The 10 Brilliant, Easy Uses for Rice Wine Vinegar

Do you have a bottle of rice wine vinegar lingering in your pantry, unused? Maybe you always pass it at the grocery store and wonder just what it can be used for. Before we get into the specifics, let's start with the basics. Vinegar is a solution of a weak acid in water. It's made by taking the fermentation process that creates alcohol one step further through the addition of bacteria, which converts the alcohol into acid. In other words, any alcohol we drink probably has a vinegar equivalent.

Take vodka, made from grain alcohol, for example. Its vinegar equivalent is regular distilled white vinegar, which lives in every kitchen in America. Red and white wine become red and white wine vinegars, respectively, and from malted barley, we get beer and malt vinegar, possibly the greatest condiment on French fries besides mayonnaise, in my opinion. I'm a proud Texan, but those Europeans know a good thing when they see one. So science aside, let's talk rice wine vinegar.

What is Rice Wine Vinegar? 

It follows then that seasoned rice vinegar, also called rice wine vinegar, is made from sake, or wine born from fermented rice. The difference between the names often causes confusion but is purely semantic: rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same things. It helps to understand that rice vinegar is made by further fermenting rice wine.

The most distinctive characteristic of rice wine vinegar is its subtle and delicately sweet flavor relative to other vinegar, especially Western vinegar. Where balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar, for example, have bold acidic flavors that makes them ideal candidates for certain jobs, like vinaigrettes, they also tend to overpower more nuanced ingredients.

When just a touch of sweetness and acidity is called for, rice wine vinegar is what you want. The seasoned rice wine vinegar flavor pairs well with Asian cooking, though that is a well-known fact. It accompanies sweet-and-sour dishes perfectly as the acetic acid is just the right amount to let the sweetness shine.

Which brings us to what, specifically, rice wine vinegar is useful for. There are even some non-culinary uses that might surprise you!

1. Pickling

This recipe from the good folks at Serious Eats makes delicious quick-pickled cucumbers that are great on pulled pork sandwiches or as a snack.

2. Sushi Rice

Rice wine vinegar is an essential ingredient in the preparation of sushi rice that gives it its distinctive flavor. Get the recipe here.

3. Marinades

You could theoretically substitute rice wine vinegar for any other vinegar in marinade recipes, but it compliments Asian flavor profiles the best. Get the recipe for Asian Marinated Grilled Pork Tenderloin here.

4. Cocktails

Adding rice wine vinegar to cocktails is a great way to give them a lift of brightness. Rice wine vinegar and cucumbers play really well together, creating subtle, refreshing flavor infusions. Try adding vodka to this recipe.

5. On French Fries

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Taking a cue from our British and Canadian friends who had the genius idea to flavor their fries with malt vinegar, if you want a less punchy flavor, or if you simply don't have malt vinegar in the pantry, save a trip to the store and go with rice wine vinegar.

Try this recipe for Homemade Salt and Vinegar Fries here.

6. Stir-Fries

For a quick, healthy dinner with a lot of flavors, stir-fry some veggies and make a basic sauce with chicken broth, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and a little sugar. Salty, tangy, and a little sweet, get the recipe here.

7. Dipping Sauces

Soy sauce and rice wine vinegar team up again with some help from their friend sesame oil to create a delicious dipping sauce for pot-stickers, sushi, chicken, egg rolls, or really anything.

Get the recipe here.

8. Salad Dressings

Remember when I said red wine vinegar is perfect for vinaigrettes? It is. But so is rice wine vinegar, if you want to tone down the acidity a bit.

Try this recipe for a Soy-Ginger Dressing.

9. Washing Your Whites

For a natural cleaner that makes your whites bright, clean, and soft, try adding five drops of lemon essential oil to two cups of rice wine vinegar and using that instead of laundry detergent or bleach.

10. Facial Toner

Rice vinegar pairs with distilled water and tea tree oil to create a facial toner that nourishes your skin without stripping it of any natural necessities. Keep the chemicals away and enjoy clean, fresh skin.

Watch: Why Your Body Craves Pickle Juice