Rice Vinegar vs. White Vinegar: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie
Rice vinegar vs. white vinegar

Rice vinegar and white vinegar are primarily the same. They have acetic acid as a base compound. They are both sour, and they are both transparent liquids. However, they also have differences.

What’s the difference between rice vinegar and white vinegar? The main difference between rice vinegar and white vinegar is their taste. While white vinegar is flat and sour, as most kinds of vinegar are, rice vinegar is sweet (to very sweet) and sour in taste.

Take a small taste of white vinegar, and your taste buds will naturally react to that sourness. But have a little taste of rice vinegar, and your taste buds will be interested in its sweet profile.

What are Other Differences Between Rice Vinegar and White Vinegar?

There are more differences between rice vinegar and white vinegar.

Firstly, they differ in the intensity of sourness or acidity levels. White vinegar is sharply sour, while rice vinegar is mildly sour.

Secondly, they differ in color. Both kinds of vinegar are transparent. Regular white vinegar has a whitish tinge to it. Distilled white vinegar will be very clear. Rice vinegar is commonly pale yellow in color. However, other colored varieties, such as red rice wine vinegar, are also available. 

Thirdly, they differ in source or base ingredient. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice, while white vinegar comes from different types of grains, including corn and other wheat-based alcohol derivatives. Other special types of vinegar come from grapes, red wine, white wine, and more.

As a whole, kinds of vinegar are distinct for their sour taste. There are so many different varieties available on the market, but their essential cooking purpose is mostly the same. And that is to add acidity or tartness and to enhance the flavor of your meals.

You should also know that fermented rice is the same as rice wine. That is why rice vinegar also goes by the shelf name rice wine vinegar. 

Fourthly, they have different purposes. Rice vinegar is used for culinary purposes. But white vinegar is used for both culinary and cleaning purposes. Vinegar has long been considered an effective cleaning and disinfecting agent.

Lastly, rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar and white vinegar differ in origin or history. Rice wine vinegar is a popular type of vinegar that is essential to Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisine. You may even go as far as to say that rice vinegar is Asian vinegar. White vinegar, on the other hand, is a common Western condiment.

Can You Substitute Rice Vinegar for White Vinegar?

Yes. White vinegar is regular vinegar, and rice vinegar is a sweet type of vinegar you can cook with. When added in small amounts, one type of vinegar can be replaced with the other type when cooking your recipes.

In saying that, however, some prefer the taste of apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a substitute for rice vinegar. Since apple cider vinegar is mild and a bit sweet due to its apple flavor, it is a chosen substitute for many cooks. 

Balsamic vinegar is another type of vinegar you can substitute for any other type of vinegar. It is tangy but it has some sweetness to it. You may use it in place of white vinegar or rice vinegar, depending on the need. It is a good and versatile replacement because it hits both taste profiles.

If you welcome the umami taste of Asian rice kinds of vinegar, try mirin. It is a Japanese rice wine vinegar that has a bit of alcohol content in it. It is also a thicker type of vinegar. It is more sweet compared to regular rice kinds of vinegar. But it is mild and won’t overpower your dish. It brings out all the great flavors of your prepared meal.

Is Rice Vinegar the Same as Chinese Cooking Wine?

Yes. Regular Chinese cooking wine or Shaoxing wine (also spelled as Shao-hsing or Shaohsing) is made from fermented rice. Thus, it is the same as rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar.

Do All Rice Vinegar Look and Taste the Same?

No. Regular rice vinegar made from regular white grain rice taste the same. But some varieties use different types of rice. Hence, they may look and taste a bit different. For instance, black rice vinegar is made from glutinous black rice. It has a bit of a smoky taste to it.

When Do You Use Rice Vinegar and White Vinegar in Recipes?

White vinegar is easy to use. It is your everyday choice for cooking. It is flat. This means it won’t change the taste of your dish except for adding tartness or acidity to it.

Rice vinegar, however, can be sweet to very sweet. So use it in recipes that need sweetening. Moreover, since rice vinegar is less sour, don’t use it in recipes that call for high acidity or a lot of sourness. 

Some examples of recipes that will taste better if you use white vinegar are sour soups and pickles. For rice vinegar, sushi, Asian barbecue or meat marinades, and salads.

When baking, your best all-around choice would be white vinegar. You can use it to make buttermilk. Use it for cupcake recipes that need a good rise. Also, use it to keep your dough from getting over kneaded.

Final Thoughts

  • Rice vinegar is sweet and sour, while white vinegar is flat and sour.
  • Rice vinegar has a mild, sour taste, but white vinegar has a sharp sour taste.
  • Rice vinegar is made from fermented wine. It is also called rice wine vinegar.
  • White vinegar is made from fermented grains, including corn and other wheat-based fermented alcohol derivatives.
  • Rice vinegar and Chinese cooking wine are the same.
  • Rice vinegar and Mirin (Japanese rice wine vinegar) are both rice kinds of vinegar.
  • Premium Mirin commonly has some alcohol content while rice vinegar does not.
  • Rice vinegar is pale yellow, while white vinegar is white or clear in color.
  • Rice vinegar is a popular Asian vinegar. White vinegar is generally considered Western vinegar.
  • Rice vinegar is a cooking vinegar, while white vinegar is both a cooking and disinfecting vinegar.

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