Rice Vinegar vs White Vinegar – What’s the difference?

If you head to any local supermarket and walk down the condiment aisle, you’re sure to notice the many different types of vinegar for sale.

With there being so many varieties to choose from, you may be wondering what is the difference between the different types.

I mean, they’re all vinegar. Shouldn’t they all be about the same?

Believe it or not, not all vinegar is created equal and each is special in its own way. Let’s take a look at rice vinegar vs. white vinegar, two of the most popular vinegars on the market.

Though they are both similar in color, these vinegars are like night and day when they are created, the items used to ferment them and their uses within different cultures.


How is vinegar created?

First, before diving into the differences in how rice and white vinegars are created, it’s important to understand what vinegar is and how it is produced.

Vinegar itself is an acidic liquid produced through fermentation of ethanol alcohol. Any ingredient containing this alcohol can be used to create vinegar.

This includes many foods containing carbohydrate sugars such as rice, beer, and even fruit like pineapple.

How are these food broken down and fermented?

Bacteria. Harmless microorganisms such as yeast change the sugars in these foods into alcohol. Once the alcohol is produced, it is mixed with water for the next stage – vinegar production.

A special bacteria called Acetobacter is mixed with the alcohol and this creates acetic acid. This acid is what makes vinegar unique.

Afterwards, this is filtered and blended to adjust the acidity of the finished product, which is composed of acetic acid, water and trace minerals and vitamins.


What ingredients are used to ferment rice and white vinegar?

Rice Vinegar

As its name implies, rice vinegar is created from fermented rice.

Unlike some other vinegars, rice vinegar has a much milder taste and is slightly sweet. In Asian cuisine, you can find different varieties of rice vinegar, such as red, white and black.

Black rice vinegar is made from sweet rice while red rice vinegar is derived from red rice and red mold.


White Vinegar

White vinegar, also known as distilled vinegar, can be derived from a variety of sources from corn, malt, and even petroleum.

Believe it or not, according to the FDA, manufacturers are not required to label if the ethanol used to make vinegar is derived from a petroleum starter.(1)

They do, however, require that the vinegar to be fermented naturally so synthetic acetic acid cannot be used for vinegars that are used for human consumption.

One should look for “made from grain” if you are looking for white vinegars to be used in cooking.


How Rice Vinegar is Used Around the World

Rice Vinegar Uses in China

Rice vinegar is commonly used as an ingredient in Asian cuisine.

Depending on the country, the different forms of rice vinegars are used to serve different purposes for food. For example, in China, black vinegar is often used in recipes to add a smoky flavor to dishes in Southern China.

Red vinegar, however, is often used as a dipping sauce as well as an ingredient for many soups. If you are cooking cantonese-styled dishes, white rice vinegar is a popular staple in sweet and sour dishes and for pickling vegetables.


Rice Vinegar Uses in Japan

Rice vinegar found in Japan has a very mild taste to it. There are several uses for rice vinegar in Japanese culture.

Are you obsessed with sushi?

Rice vinegar is a key ingredient and is mixed with rice before it is prepared. Surprisingly in Japan, another version of black vinegar is used as a healthy drink named kurozu.


Rice Vinegar Uses in Korea

In Korean culture, rice vinegar is usually made with white or brown rice.

There are two types of vinegar that are popular in the country, one from South Chungcheong Province and the other from North Gyeongsang Province, both included in the Ark of Taste catalogue of heritage foods.

According to the Slow Foods Foundation for Biodiversity, when diluted as water, this vinegar can serve as a base for fermented tea as well.(2)


White Vinegar

While rice vinegar is a very popular condiment throughout Asia, white vinegar is very popular in western cultures.

Depending on the country, most white vinegar was made with whatever was cheap in that region.

For example, according to Supreme Vinegar, Germans used alcohol from potatoes while the French used beets and Americans used distilled alcohol from molasses, hence the name of distilled vinegar in the United States.(3)


Benefits and Side Effects

Both white and rice vinegar can be very beneficial, not only for the flavor but their nutritional and chemical properties as well.


Benefits of white vinegar

White vinegar is known for being a jack of all trades, due to its many uses in and out of the kitchen.

From baking to preserving food, it is an essential ingredient for most people. Most commonly, white vinegar can be used to pickle food.

Some cultural favorites in different regions include pickled vegetables, eggs and even pickled pig feet.

Believe it or not, white vinegar has just as many uses outside of the kitchen.

According to the site Vinegartips, there are hundreds of uses for distilled vinegar for those who want a more natural alternative to using harsh chemicals.

For people who would like to use green cleaning supplies, vinegar can be used to clean many surfaces within the home and act as an odor neutralizer.

Have a smelly drain? Mixing vinegar with baking soda can also be used to clean your pipes.

Medicinally, you can use white vinegar for quite a number of things. If you have a minor wound, a mix of water and vinegar can be used as an antiseptic to help treat it.

Believe it or not, according to research by the Hellenic National Center for Research, Prevention and Treatment of Diabetes, vinegar can be helpful for those with diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity.(4)

Other benefits include getting rid of fungus and ringworm.

Just soak the fungus in vinegar for a few days until the infection goes away.


Side Effects

Though white vinegar is very healthy, there are also some side effects that you should be aware of.

Consuming too much vinegar can lead to stomach irritation.

You run the risk of burning your esophagus as well if you drink it undiluted, but this rarely happens.

Lastly, for those who take blood thinners or diuretics, you should check with your doctor first before using vinegar as a remedy.


Rice Vinegar Benefits

Similar to white vinegar, rice vinegar can be extremely beneficial for your health.

When choosing a rice vinegar, there are two varieties – seasoned and unseasoned. If you are consuming rice vinegar for its health benefits, unseasoned will contain more benefits.

One benefit of rice vinegar is that it improves digestive health and helps you absorb more nutrients when you eat.

The acetic acid within rice vinegar allows you to soak up more vitamins from your food, such as potassium and calcium.

The Japanese version of rice vinegar, kurozu, is especially beneficial for your liver. The Journal of Biochemistry and Nutrition studied its effects on mice and discovered that rice vinegar has the potential to inhibit the onset of liver tumors.(5)

Kurozu also helps to lower cholesterol and improves circulation within your body and help you lose weight.(6)


Side Effects

Again, rice vinegar has similar adverse effects as white vinegar.

Be sure to regulate your vinegar intake because drinking too much vinegar can cause erosion of enamel and cavities.

Make sure that you check the acidity of the rice vinegar that you consume to prevent any burns within your esophagus or stomach.



Both rice and white vinegars are extremely beneficial and should be considered a staple within your pantry.

Remember that they cannot be a substitute for each other, due to the extreme differences in taste.

Rice vinegar is much milder and sweeter than white vinegar and is more common in Asian cuisine.

However, white vinegar is an essential for pickling foods and adding flavor.

Furthermore, both vinegars have many benefits that they can offer. Both vinegars are great for digestive health.

Japanese rice vinegar is extremely beneficial for those who are seeking to lose weight and control diseases such as high cholesterol or diabetes.

Just make sure to regulate the amount of vinegar that you consume to prevent adverse effects, such as burns or enamel erosion.

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