Rice vinegar plays an important role in many Asian dishes, particularly those from China and Japan. It should be your first option for Asian-style marinades and stir-fried dishes. It is usually easy to find online as well as in brick and mortar grocery stores. If you need some in a hurry and can’t get your hands on it, there are several rice vinegar substitutes that you can try. They include:
Your best bet: Apple cider vinegar
Made from fermented apple cider, apple cider vinegar is the closest match for rice vinegar among the common western vinegars. You can use it in place of rice vinegar in everything from sushi to pickles. While it does have an apple flavor, it is subtle and will usually not be an issue when cooked in heavily seasoned dishes; however, it might be more noticeable when used for pickling and similar applications. Apple cider vinegar has the benefit of being easy to find and quite inexpensive.
While you can use it as a 1:1 substitute, apple cider vinegar is not as sweet as rice vinegar so you may need to add a small amount of sugar to it.
A decent second choice: Regular or white balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is the best alternative for black rice vinegar, but its color can make it unsuitable for replacing lighter-colored rice vinegars. For example, it will darken dishes that require red rice vinegar or white rice vinegar. The latter is the most common and is what most recipes require when they list rice vinegar among the ingredients.
You can get many of rice vinegar’s qualities from white balsamic vinegar. It has a fruity sweetness to go with its acidity and works well in most of the cooked applications for rice vinegar. White balsamic vinegar is not actually white; rather, it has a golden color that is a little darker than that of rice vinegar. Like regular balsamic vinegar, the white version is made with grape must but it is cooked before being aged. It is also aged for a much shorter time.
In a pinch: White wine vinegar
Like rice vinegar, white wine vinegar is made by fermenting wine. Its acidity is mild like that of rice vinegar and it works almost as well in stir-fry sauces and marinades.
One key difference is that white wine vinegar is not quite as sweet as rice vinegar. If you are making a dish where the lack of sweetness is particularly noticeable, you can add a small amount of sugar to get a closer match. Use 1/4 teaspoon for every tablespoon of white wine vinegar you use.
Lemon or lime juice can work as substitutes for rice vinegar in certain applications such as salad dressings. They will provide high levels of acidity and the slight sweetness that you would get from the vinegar. Note that both of these fruits have strong and distinctive flavors that will change the flavor profile of the finished dish, which means that they will work better with some foods than others.
Sherry vinegar is another wine vinegar that can provide a similar taste to that of rice vinegar. It works well in most dishes and you probably won’t have to add any sugar to it. You can use it in sauces and marinades as well as in pickles.