7 best alternatives to rice vinegar

A must for sushi rice, it adds tang to salad dressings and increases flavor in stir-fries. Rice vinegar can also be used to turn basic vegetables into chunks of delicious delight. So, whether you’re planning a pickling project for the weekend or getting up for dinner tonight, your recipe calls for rice vinegar. But what should you do when you are abroad? Don’t worry: When you need a rice vinegar substitute, just swap one of these seven ingredients and you’ll still be able to eat something amazing.

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 spice up and balance any type of cooking. Also known as rice wine vinegar, this ingredient is made by fermenting sugars in rice, converting them into alcohol and then acid. 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 look—so you don’t need a dropper when adding it to the marinade—but it still packs enough punch to brighten up a rice bowl. Basically, these things have star power. (Move over the conditioner, there’s new vinegar in town.)

Now that you know what makes rice vinegar so beautiful, you’re probably wondering how you can make your recipe work without it. Not to worry, here are seven delicious swaps.

1. Apple cider vinegar

The pleasant sweetness of apple cider vinegar is similar to rice vinegar, and is not very strong, making it an ideal 1:1 substitute in recipes for sushi, salad dressings, and sauces. Although the apple’s character is imperceptible when used in seasoning and cooking, it will show if you soak the vegetables in the stuff, so if you plan on pickling, you may want to choose another vinegar from the list.

2. White wine vinegar

White wine vinegar is stronger than rice vinegar and isn’t particularly sweet. It’s fruitful, too, which isn’t surprising because this vinegar starts off the grape vine. However, white wine vinegar will work well when mixed into a vinaigrette that calls on its rice cousin and can usually be substituted in equal amounts. For other purposes, you can sweeten and soften the flavor of this alternative by adding half a teaspoon of sugar to every tablespoon of white wine vinegar. In fact, this little trick produces a near-perfect imitation of a variety of rice.

3. Champagne vinegar

Champagne is luxurious, so it makes sense that this vinegar has an elegant and delicate taste. Like rice vinegar, the champagne variety has a mild flavor that works well in all the same dishes, from sauces to seafood marinades. When your recipe calls for rice vinegar and you’re on the go, replace it with champagne vinegar in a 1:1 ratio.

4. Balsamic vinegar

Like rice vinegar, balsamic has a smoother flavor and lots of sweetness. But even though balsams do build up in acidity, it has a deeper, richer flavor, so it won’t take a backseat like rice vinegar. Keep this in mind and opt for a few sprinkles of conditioner in recipes that call for nothing more subtle.

5. Lemon juice

All you need is lemon juice to add some acidity to your dish and give it a richer flavour. In many recipes, lemon juice is an excellent substitute for rice vinegar, but its distinct citrus flavor doesn’t quite slip under the radar, so before you go that route, scale up your recipe to make sure the finished dish doesn’t slip. Order the sweeter, more subtle character of rice vinegar plus tang. If you want to try this substitution, replace the same amount of lemon juice with rice vinegar, adding more as needed.

6. Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is an excellent alternative to rice vinegar because it has a similar balance of acidity and sweetness, only with a slightly richer and richer flavour. Despite the deeper character, there is so much common ground that you can use sherry vinegar in place of rice vinegar in almost any recipe (and in equal amounts).

7. Lemon juice

Much like lemon juice, lemon juice lends the desired acidity to any dish when you don’t have rice wine vinegar on hand. However, the distinct citrus flavor will be noticeable, and it also lacks the sweetness of rice wine and vinegar, so it’s not a perfect substitute in every type of recipe. In other words, consider the other flavors in the dish you’re making, and if you think lime will go well enough, use it as a 1:1 substitute for rice wine vinegar.

Is there a difference between rice wine vinegar and rice wine?

In case you missed the words “rice vinegar” and “rice wine vinegar” refer to the same thing (i.e. a type of vinegar made from fermented rice). Rice wine, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Rice wine is also made from fermented rice, but yeast is used to convert the sticky grain sugars into alcohol. There is no anaerobic process that produces acetic acid – so it’s not a refreshing vinegar, but just a sweet alcoholic liquid that can be used for cooking or for drinking.

Ready to cook? Here are 5 recipes you can try

Related: What is the best substitute for oyster sauce? Our 4 delicious (and fish-free) swaps

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