Exploring The World Of Rice Wine And Its Alternatives
Image Credit: Unsplash

Rice wine is a popular alcoholic beverage that has been consumed for centuries in many parts of the world, especially in Asian countries like China, Japan, India, and Korea. This traditional drink is made by fermenting rice with yeast and water, resulting in a mild and slightly sweet flavour. It is commonly used in cooking to add a unique depth of flavour to dishes, as well as in religious and cultural ceremonies.

However, rice wine is not always easy to find, and it may not be suitable for everyone due to its alcohol content, which can range from 5% to 25%. Therefore, let's delve into the details and explore the various substitutes for rice wine that are available, which can help you achieve similar flavours and textures in your cooking.

Rice wine, also known as mijiu in China, is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented glutinous rice. Rice wine is made by first soaking the glutinous rice in water to soften it, then steaming it to cook and gelatinize the starches. The cooked rice is then mixed with yeast and a fermenting agent such as koji, which contains enzymes that break down the starches into sugars.

The mixture is left to ferment for several days to several weeks, depending on the desired flavour and alcohol content. The resulting liquid is then strained and bottled, with some varieties being aged to further develop their flavour.

Rice wine's flavour profile can vary from sweet and fruity to earthy and complex. It is commonly used in cooking as a base for sauces and marinades or as a traditional beverage to accompany meals.

The History Of Rice Wine

Rice wine has been around for thousands of years and has played an important role in the culture and cuisine of many countries throughout history. The earliest known evidence of rice wine production dates back to around 8000 BC in China, where it was consumed for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

As the centuries passed, rice wine became more than just a beverage. In Japan, it was used as an offering to the gods and consumed during festivals and ceremonies. In Korea, it was considered a medicine for improving digestion and circulation. In Southeast Asia, rice wine was used in traditional medicine and as a popular drink socially at celebrations and gatherings.

In ancient times, rice wine was made by fermenting rice with various yeasts and bacteria. The process was relatively simple but required a lot of patience, as the fermentation could take several months to complete. Today, rice wine is still made in much the same way, though modern technology has made the process faster and more efficient.

In many cultures, rice wine is still considered an important part of daily life and is consumed with meals or as a social beverage. Its popularity has also spread to other parts of the world, and despite that, rice wine may not always be easy to find. For this reason, many people turn to substitutes when they need a similar flavour profile in their cooking or drinks.

Rice Wine Vs. Rice Wine Vinegar

The main difference between rice wine and rice vinegar lies in their alcohol content. Rice wine typically has an alcohol content ranging from 18% to 25%, while rice wine vinegar contains only 4% to 5% acetic acid. The fermentation process for rice wine is longer than that of rice vinegar, which results in higher alcohol content. Rice vinegar, on the other hand, is fermented for a shorter period, allowing the acetic acid to dominate the flavour profile.

Another significant difference between rice wine and rice vinegar is their use in cooking. Rice wine is commonly used in marinades and sauces to add depth and complexity to the flavour of the dish. It is also used as a cooking ingredient to deglaze the pan, tenderise meat, and add flavour to stir-fries. Rice vinegar, on the other hand, is often used as a condiment in salads, sushi, and dipping sauces. Its acidic and tangy flavour profile complements the fresh and light flavours of vegetables and seafood.

Best Rice Wine Substitutes

Pale Dry Sherry

Pale dry sherry can be used as a substitute for rice wine in many recipes, particularly in dishes that require a dry and nutty flavour. Sherry is a fortified wine that is produced in Spain's Andalusia region and is made by adding brandy to wine during the ageing process. Pale dry sherry is light in colour and has a crisp and refreshing taste, making it an excellent alternative to rice wine in dishes such as stir-fries, marinades, and sauces.

When using sherry as a substitute for rice wine, it is essential to keep in mind that it is more potent than rice wine, so you may need to adjust the amount used in the recipe accordingly. It is also crucial to choose a dry sherry variety, as sweet sherry can significantly alter the flavour of the dish. Overall, pale dry sherry can be a great substitute for rice wine, adding a unique flavour and depth to many dishes.

Dry White Wine

Dry white wine can be used as a substitute for rice wine in various dishes. This is because both rice wine and dry white wine have a similar acidic content, which helps enhance the flavours of the other ingredients in the dish. However, it is important to note that dry white wine can be a bit sweeter and less tangy than rice wine, which means it may alter the taste of the final dish slightly.

Additionally, some types of white wine may have a higher alcohol content, which can also affect the flavour of the dish. It is recommended to use a dry white wine that is similar in flavour to rice wine and has a lower alcohol content. Some examples of dry white wines that can be used as a substitute for rice wine include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. When using dry white wine as a substitute for rice wine, it is important to adjust the amount used based on personal taste preferences and the specific recipe being used.


Sake, also called mirin, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage that is often used as a substitute for rice wine in cooking. Like rice wine, sake is made from fermented rice, but the brewing process is different. The rice used to make sake is polished to remove the outer layer of the grain, resulting in a higher-quality and more refined product.

Sake also undergoes a unique fermentation process where yeast and koji mould is added to the rice, creating a complex flavour profile with fruity, floral, and earthy notes. Unlike rice wine, sake has a higher alcohol content, typically ranging from 15% to 20%.

In cooking, sake can be used to add depth and complexity to dishes, particularly in Japanese cuisine. It can be used to marinate meat, seafood, or vegetables, as well as added to sauces, soups, and stews for added flavour.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a popular substitute for rice wine in cooking. It is made by fermenting apple cider and has a sour, acidic taste. The acidity level of apple cider vinegar is similar to that of rice wine, which makes it a suitable replacement in recipes.

However, it is important to note that apple cider vinegar has a distinct flavour profile that can alter the taste of the dish. For this reason, it is best used in dishes that already have a strong flavour profile to balance out the acidity.

Additionally, the colour of the dish may change slightly when apple cider vinegar is used as a substitute for rice wine, as apple cider vinegar is a darker colour. Despite this, apple cider vinegar is a readily available and affordable substitute for rice wine, making it a great option for those who do not have access to rice wine or are looking for a non-alcoholic alternative.


While gin is not a traditional substitute for rice wine, it can work in certain recipes that call for a small amount of rice wine. Gin is a distilled spirit made from grains such as barley, wheat, or rye and flavoured with botanicals like juniper berries, coriander, and citrus peel. While it doesn't have the same fermented taste as rice wine, it can provide a similar depth of flavour and complexity to a dish.

When using gin as a substitute for rice wine, it's important to keep in mind that it has a much higher alcohol content. This means that you'll want to use a small amount of gin and dilute it with water or another liquid to achieve the desired flavour profile. Additionally, gin may not work well in recipes that require a sweeter flavour, as it tends to be quite dry.