Difference between Rice Wine and Rice Wine Vinegar

In many parts of Asia, rice wine is a commonly enjoyed alcoholic beverage, and rice wine vinegar is a common ingredient in recipes. Though similar to one another, these are two different substances; this article will help explain the difference between them.


Rice wine
Cheongju, a Korean rice wine

Rice wine is a beverage created by the fermentation of rice. Though called a wine, rice wine is technically more similar to beer than it is wine. Where wine is a beverage made from the fermentation of juice, rice wine is made with the fermentation of rice starch, using processes more similar to those of brewing whiskey and beer. A bottle of cheongju, a Korean rice wine, is pictured above. Varieties of rice wine include cheongju, sake, a rice wine originating in Japan that is the most widely known rice wine in the West, and sato, a Thai rice wine.

Rice wine vinegar
Black rice vinegar

Rice wine vinegar, commonly just called rice vinegar, is made from fermented rice. The process used to make rice vinegar is the same process used to make rice wine, but instead of finishing the process once the rice ferments into alcohol, the alcohol is allowed to further ferment into an acid. There are a variety of different rice vinegars, such as black rice vinegar (pictured above), red rice vinegar, and white rice vinegar. Rice vinegar usually has a sweeter or milder flavor than Western white vinegar, which is acidic, sharply sour, and clear in color. Though derived from an alcohol, rice vinegar is not alcoholic.

Comparison chart

Rice Wine Rice Wine Vinegar
Alcohol Acid
Process stops when rice is fermented into alcohol. Process continues to ferment alcohol into acid.

Rice Wine vs Rice Wine Vinegar

What is the difference between rice wine and rice wine vinegar?

Rice wine is an alcohol, whereas rice vinegar is an acid. Rice vinegar is derived from alcohol: the alcohol ferments into an acid. However, rice vinegar is not alcoholic.

For both substances, rice starches are allowed to ferment. This fermentation will eventually create alcohol. If the process is stopped when the rice ferments into an alcohol, the end product will be rice wine. If the process is allowed to continue further, the alcohol will ferment into an acid, and rice vinegar will be the end product.