What is sushi rice vinegar and what can I do with it?
Sushi rice vinegar is the vinegar used to make rice for sushi. It can be bought pre-seasoned, branded as sushi vinegar, but as this can contain MSG you may prefer to start from scratch.
It starts, of course, with rice vinegar.
What is rice vinegar?
Rice vinegar is vinegar made from fermented rice. Yeast transforms the sugars in rice to alcohol, and then specific strains of bacteria are added to convert the alcohol to acetic acid. The process is similar to that involved in making kombucha.
Is rice vinegar the same as rice wine vinegar?
Yes, rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same thing and the name can be used interchangeably.
Is rice wine the same as rice wine vinegar?
No, rice wine is the product of yeast fermentation of the sugars in rice to alcohol. Rice wine is made from glutinous rice, and although used in cooking it is produced for drinking. The most well known Chinese rice wine is Shaoxing, whilst in Japan mirin is a sweet rice wine and sake is a dry rice wine. Mirin is primarily a cooking wine. Rice wine is used for adding depth of flavour and sweetness to dishes.
Rice wine vinegar is made from white rice, but there are also red, brown and black versions. Basic white rice vinegar has a cleaner flavour than the others. Brown rice vinegar has the expected nutty flavour, whilst black rice vinegar is prized for its umami qualities. Red rice vinegar is sweet and sour, with a more pronounced fermented flavour.
Rice vinegar is milder and sweeter than other types of vinegar, with less acidity. Use it to lift and brighten flavours, whilst adding a subtle sweetness.
Is mirin rice wine vinegar?
No, mirin is a Japanese rice wine used in cooking to add sweetness and depth.
Does rice vinegar have gluten?
Generally speaking, rice vinegar contains no gluten as it is the product of a non-gluten grain. On occasion, gluten grains may also be used in the processing so always check the label, and those with extreme gluten sensitivity may wish to proceed with caution.
What is rice vinegar used for in cooking?
Not just for sushi, rice vinegar is used extensively in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cooking. Essentially, it is used to enhance flavour. Acidity is a vital part of flavour balance, as is sweetness, so rice vinegar is perfect for helping to balance a dish without overpowering.
Use it to bring Asian greens to life, or to add the requisite sharpness to Asian slaws and salads. In Japanese cooking in particular, simplicity is key. The focus is very much on retaining the integrity of ingredients by enhancing flavour with clever condiments. This simple dressing will transform the most basic of vegetables; raw or cooked. Use a light flavourless oil such as groundnut, or mix in a little sesame oil for a nuttier flavour.
Basic recipe for Japanese rice vinegar dressing
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
5 tbsp oil
How to season rice vinegar for sushi
Sushi seasoning is rice vinegar that has been seasoned with salt and sugar. As mentioned in the introduction, commercially branded sushi vinegar, or sushi seasoning, may contain other ingredients such as MSG. It is pretty simple to season rice vinegar for sushi, so there really is no need to buy it ready made. There are plenty of other uses for rice wine vinegar, so don’t worry that you won’t use it. Once you discover how much difference it can make to your food, it will become as much of a store cupboard staple as soy sauce.
To make the seasoning for sushi rice, add the salt and sugar to the vinegar and heat very gently in a pan until dissolved. This is then gradually folded into the cooked rice, fanning as you go until the rice is shiny, seasoned and cooled.
How much vinegar to add to sushi rice
The ratio of sushi rice to vinegar should be 2 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup uncooked rice. For each 2 tablespoon rice vinegar, add 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt.