Rice vinegar is a staple in Asian cuisine: it has a mild, slightly sweet flavor which is often used in noodle dishes, sushi rice, pickled vegetables, and more.
Rice vinegar was invented in China and grew very popular in Japan during the 4th and 5th centuries. Historians say the Chinese have been making this condiment for over 4,000 years. And the earliest forms were likely made using different grains such as rice. Today, it’s a staple in Japanese cuisine for making dressings, seasoning sushi rice, and other dishes. In Southeast Asia, tamarind and lime are used more often than vinegar to serve as the acidic base ingredient. Because of its popularity in Asia, most brands of rice vinegar you’ll see in stores will either be Chinese, Taiwanese, or Japanese.
It’s made from fermented rice in East Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
The strength of rice vinegar can differ between countries: for example, Chinese rice vinegar tends to be stronger than Japanese ones and ranges from being clear in color to various shades of red, brown, and black, though these darker ones are more often known as rice wine vinegars.
Not only do rice vinegars vary between countries, but they can also be made from different types of rice:
Rice vinegar is a type of vinegar derived from fermented rice. It’s a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines, adding a subtle acidity and distinct flavor to dishes such as sushi, pickles, and salad dressings.
When using rice vinegar, you’ll notice the mild, slightly sweet taste that sets it apart from other types of vinegar. This unique taste profile is achieved through the fermentation process, where the starch in rice is converted into alcohol and then eventually into acetic acid. The end result is a versatile condiment that can enhance various recipes.
It’s essential to choose the right type of rice vinegar for your dishes to achieve that optimal balance of flavors. In Asian cuisine, there are generally three common types of rice vinegar – white, black, and red. Each type has distinct characteristics, with white rice vinegar being the most versatile, black rice vinegar providing a robust, smoky flavor, and red rice vinegar offering a pleasant balance between sweet and tart.
However, despite its unique qualities, rice vinegar might not always be readily available in your pantry. In that case, don’t worry, there are alternatives that can step in and help you achieve similar results in your recipes.
White Rice Vinegar: this is the most common type of rice vinegar, and it’s a basic, multi-use condiment that you’ll find in most grocery stores. The flavor is clean and bright, with an unobtrusive acidity. Seasoned white rice vinegar is often used in sushi rice, and combines white rice vinegar with sugar and/or MSG for added flavor.
Brown Rice Vinegar: brown rice vinegar is made from fermented brown rice rather than its white counterpart, and, like its base grain, it is slightly more nutritious and has a toastier color and slightly nuttier flavor. That said, it’s still mild enough to make an easy substitute for white rice vinegar.
Black Rice Vinegar: black rice vinegar is more frequently used as a dipping sauce, and is made up of a combination of black glutinous rice with wheat and other grains like sorghum. It’s fine to use as a substitute for rice vinegar, but due to the richer flavor, you should use smaller amounts.
Red Rice Vinegar: Red rice vinegar is the most distinct in terms of taste; it’s made with already fermented rice and is mixed with other grains, similar to black rice vinegar. Its flavor profile is sweet, sour, and a little strange. Again, this is best to use in small amounts if you’re substituting regular rice vinegar.
Where to purchase
You can purchase rice vinegar in Asian supermarkets or food sections, though if you live outside of the city, you may find it slightly more difficult to find.
It may also be expensive due to the cost of importing, and, in this case, you may find yourself wondering if there are any substitutes for rice vinegar that you may already have in your pantry.
The good news is that there are several substitutes for rice vinegar, and we’ll be taking you through these today. So, let’s take a look.
Substitutes for rice vinegar
White wine vinegar
White wine vinegar is made through the fermentation of white wine into vinegar. Vinegar made from white wine tends to be milder and less acidic in taste than cider or standard vinegar, and because of this, it’s often used in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.
It’s not too dissimilar to rice vinegar, so it makes a good substitute. That said, it’s not quite as sweet as rice vinegar, though this can be remedied by adding a little sugar into the mix. This will better imitate the flavor of rice vinegar.
Healthline recommends substituting white wine vinegar for rice vinegar in a ratio of 1:1, then adding around 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) of sugar per tablespoon (15 ml) of white wine vinegar to sweeten the flavor profile slightly.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, sometimes known as just cider vinegar, is a vinegar made from fermented apple juice. The apples are crushed, squeezed into a juice, before bacteria and yeast are then added to start the alcoholic fermentation process, transforming the sugars into alcohol.
Next, the alcohol is converted into vinegar by acetic acid-forming bacteria (Acetobacter species), and the acetic and malic acid combine to give the vinegar its sour tang.
The result is a mild taste with a hint of apple, and it’s frequently used in marinades, salad dressings, food preservatives, chutneys, and more.
Apple cider is a good substitute for rice vinegar, though you should bear in mind that if you use it for pickling, the apple flavor may become more pronounced – which you may like or dislike.
To balance out the flavor and add a little sweetness so that the apple cider vinegar is closer to rice vinegar, you can add a little sugar, as with the white wine vinegar above.
To do this, simply add 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) of sugar per tablespoon (15 ml) of apple cider vinegar.
Lemon or lime juice
Rice vinegar is often added to salads and slaws to add a little zing to the recipe, and you can achieve this acidity with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
Citrus fruits like lemons and limes often feature in dressings, and if you’re looking for an easy rice vinegar substitute, these are two fruits you’re likely to have in your fruit bowl.
Lemons and limes can easily match the acidity of rice vinegar in most recipes, however, they’re of course not as mild as rice vinegar, and will leave your dish with a distinct citrus taste.
If it’s acidity you’re after, you can add double the amount of lemon or lime to your recipe, though you may wish to add sugar or honey for sweetness or to balance out the acidic taste of the citrus. You should also note that lime is slightly sweeter than lemon.
Champagne vinegar is a mild, slightly floral vinegar typically made from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varieties.
As with other wine vinegars, the base wine is combined with bacteria and then left to age and ferment into acetic acid.
The end result is a vinegar that is milder and less acidic than other common vinegars such as white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, which makes this variety a good substitute for rice vinegar.
If you’re producing a recipe that calls for delicate vinegar that won’t overpower the rest of the flavors, champagne is a great option. As expected, It can be a little expensive to purchase, but it is less harsh and acidic than distilled vinegar, and d is usually crafted more carefully using premium ingredients.
While you may not have this in your pantry, champagne vinegar is pretty common these days, and you can find handcrafted, barrel-aged champagne vinegar online or in markets all over the world.
Champagne vinegar works particularly well in seafood recipes, dipping sauces, salad dressings, or marinades.
When using it in place of rice vinegar, you can simply use a 1:1 ratio.
Sherry vinegar is a type of wine vinegar made from sherry, and it’s commonly used in recipes for sauces and salad dressings.
This vinegar has a base wine of sherry, and the type of grape used to make the wine will determine the dryness of the vinegar. Sherry wine is naturally fermented and then aged for at least 6 months in barrels, whereas if you see a sherry vinegar labeled ‘Reserva’, it has been aged for at least 2 years, and one labeled ‘Gran Reserva’ has been aged for more than 10.
The older the vinegar, the darker it will be in color and the more complex the flavor will be. Inevitably, the price will also rise with these features!
Sherry vinegar has a rich, distinctive flavor with layers of nutty and slightly sweet notes. It’s a good substitute for rice vinegar as it has a similar acidity and slight sweetness that works well in sauces, vinaigrettes, and marinades that call for rice vinegar.
You can substitute sherry vinegar for rice vinegar using a 1:1 ratio in any recipe, and if you use it to pickle vegetables it will add a distinct pop of flavor.
Seasoned rice vinegar
Seasoned rice vinegar differs from normal rice vinegar as it has added sugar and salt.
It is a great substitute for regular rice vinegar as you still get the original taste of the fermented rice, but you’ll need to make a few simple adjustments to your recipe.
Because of the added salt and sugar, seasoned rice vinegar is best used in recipes that call for added salt and sugar. If used in recipes that don’t call for these, it can still work, just bear in mind that it might alter the overall taste of the dish.
Next time a recipe uses regular rice vinegar and you’re all out, substitute it with an equal amount of seasoned rice vinegar instead.
Then, alter your recipe slightly to account for the added salt and sugar in the seasoned rice vinegar: for each 3/4 cup (177 ml) of seasoned vinegar, remove 4 tablespoons (50 grams) of sugar and 2 teaspoons (12 grams) of salt from the original recipe to ensure the end result isn’t overly sweet or salty.
Balsamic vinegar is most commonly used as a marinade in Italian recipes such as Bruschetta, or as a salad dressing.
Balsamic vinegar is very dark in color and is highly concentrated with an intense, distinct flavor. It originates from Italy, and is made wholly or partially from grape must – freshly crushed grape juice with all the skins, seeds, and stems included.
It’s worth noting that traditional balsamic vinegar is not intended for cooking, as when heated it will lose its complex aromas.
On the other hand, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is generally thinner and has a slightly sweet and fruity taste, making it a passable substitute for rice vinegar in cold dishes such as salads and marinades or possibly even stir-fried dishes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Rice vinegar is a staple ingredient in Asian cuisine and is commonly used to season sushi rice. If you like Asian food and cook it regularly, we recommend purchasing a bottle of rice vinegar to keep in your kitchen cupboard. In a pinch, here are some substitutions that may help you if you do not have rice vinegar.
The best substitute for rice vinegar is white wine vinegar and sugar. For every tablespoon of rice vinegar your recipe calls for, substitute 1 ½ teaspoons of white wine vinegar combined with ¼ teaspoons of sugar. This will create the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity found in rice vinegar.
Another great substitute for rice vinegar is apple cider vinegar and sugar. Combine 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with ¼ teaspoon of sugar for every tablespoon of rice vinegar your recipe calls for.
Can I use vinegar instead of rice vinegar?
This depends what kind of vinegar you are referring to. You cannot use regular malt vinegar, like the kind you would see on a pub table. It is most commonly used on fries and has a nutty and toasted flavor. It is made from ale and is much more mellow than most kinds of vinegar.
White vinegar is most commonly used as a cleaning product due to its low cost and high acidity. It can also be used as a pickling liquid, but we do not advise replacing rice vinegar with it.
Can I use balsamic vinegar instead of rice vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar has a mild and slightly sweet flavor similar to that of rice vinegar. Balsamic has more depth of flavor than rice vinegar and will be much more prominent in the final dish.
Balsamic vinegar is not designed to be heated and will not hold up well in dishes where it is cooked. The heat can change the flavor profile significantly and you may end up with a very different final dish. If you need to use rice vinegar in a salad dressing or marinade, balsamic vinegar will work as a substitute.
Can I substitute red wine vinegar for rice vinegar?
Red wine vinegar is created from red wine, as the name suggests. It has a flavor reminiscent of grapes, and has the most robust taste of all of the vinegars. It tends to be used in dishes where the other ingredients are hearty and strong. Red wine vinegar works amazingly to contrast cheesy and creamy elements in a dish.
Due to this intense flavor, red wine vinegar is not your best option to substitute for rice vinegar. It can quickly overpower the other flavors in the dish. You should always use less red wine vinegar than the stated quantity of rice vinegar. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take any out.
What is the difference between rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is fairly middle of the road in terms of acidity. It has fruity overtones and has a flavor similar to that of apples. It is made of fermented apple juice with yeast added. This allows the natural sugars to be converted to alcohol, which is what creates the acidic vinegar over time.
Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. It is commonly used in Asian cuisine and has a mild, sweet flavor. It is the least strong of all the vinegars, meaning that it works well in most dishes. It will add a mild hit of acidity without becoming overwhelming. You can purchase regular and seasoned rice vinegar. The seasoned version contains added sugar and salt, so be aware of this before incorporating into your dish.
Rice vinegar is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine and recipes, however, if you’re out of rice vinegar, or you’re not able to find any at your local store, don’t fret.
There is a range of substitutes that can be used instead, and you may already have some of these in your pantry.
White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar is probably the best substitute, or you can use seasoned rice vinegar, and simply alter the amount of salt or sugar in the rest of the recipe.
Our Best Substitute for Rice Vinegar
- White wine vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Lemon or lime juice
- Champagne vinegar
- Sherry vinegar
- Seasoned rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Try our kitchen tested rice vinegar substitutes.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.