18 Substitutes for Rice Wine or Shaoxing Wine
If you are a fan of Asian cuisine, you probably know that most times the amazing taste of every Chinese and Japanese dish comes from adding a splash of cooking rice wine or vinegar. But if you’re just starting with Asian fusion, you may want to look for a substitute for rice wine or Shaoxing wine, in case you don’t have any, as many dishes call for them.
The traditional taste of Asian food comes, more often than not, from adding a touch of rice or Shaoxing wine. Both these wines are made from distilling fermented rice; the only difference being that wheat is added to Shaoxing wine before fermentation.
Rice wines and the Chinese wine from the region of Shaoxing are used to add a touch of acidic, a little salty flavor, and a fragrant smell. Both wines add depth and complexity to many recipes since they are so versatile!
From stir fry sauces to fried rice, from glazes and braises to soup broths, from marinades to spring rolls, from the famous Kung Pao Chicken to Chop Suey, they are all enhanced with a splish-splash of rice wine.
What is Rice Wine?
Although rice wine is branded as wine, it is more like a beer since it’s made from fermenting cereals. It is an alcoholic beverage made from brewing and distilling fermented rice. The result is a tangy, sweet liquid with a high alcohol content (about 18 to 25%).
Rice wine is used in Asian food to boost flavor and texture. Its aromatic, tart, tangy, sweet flavors enrich the dish, but there are many ways to replace it if you don’t have it around. There are many varieties of ice wine:
- Shaoxing rice wine is the Chinese variant (and is more often than not the one that is referred to as rice wine).
- Mirin is the Japanese rice wine for cooking.
- Sake is the Japanese rice wine for drinking.
18 Shaoxing wine alternatives & rice wine subs for you to try
Perhaps you’re getting ready to make your famous Chinese lettuce wraps and realize you’re out of rice wine, or you’re just starting out cooking Asian food and you just don’t have any. In either case, you can find alternatives so you don’t have to abandon the dish.
Some of the following substitutes are likely to be in your kitchen, others are popular among Asian food aficionados. But all are ways for you to stick to your planned dish.
1. Dry Sherry
Dry sherry is a suitable rice wine substitute for cooking. In fact, dry sherry is the next best thing to Shaoxing wine. And it’s easy to find in any store.
Its sweet and nutty flavors come very close to Shaoxing and rice wine. But make sure to add just a little less than the recipe calls for since the flavors of sherry are stronger and could overpower the food.
A good option for a substitute for rice and Shaoxing wine is sake; especially cooking sake. This is a Japanese staple, but it can easily replace Chinese cooking wine in any recipe. Sake is made from rice and it has a sweet flavor.
It’s lighter than its Chinese relative from Shaoxing province, but it can bring a sweeter touch to the dish.
While rice wine is also distilled, sake stops at fermentation. In terms of taste, sake can encompass flowery, fruity, herbal, and even spicy aromas. If you want to come closer to rice and Shaoxing wine, find a sake variant that has more aminosan-do, aka more acidity and sweetness.
Mirin is a Japanese cooking wine. The difference between rice wine and mirin is that mirin is extremely sweet. This makes it quite similar to Shaoxing wine, but it does lack the nutty aroma of Shaoxing.
Mirin can also have a potent savory flavor so you may want to take this into consideration too. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio, just expect a sweeter taste to your dish. We recommend you use mirin for dishes based on teriyaki sauce, marinades, udon, or ramen.
4. Dry White Wine
You probably have this around whatever your food preferences or experience. Dry white wine mingles the sweet aftertaste of grapes with the tangy, sour aroma of a fermenting liquid. A dry wine will also have a crisp finish, which makes it one of the best alternatives for rice wine.
Stock is a good non-alcoholic Chinese cooking wine substitute. You can complete the flavor of stir-fries, noodles, and meats by adding stock. You can use vegetable or mushroom stock if you are vegan, or you can go for beef or chicken broth if you eat meat.
6. Light Soy Sauce
Shaoxing has a brownish tint and adds a savory-sweet aroma to foods. So, soy sauce could be a good variant. A light soy sauce, especially completed with a touch of sugar or molasses and a squeeze of lemon, makes a great alternative.
Be careful, though, since soy sauce can be too salty and a bit too harsh, overwhelming other ingredients. Start with a small amount and go from there.
Here is another drink you probably have at home and that works as a substitute for rice and Shaoxing wine.
Gin has a citrusy scent and a strong, intense pine-like flavor, due to the juniper berries. Gin also has a bitter aftertaste and a sweet aroma too. But it will work as an alternative to rice wine, especially for meats and fish.
Mijiu is a Chinese fermented rice wine made from fermented glutinous rice. It can definitely be a good Shaoxing wine substitute. You can find it with a reddish hue or a pale color. It’s usually ideal for meats and fish.
9. Fujian Cooking Wine
While Shaoxing blends together sweet, sour, savory, and slightly bitter notes, Fujian cookıng wine has a rich, herbal, and mildly sweet taste, and does well as a substitute.
10. White Wine Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar
White wine vinegar can be a fine rice wine replacement. Apple cider vinegar is even more so since it tends to be milder and packs a little bit more sweetness.
They are both on the sour side, providing a crisp, intense finish; however, in small amounts, they’ll do. And, of course, they are pretty much always around, so no frustration over running out or not finding it in shops.
11. Rice Vinegar
Rice vinegar is a byproduct of rice fermentation, having a sweet and savory aroma. It’s perfect for substituting rice wine in sauces, marinades, salad dressing, and sushi.
The difference between rice wine and rice vinegar comes from the fermentation process. Chinese rice vinegar is sourer, while Japanese rice vinegar is more aromatic and sweet. Either one is ideal for replacing rice wine and adding a rich, deep aroma to your food.
12. Champagne Vinegar
Champagne vinegar is a suitable Shaoxing wine replacement. Its distinct flavor reunites sweet, mildly bitter tones, and provides a mouthful of flavors. Champagne vinegar is light and delicate in terms of the flavor it adds to food. It’s just like rice vinegar when it comes to acidity and sweetness levels.
13. Apple Juice
Apple juice can replace rice wine successfully due to its acidic and sweet taste. It’s ideal for salad dressings, veggies, and stir-fries. If you use it, expect a similar flavor but also remember that is lacks the sweetness of rice wine.
14. Lemon Juice
You probably have this one in your kitchen. Lemon juice is one of the best Shaoxing wine alternatives, especially since it’s highly available. Make sure to add something sweet to it so your dish doesn’t become too tart.
15. Grape Juice
If you are looking for an alcohol-free option to replace rice or Shaoxing wine, grape juice will do just fine. You won’t be getting the crispiness and tangy flavor but you will be getting the sweet taste. White grape juice does better than red grape juice, providing a little more sourness.
16. White Grape Juice + Rice Vinegar
Not the ideal variant, but at a pinch, or a small drizzle, you can go for this combo. Together these two ingredients can provide a similar flavor to Shaoxing wine.
17. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar has plenty of umami flavor to impart to your dish. It has a rich, deep aroma, encompassing a sweet taste, a caramel-like feel, and a tangy, tart flavor, without being crisp, and pungent. It will remind you more of mirin than of rice wine, but it will do.
18. Non-alcoholic White Wine or Beer
When looking for an alcohol-free option to replace rice vinegar, keep these two in mind. Choose mild-flavored beers so you don’t overwhelm the dish.
Sure, you could always leave out the rice wine if you’ve run out. But why would you when you can find the perfect substitute for rice wine and Shaoxing wine in our list above?