It’s a must-have for sushi rice, adds tang to salad dressings and heightens flavor in stir-fries. Rice vinegar can also be used to transform basic veggies into bites of briny delight. So whether you’re planning a pickling project for the weekend or getting your wok out for tonight’s dinner, your recipe calls for rice vinegar. But what should you do when you’re all out? Don’t fret: When you’re in need of a substitute for rice vinegar, just swap in one of these six ingredients and you’ll still be able to dish up something spectacular.
First, what is rice wine vinegar?
Acidity is the hallmark of any type of vinegar, but that doesn’t mean that all varieties can be used interchangeably. Rice vinegar is the fermented flavor-enhancer of choice when it comes to Asian cuisine, but its mild and slightly sweet character can help season and balance any kind of cooking. Also known as rice wine vinegar, this ingredient is made by fermenting the sugars in rice into alcohol and then acid. And here’s another interesting fact: This special sauce comes in a variety of colors, ranging from clear to reddish-brown. Compared to its bolder cousins, rice vinegar has an understated profile—so you don’t need an eyedropper when you add it to dressing—but it still packs enough of a punch to brighten up a rice bowl. Basically, this stuff has star power. (Move over balsamic, there’s a new vinegar in town.)
Now that you know what makes rice vinegar so lovely, you’re probably wondering how you can make your recipe work without it. Not to worry, here are six tasty swaps.
1. Apple cider vinegar
The subtle sweetness of apple cider vinegar is similar to rice vinegar and it isn’t too overpowering, making it an ideal 1:1 substitute in sushi recipes, salad dressings and sauces. While the apple character is imperceptible when used for seasoning and cooking, it will come through if you soak your veggies in the stuff; so if you’re planning on pickling, you might want to pick another vinegar from the list.
2. White wine vinegar
White wine vinegar is stronger than rice vinegar and not particularly sweet. It’s fruitier too, which isn’t surprising since this vinegar gets its start on a grapevine. Still, white wine vinegar will work nicely when mixed into a vinaigrette that calls for its rice cousin and can usually be substituted in equal amounts. For other purposes, you can sweeten and soften the flavor of this substitute by adding ¼ teaspoon of sugar for every tablespoon of white wine vinegar. In fact, that little trick produces a near-perfect imitation of the rice variety.
3. Champagne vinegar
Champagne is fancy, so it makes sense that this vinegar boasts an elegant and delicate taste. And like rice vinegar, the Champagne variety has a light flavor that works well in all the same dishes, from dipping sauces to seafood marinades. When your recipe calls for rice vinegar and you’re all out, replace it with Champagne vinegar using a 1:1 ratio.
4. Balsamic vinegar
Like rice vinegar, balsamic boasts a more mellow flavor profile and plenty of sweetness. But although balsamic stacks up in terms of acidity, it has a much deeper and richer flavor so it won’t take a backseat like rice vinegar does. Keep this in mind and opt for a few splashes of balsamic in recipes that don’t require something more subtle.
5. Lemon juice
A squeeze of lemon is all you need to add some acidity to your plate and perk up the flavor of richer preparations. In many recipes, lemon juice serves as an excellent stand-in for rice vinegar, but the distinct citrus flavor doesn’t exactly slide under the radar so before you go this route, size up your recipe to make sure the finished dish doesn't demand the sweeter and more subtle character of rice vinegar in addition to the tang. If you want to give this swap a try, substitute double the amount of lemon juice for rice vinegar.
6. Sherry vinegar
Sherry vinegar is an excellent substitute for rice vinegar because it has a similar balance of acidity and sweetness, just with a slightly richer and nuttier flavor. Despite the deeper character, there’s plenty of common ground so you can use sherry vinegar in place of rice vinegar in pretty much any recipe (and in equal amounts).