Also known as mijiu, rice wine is a staple ingredient in Asian cuisine. Most households who enjoy cooking and eating Asian food (from Chinese to Japanese to Korean food) will probably have a bottle of rice wine somewhere in their pantry or kitchen cupboard.
In most Asian dishes, rice wine is as important to the recipe as soy sauce.
Unlike other wines, rice wine consists of fermented glutinous rice as opposed to fermented fruits. This process converts the sugars into alcohol from the yeast in the rice, which is what gives rice wine its characteristic sweet taste.
Rice wine is typically used to tenderize fish and meat and to add a boost of flavor to a dish.
While it’s easy to find a bottle of rice wine in an Asian grocery store, you might struggle to find availability in your local grocery store. Whether you can’t find rice wine in a store or if you’ve just realized you don’t have a bottle in your cupboard to complete a recipe, we’ve got you covered. Here are the top substitutes for rice wine!
Not only does gin share the same clear color and consistency as rice wine, but it also works as an effective substitute for it. Gin shares a similar taste to white rice wine, which is why it can be easily substituted in a recipe that calls for white rice wine.
Plus, gin is readily available in virtually every grocery or liquor store and can also be used for drinking purposes – just make sure to buy an unflavored bottle of gin, otherwise it’ll alter the taste of the meal!
However, due to the higher alcohol percentage of gin compared to rice wine, you’ll have to be careful using gin in a recipe. It is recommended using ⅓ of the original rice wine requirement in a recipe with gin instead, and then adding more depending on the taste.
Gin is a surprisingly versatile substitute for rice wine, and can be used to tenderize meat and seafood or in salad dressings.
Just like gin, white wine is a good substitute for rice wine. While white wine is commonly used in Italian dishes, it can also be used in Asian cuisine such as in meat or seafood dishes, salad dressings, and sauces.
Both white wine and rice wine share similar qualities, such as the same clear color, the same consistency, and a comparable flavor. Due to these similarities, you can generally use the same ratio of white wine to rice wine according to the recipe.
However, as white wine can come in a variety of flavors, levels of sweetness, and alcohol strengths, you might have to adjust the recipe slightly.
We recommend opting for a dry white wine, because while it won’t match the sweetness of rice wine, you can adjust the sweetness by adding sugar or honey accordingly. As with gin, it’s best to use a small amount of white wine and keep testing the meal until it reaches the desired flavor.
If you’ve ever wondered whether you can substitute white vinegar for rice wine, you’ll be pleased to know that you can. However, despite the fact that white vinegar and rice wine share the same clear color and consistency, you can’t simply use the same ratios in a recipe.
White vinegar isn’t sweet. Instead, due to its high acidity, white vinegar is very sour, which means it’s not the best substitute for rice wine in terms of flavor. Instead, you’ll have to adjust the sweetness of white vinegar with sugar, honey, or another sweetener to try and replicate the same flavor of rice wine.
Due to the risk of making the white vinegar too sweet or not sweet enough, we recommend only using a small amount of white vinegar as a substitute for rice wine. For example, for every cup of rice wine, use half a cup (or even ¼ of a cup) of white vinegar, and adjust accordingly depending on your preferences.
Pale Dry Sherry
Interestingly, pale dry sherry is typically the most common substitute for rice wine. This is because pale dry sherry is made from water, wheat yeast, and glutinous rice – similarly to how rice wine is made – allowing for a very comparable flavor. If you buy pale dry sherry, you can substitute this for rice wine with the same ratio according to the recipe.
As pale dry sherry is slightly less sweet than rice wine, though, we recommend adding a maximum of half a tablespoon of sugar for every tablespoon of pale dry sherry.
However, make sure to buy pale dry sherry, as regular sherry is far too sweet to substitute for rice wine. We all know that it’s easier to add sweetness than to take sweetness away, so if you only have sweet sherry in your pantry, then use it sparingly as a rice wine substitute.
Adjust the amount accordingly as you continue to taste the dish, but don’t expect it to match the exact flavor of rice wine in comparison to pale dry sherry.
White Grape Juice
If you’re not a drinker, white grape juice is a good non-alcoholic substitute for rice wine. Grape juice is satisfyingly acidic enough to sufficiently tenderize meat in a similar way to rice wine, while sweet enough to mimic the sugar levels of rice wine.
Grape juice is a good enough substitute, but for the best comparison, we recommend using white grape juice.
White grape juice is a great substitute for rice wine in a variety of dishes, including meat, seafood, sauces, dressings, stews, and vegetable dishes.
While the production of Japanese sake is more similar to how beer is brewed, Japanese sake is commonly known as the Japanese version of rice wine. It actually has a very different flavor to traditional Chinese rice wine, but depending on the chef’s preference, sake can be used as a substitute for rice wine.
As Japanese sake can come in a variety of flavors – including dry, light, and dark – it’s wise to use sake sparingly as a substitute for rice wine. Make sure to use a small amount of sake at a time rather than use the same ratio according to the recipe, as this will give you enough control to alter the flavor to your liking.
Shaoxing wine is a traditional Chinese drink also known as “yellow wine”. As shaoxing wine is made similarly to rice wine (both consisting of fermented wheat yeast, water, and glutinous rice), it can be used as an adequate substitute.
Just be cautious that the reddish-amber coloring of shaoxing will alter the color of the recipe, which can make it look slightly different compared to if you were to use rice wine.
However, if you’re struggling to find rice wine in a grocery store, odds are you probably won’t find shaoxing wine, either. Plus, if you don’t live in an Asian household, you’re unlikely to have a bottle of shaoxing wine lying around, either.
If you’re struggling to find a bottle of gin, white wine, grape juice, or any other substitute already on this list in your kitchen cupboard, then look no further.
Virtually every household has vegetable stock lying around somewhere, and while it might not be the most conventional substitute for rice wine, it’s a substitute nonetheless.
Vegetable stock is a brilliant substitute for rice wine in an Asian stew or vegetable dish because of the natural sweetness of the vegetables used in the stock.
It is recommended using more vegetable stock than what the recipe calls for rice wine to try and mimic the flavor. If you think the dish is still lacking the distinctive sweetness or pang of rice wine, you can always add a sweetener like sugar, honey, or even a splash of lemon juice.
Speaking of lemon juice, lemon juice provides an adequate amount of acidity that can substitute for rice wine in a variety of dishes. As lemons are so readily available in grocery stores, this is probably the most accessible substitute for rice wine.
However, you will have to adjust the taste of lemon juice, as it is distinctly tart in comparison to rice wine. We recommend using sweeteners like sugar, honey, or agave.
Plus, make sure to only use half a cup of lemon juice (with sweeteners) for every cup of rice wine. We also recommend adding water to the lemon and sweetener mix to make up for the lack of liquid.
Lemon juice works best as a substitute for rice wine in light dishes such as marinades, sauces, and salad dressings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is rice wine the same as mirin?
Mirin is a rice wine commonly used in Japanese cooking, as can often be substituted for rice wine or even sake. While rice wine is not the same as mirin, there are several similarities between them, mostly notably the fermentation process. Mirin is made of fermented glutinous rice, which then creates a distinctive sweetness. Rice wine, likewise, is made of fermented glutinous rice.
However, the sugar content of mirin is generally sweeter than rice wine, which is why it can only be used sparingly as a substitute.
Can I use white vinegar instead of rice wine?
White vinegar is a useful substitute for rice wine due to its availability and similar consistency. However, white vinegar has far higher acidity levels than rice wine, which means you can use the same ratios according to a recipe.
White vinegar must be sweetened to match the sweetness of rice wine, which can be achieved by combining sugar, honey, or agave to the vinegar. We recommend using half a cup of sweetened white vinegar for every one cup of rice wine.
Is rice wine and sake the same?
Sake is a type of rice wine, which is why both terms are used interchangeably and both liquids can substitute for one another.
Both sake and rice wine are made of fermented glutinous wine, with the process converting the natural complex carbohydrates into sugars to make the drinks distinctly sweet.
However, if you’re looking to substitute sake for rice wine in a recipe, make sure to only use a small amount at a time to prevent altering the overall flavor of the dish.