Rice Vinegar: The Most Popular Chinese Vinegar

Rice vinegar (also known as rice wine vinegar) originated in China. There is not a lot of information on the origin of rice vinegar. It is believed to have come from China. What historians do know is that the Chinese have been making vinegar for over 4,000 years. The earliest of their vinegars were likely made from a variety of grains including rice. Barley and millet were probably used as well.

The first documentation of rice vinegar comes much later in history from the Chou Dynasty in the 12th century BCE.

After originating in China, rice vinegar would make its way to Japan at some point in the 4th or 5th centuries CE. Around 960 CE, the Chinese began to eat raw fish and meat seasoned with vinegar and this would eventually be adopted by the Japanese as well. Vinegar never became a popular ingredient in Southern Asia. Most foods from that part of the world use limes, tamarind or other ingredients to provide acidity. As a result, most rice wine vinegar comes from China or Japan. Vinegar was regarded as an internal and external cleanser.

Chia Ming’s Essential Knowledge for Eating and Drinking, which was written in the 1300s recommends vinegar as a preventive measure for neutralizing poisons from fish and certain vegetables. Vinegar was a staple in Chinese kitchens during this period and was considered to be just as important as soy sauce, oil, and rice.

Rice vinegar is made by first fermenting rice wine. During the process, the sugars in the rice are transformed into alcohol. Bacteria are then added to convert the alcohol into acetic acid. The type of rice used to make rice vinegar is glutinous rice, also called sweet rice.

Rice vinegar

Rice vinegar flavor profile

Each of the different rice vinegar types has a distinctive flavor profile. The Chinese varieties include black rice vinegar, white vinegar, and red yeast rice vinegar. Chinkiang vinegar is the most popular black rice vinegar and is made from glutinous rice and malt. It has a sweetish umami flavor in addition to its acidity.

Red rice vinegar is made from a combination of red rice with barley and sorghum and has a slightly salty flavor. White rice wine vinegar is made with rice alone. White rice wine vinegar is the version that is most widely known in the West and typically has more acetic acid than other vinegar types from China; however, its flavor is milder than that of cider vinegar and other vinegar options more common in the West.

The type of rice vinegar used on sushi in Japan is called komezu and it has a notably mild flavor. In comparison to other kinds of vinegar, rice vinegars all have a mild sweetness.

Health benefits of rice vinegar

Rice vinegar’s health-promoting benefits result from compounds like:

  • Acetic acid: The compound in vinegar that gives it its sour taste is acetic acid, which has important benefits for gut health.
  • Amino acids: Rice vinegar is full of the building blocks for proteins, which means that it is beneficial for building up your body’s tissues.

The compounds above and others make rice vinegar effective for treating or preventing:

  • Obesity: Studies show that rice vinegar can help to increase feelings of fullness, which means that they may help you to eat less and thus lose weight.
  • High blood sugar: Rice vinegar can help to lower blood sugar, which can help people with diabetes control the disease.

Common uses

Chinese cooks use rice vinegar in pickling and as an ingredient in marinades and stir-fries. In Japan, rice vinegar is sprinkled onto sushi rice.