Low in saturated fats, full of vegetables, and high in fiber, it’s easy to see why the Asian diet is catching on. A staple in Asian cooking, rice wine vinegar is not easily found on grocery store shelves.
What can you do if you're ready to make your own sushi or stir fry, but you can’t find this key ingredient? Check out our suggestions on the best rice vinegar substitutes below.
- Balsamic vinegar
- Sherry vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Apple cider vinegar (w/ or w/o sugar)
- White wine vinegar without sugar
- Champagne vinegar
- White wine vinegar with sugar
What is Rice Vinegar?
Rice vinegar, or rice wine vinegar (there’s no difference), is a ubiquitous ingredient on your Asian grocer’s shelves. It's featured in dishes from stir fry to dipping sauces. An enormous variety of rice wine vinegar exists; some are made from white, brown, or black rice, while others are seasoned (with salt and sugar) or unseasoned. Depending on the type of rice it comes from, the color can be anything from pale to reddish-brown.
The type of rice vinegar that Americans are likely to be familiar with is the unseasoned variety made from white rice. This vinegar is tart, with a pH around 3, but with a delicacy that makes it ideal as a background modifier in recipes.
Rice vinegar plays two crucial roles in a dish.
One is, of course, to adjust the flavor, but even more importantly, the vinegar adjusts the pH of the recipe to a safe level. As we discuss substitutes, it is vital to consider the role of pH adjustment in a vinegar substitution. Any substitution must achieve approximately the same pH reduction in the recipe, even if it confers a stronger flavor.
1) Champagne Vinegar
This subtly floral vinegar is made from Champagne and Pinot Noir grapes.
Similarities: Like rice wine vinegar, champagne vinegar has a delicate taste and can take a back seat in a dish.
Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio
Flavor Notes: Tart but smooth with floral notes
Suggested Dishes: Marinade, light vinaigrette, chicken, green vegetables
2) White Wine Vinegar
Fruitier and less sweet than rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar offers acidity without a lot of flavor.
Similarities: Like rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar is pale and with an indiscernible taste outside of the pronounced acidity.
Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio and add ¼ tsp of sugar for every Tbsp of vinegar for a truly excellent substitute
Flavor Notes: Very tart, fruity, bright
Suggested Dishes: White meat, vegetables, fish
3) Apple cider vinegar
With a more pungent taste and less sweetness, the apple flavor can become very noticeable in pickling recipes. This ingredient may discolor pale foods slightly.
Similarities: Apple cider vinegar is much stronger than rice wine vinegar, but it can be a good substitute if it is sweetened a bit.
Suggested Conversion: 1:1 ratio with ¼ tsp of sugar per Tbsp of vinegar.
Flavor Notes: Strongly acetic, oxidized apples.
Suggested Dishes: Marinades, pork, spicy dishes
4) Sherry vinegar
Sherry vinegar comes from--you guessed it--fermenting sherry wine, and the result is a gently nutty, sweet vinegar.
Similarities: The sweetness of sherry vinegar is comparable to rice wine vinegar, although its flavor is more powerful and stands out more strongly. Sherry vinegar can be dark in color and, if it has been barrel-aged, it may be quite expensive.
Suggested Conversion: Use a 1:1 ratio to achieve similar acidity, but be aware that you’ll get much more flavor and color from sherry vinegar.
Flavor Notes: Nutty, earthy, bold.
Suggested Dishes: Vinaigrette, soup, gravy marinade, roasted meat
5) Balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar boasts a lot of sweetness--even more than rice wine vinegar or sherry vinegar. It also has a syrupy texture and an intense color. It will make itself the star of the recipe, so look for another option if your recipe requires something subtle.
Similarities: Balsamic vinegar will not take a backseat in your recipe. Where rice wine vinegar is understated, balsamic is bold! However, both kinds of vinegar mix tart and sweet notes.
Suggested Conversion: Both have approximately the same acidity, so use them in a 1:1 ratio. However, expect more sweetness from the balsamic.
Flavor Notes: Fig, vanilla, dates, prunes
Suggested Dishes: Glazes, dips, meat, game, poultry, root vegetables
6) Lemon juice (or lime juice in a pinch)
Freshly juiced lemons contribute acidity in the form of citric acid (as opposed to acetic acid, which acidifies vinegar). The pH of lemon juice is not quite as low as vinegar, so you’ll need a larger quantity. Lemon juice has no sweetness and has a distinct citrus flavor, which may not suit all recipes.
Similarities: Both ingredients contribute acidity
Suggested Conversion: Use a 2:1 ratio of lemon juice to vinegar; you may also choose to add 1 tsp of sugar per ever 2 Tbsp of lemon juice to mimic the sweetness of rice wine vinegar
Flavor Notes: Tart, citrus, astringent
Suggested Dishes: Salads, fresh vegetables, chicken
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I substitute for rice wine vinegar?
Check out the suggestions above to find the best fit for your recipe!
Can I use rice vinegar instead of rice wine vinegar?
Yes; in fact, these are the very same thing. The labeling is not always consistent.
Can I use mirin instead of rice wine vinegar?
Mirin is a type of low-alcohol, high-sugar rice wine. It is not vinegar, meaning that it will not contribute acidity to lower your dish’s pH. In some cases (for example, sushi rice), acidity is necessary for proper food safety. Mirin is often a condiment or a marinade. It can be used on its own, whereas rice wine vinegar is generally combined with other ingredients to achieve the desired result. On the whole, mirin is generally not the best substitute for rice wine vinegar. Refer to the list above to find something in your kitchen which might work better for you.
Asian recipes often call for rice vinegar. If you can’t find it, it’s time to stop worrying. Just refer to the suggestions above and you’re sure to find a convenient substitute so you can get that stir fry started!
If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below.