Oh, the versatility of rice. Cooked simply, it can slant savory or sweet. Try as they may, vegetables repurposed as rice, like cauliflower, can only dream of imitating its likeness. And while we all know (and love) rice in its granular form, this shape-shifter pantry staple can be ground or soaked into the main ingredient for noodles, bread, milk—you name it. Rice can even be fermented and processed into the main ingredient in a boozy beverage (hello, sake!)
Speaking of fermented rice: Rice vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, is a seasoning agent derived from similar ingredients, albeit produced with a different technique. Commonly used in East Asian and some Southeast Asian cuisines, it's delicately tangy and slightly sweet, making it more mild in flavor and less acidic than its Western counterparts in the vinegar section. Rice vinegar comes in a range of colors, from white to yellow to red to black—each with varying flavor nuances and acidity strengths.
Rice vinegar enriches sushi rice, makes mild, snack-able pickles, and livens up dressings and marinades for any salad or protein. If you find your bottle is empty, and understandably don’t want to run to the store for just one ingredient, consider these substitutions. You’ll likely have one of these 5 pantry- and fridge-staple rice vinegar substitutes on hand.
Apple Cider Vinegar
If rice vinegar is on the milder end when it comes to vinegar, apple cider vinegar is right next door. The two are both tart condiments, yet share a subtle sweetness. You can easily substitute apple cider for rice vinegars for any recipe, with one note: the ACV will have a slightly (yet unsurprisingly!) fruity apple flavor, so keep that in mind when seasoning simple dishes like sushi rice or pickles.
Cheers to effortless swaps! Not unlike rice vinegar, champagne vinegar is made by fermenting the bubbly wine even further to produce a mild (but bright) acidic condiment. Use it where you would rice vinegar in a one to one ratio.
White Wine Vinegar
The “wine” in white wine vinegar is a critical component to this substitution. While distilled white vinegar is a bit harsh as a direct sub to rice vinegar, white wine vinegar is the tame pantry staple you can rely on to freshen up any recipe. The best rule: Taste as you go. If you sense something is missing in your dish sans rice vinegar, but you've already added the white wine vinegar, it could use a bit of sweetness. Try a 1/4 teaspoon of granulated sugar for every tablespoon of vinegar. That said, if all you have is regular ol’ white vinegar (or red wine vinegar, for that matter,) and you don’t want to harsh your mellow (vinegar), consider diluting the punchy condiments. Use half the amount of red wine or distilled white vinegar as you would rice vinegar. Splash in a few tablespoons of water, and a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and your dressings and marinades won’t know the difference.
Lemon or Lime Juice
The bright acidity of lemon and lime juice makes a trusty alternative for rice vinegar in dressings and sauces. Keep in mind that the citrus leaves a distinct floral flavor, but will provide the mildly tart zing needed when replacing rice wine vinegar. Again, taste as you go: You may need up to double the amount of citrus juice when substituting vinegar in a recipe.
The Japanese rice wine, similar to sake, provides an umami richness to dishes (looking at you, teriyaki glaze!). Though with more sugar and less alcohol than sake, mirin is a more appropriate ingredient for cooking, especially when looking to replace rice vinegar. Sub it in one to one, but keep in mind the intrinsic sweetness that mirin imparts. If the recipe calls for any additional sweetener, like sugar or honey, you most likely won’t need it—taste after adding the mirin and go from there.