vinegar and Rice Wine Vinegar Interchangeable?
Because rice vinegar is technically made into alcohol before it becomes vinegar, you might find it labeled as both “rice vinegar” and “rice wine vinegar.” Without the acid from the second part of the process, rice wine, like Japanese cooking mirin, has a much sweeter profile.
4 Different Rice Vinegar Varieties
Not only do types of rice vinegar vary, but regional styles do as well: rice vinegar is a central condiment in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisine, and so iterations and strength may differ slightly.
- White Rice Vinegar. This basic, multi-use rice vinegar you’ll find in every grocery store is clean, with an unobtrusive tang. Seasoned rice vinegar, used mostly to brighten sushi rice, combines white rice vinegar with sugar and/or MSG for added flavor.
- Brown Rice Vinegar. Like its base grain, brown rice vinegar brings a few more nutrients to the party, along with a toastier color. It’s often mild enough that it can be used interchangeably with white rice vinegar.
- Black Rice Vinegar. You may have come across black rice vinegar as a dipping sauce; thanks to the combination of black glutinous rice with wheat and other grains like sorghum, the result is rich in umami. Small amounts of black rice vinegar can be used in a recipe that calls for rice vinegar if you're in a pinch.
- Red Rice Vinegar. Red rice vinegar is made with an already fermented rice and incorporates other grains, similar to black rice vinegar. Sweet, sour, and a little funky. Small amounts of red rice vinegar can be used in a recipe that calls for rice vinegar if you're in a pinch.
4 Rice Vinegar Substitutes and How to Use Each One
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Though apple cider vinegar tends to be cloudier and more potent than rice vinegar, it’s sweet-to-sour ratio and tangy but mild apple flavor is a close enough match to work in many circumstances. Use it in a 1:1 ratio.
- Wine Vinegar. Wine vinegars tend to have a much more acidic profile than rice vinegar, thanks in part to the sugar content of grapes, but the milder nature of sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar are especially good substitutes. White wine vinegar and red wine vinegar will work in a pinch, just use sparingly and taste as you dial up to keep the punchiness in check.
- Balsamic Vinegar. Traditional balsamic vinegars are not intended for cooking, since heat zaps its complex aromas, you don’t want to muddle the flavors that have taken years to develop. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena however, are generally thinner and fruity, making them a passable stand-in for rice vinegar in things like marinades and stir-fries.
- Citrus Juice. Depending on what you’re making, citrus juice like lemon, lime, or even yuzu might be a worthwhile swap, especially if you’re just looking to season vegetables or a marinade.
Learn more about stocks and sauces in Chef Thomas Keller’s MasterClass.