Rice vinegar is associated mostly with Asian cooking, while white vinegar is generally viewed as a Western product; however, they are both vinegars and provide tartness to foods. They are similar products but have some major differences that you will need to understand when choosing between them. Let’s see how they compare in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does rice vinegar differ from white vinegar?
The two vinegars begin with different raw materials. Rice vinegar is also known as rice wine vinegar and starts with rice. The rice is made into rice wine, which is then fermented and made into rice wine vinegar. Chinkiang vinegar is made with a combination of rice and malt. Red rice vinegar is made with red yeast rice plus sorghum and barley.
White vinegar can be made with a wide variety of products, including grains like wheat and corn, or even a tuber like a potato. These are fermented to produce ethanol that is then fermented again to make wine vinegar. In places like the US, the only restriction is that the ethanol must be fermented naturally with bacteria.
Rice vinegar and white vinegar look different from each other. The most common rice vinegar will be a pale yellow. Chinkiang vinegar is popular vinegar in China and is classified as a black rice wine vinegar because it has a color similar to that of soy sauce. Red rice vinegar has an amber color. White vinegar is completely clear, like water.
Flavor is another area where rice vinegar and white vinegar differ. Regular light rice vinegar has a mellow, sweetish taste to go with its mild acidity. Red rice vinegar is similarly sweet and mild, with some added salt. Black rice vinegar like Chinkiang rice vinegar is smoky-tasting with moderate acidity.
Can you use rice vinegar as a substitute for white vinegar and vice versa?
Some types of rice vinegar may not work as substitutes for white vinegar since white vinegar is primarily used for pickling. Pickling requires a vinegar with an acidity level of at least 5 percent. You won’t get that from all rice vinegars since some are in the 4-5 percent range. Acidity is important in pickling for preventing foodborne illnesses like botulism.
Rice vinegar will also be inadequate if your dish needs the strong and assertive tartness of white vinegar. Colored vinegars like black and red rice vinegar may also discolor pickles and other dishes that typically require white vinegar.
White vinegar won’t be ideal for replacing any rice vinegar in most recipes simply because it is so much more acidic. However, you may be able to tone down the acidity by diluting it with a little water and adding a small amount of sugar. Less acidity and a little sweetness will make it more like rice wine vinegar.
When should you use rice vinegar, and when should you use white vinegar?
Light or white rice vinegar is used mostly to give a bright tang to sushi rice. It also works in marinades and stir-fried dishes. If you need a sweeter or less-acidic vinaigrette, rice vinegar can be one of your better options. Black rice vinegar’s smokiness and umami qualities allow it to enhance dipping sauces, and you can use red rice vinegar in the same way.
White vinegar is primarily used for pickling brine, where its strong acidity makes it perfect for preserving pickles, and its colorless clarity protects the appearance of the items that you are pickling.