Do you get confused about the difference between rice vinegar and rice wine when cooking your Asian dishes? You are not alone, it is a common cause for confusion, particularly amongst non-Asian cooks trying out delicious Asian recipes. Some of the confusion comes from the term rice wine vinegar for rice vinegar. Both rice vinegar and rice wine are made from fermented rice, but different processes are employed.
Freshly steamed glutinous rice is fermented to make rice wine, which has a comparatively low alcohol content compared to other wines and beer. Sake and mirin are common rice wines. You will find that Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese rice wines are all quite different in clarity and flavour. To make rice vinegar bacteria is added, which turns the alcohol into an acid.
Black rice vinegar is very popular in Southern China , it is dark in colour and has a deep, almost smoky flavour. It works well in braised dishes and as a dipping sauce. Red rice vinegar is lighter than the black rice vinegar and is a lovely mix of tart and sweet. Good for dipping sauces and noodle, soup and seafood dishes. White rice vinegar is colourless and has a higher vinegar content with a hint of sweetness. It is great for pickling vegetables, in stir fries and for sweet and sour dishes.
Rice wine is great when you want to add depth or sweetness to a dish, especially shao hsing cooking wine, which is aged and mellow. Rice wine can be used in stir-fries, braises and stocks. And of course you can drink it with your meal – sake is traditionally served with Japanese food and can be taken hot or cold, depending on the type of sake.