Chances are, you've already got a Costco-sized bottle of apple cider vinegar in your pantry. Rice wine vinegar, though? Probably not.
Even if it's not a staple in your kitchen, though, you've probably consumed rice wine vinegar before. Common in many Asian cuisines, “rice wine vinegar has lots of uses, but certainly the most popular use is in sushi rice," says Drew Smith, executive chef at kō•än, a Southeast Asian hotspot in Cary, NC. “It's also great for salad dressings or marinades.”
In case you're wondering, yes, rice wine vinegar and rice vinegar are the same thing. “Rice wine vinegar is typically made by fermenting rice into an alcohol and then essentially spoiling that into a vinegar,” Smith explains. (FYI: That's basically how all vinegars are made.)
That said, rice wine vinegar is actually a little bit sweeter than many other vinegars, and has a more delicate (read: less eye-watering) flavor.
Don't panic if you get halfway through a stir-fry recipe and realize you don't have rice wine vinegar on-hand, though. There are a few rice wine vinegar substitutes that mimic its sweeter-than-most flavor—and they're probably in your pantry right now.
What's the absolute best substitute for rice wine vinegar?
Since rice vinegar is famous for its sweetness (and less intense pungent vibe), the ideal substitute also offers a similarly sweet flavor.
Matching this flavor as closely as possible is especially important in recipes like soup, sushi rice, and salad dressing, which really highlight rice wine vinegar's flavor, says Smith.
Although it's hard to reproduce the delicate sweetness you get from rice, apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar is your best bet here, Smith says. (Though ACV doesn't have as complex a flavor, Smith admits, it gets the job done.)
“Think about what a vinegar is made from," he explains. "That usually gives you a pretty good idea of what the vinegar tastes like." And what do apple cider and champagne have in common? They're both pretty darn sweet.
You can use other types of light vinegar in a pinch.
Though rice wine vinegar is sweeter than other vinegars, it is still primarily acidic, so you can generally swap in a few other types of vinegar in its place if you need to, says Smith.
If your recipe only calls for a bit of rice wine vinegar (like a stir-fry that features lots of other flavors), you can substitute in any other kind of light-colored vinegar, he explains.
White vinegar, for example, isn't nearly as sweet as rice vinegar, but works pretty well in these cases. Another, milder option: white wine vinegar, which isn't as pungent as straight white vinegar.
Consider yourself warned: Not all vinegars swap in for rice vinegar well.
Remember what Smith said about considering what a vinegar is made from to get a sense of its flavor?
Since red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar often have mustier, sharper flavor (think of old red wine, Smith says), they may be too intense to swap in for more-subdued rice wine vinegar.
Sure, you can make them work in tiny amounts if you really find yourself vinegar-less, but they're not ideal choices.
The bottom line: If you love Asian cuisine, it's worth keeping rice wine vinegar in your pantry. In a pinch, though, you can totally substitute in another light, mild vinegar, like apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar.
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