Vinegar has been used since ancient times and is an important element in Chinese Food, and the rice vinegar is a vinegar made from fermented rice or rice wine in China. There are three varieties of rice vinegar:
1. Black rice vinegar: This is very popular in southern China, where Chinkiang vinegar, the best of the black rice vinegars, is made. Normally black rice vinegar is made with glutinous or sweet rice, although millet or sorghum may be used instead. Dark in color, it has a deep, almost smoky flavor. One word of warning: the quality of black rice vinegars varies strongly. I once tried a brand where the caramel and sugar overpowered all the other flavors. Gold Plum’s Chinkiang vinegar, made with glutinous rice, water and salt, is generally considered to be the best. Black rice vinegar works well in braised dishes and as a dipping sauce. It can also serve as a substitute for balsamic vinegar.
2. White Rice Vinegar: This is a colorless liquid, higher in vinegar content and more similar in flavor to regular vinegar (every time I taste it I immediately envision a plate of salty French fries doused in vinegar). Nonetheless, it is still less acidic and milder in flavor than regular vinegar. There is also a hint of sweetness that comes from the glutinous rice. The higher vinegar content of white rice vinegar makes it the best choice for sweet and sour dishes, and for pickling vegetables. It generally works well in stir-fries. The best brand is Pearl River Bridge.
3. Red Rice Vinegar: This is another vinegar that is dark colored, but lighter than black rice vinegar. In any event, you’ll never get the two mixed up once you have a taste – red rice vinegar is an intriguing combination of tart and sweet. Red rice vinegar can be used as a substitute for black vinegar – just add a bit of sugar. It makes a very good dipping sauce, and you can also use it in noodle, soup and seafood dishes (you’ll often find it in recipes for Hot and Sour and Shark’s Fin Soup). Both Pearl River Bridge and Koon Chun from Hong Kong are good brands.