Rice Wine vs. Shaoxing Wine: What Is the Difference? (Read!)

Rice wine and Shaoxing wine are like two sides of the same coin. They have the exact origin, and yet they have differences from each other as well. Now, as someone unfamiliar with such condiments, you may wonder: What is the difference between Rice wine and Shaoxing wine? 

In general, Shaoxing wine is an old and traditional rice wine from China. Thus, if you compare it with the clear Rice wine, they share similar things. However, Shaoxing wine has a lighter but richer flavor, while Rice wine offers a saltier, more neutral flavor.

The differences between Rice wine and Shaoxing wine may affect the output of your recipe. Thus, if you don’t know what these two cooking condiments can do to your food, you must understand them. This way, you can know which one you need for your food, and which you should avoid. 

Rice wine and Shaoxing wine both have their strengths and uses in cooking. In this article, we’ll cover all these things to help you understand a bit more about Rice wine and Shaoxing wine. This information will help you use these condiments in the best way possible.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Rice Wine vs. Shaoxing WinePin

Is rice wine the same as Shaoxing wine?

Rice wine is not the same as Shaoxing wine, even though the latter is a former. In general, Shaoxing wine is a type of Rice wine. It only has a darker color and a lighter but richer taste.

Thus, while both are cooking wines, people use each one for different purposes and needs in cooking. 

You’ll find both cooking wines different in both appearance and taste. Rice wine generally has no color and looks more like water. On the other hand, Shaoxing wine has a brown color. Rice wine is also made from regular rice, while Shaoxing wine comes from glutinous rice.

Now, if you’re wondering about the differences between Rice wine and Shaoxing wine, let’s get into it!

What is the difference between rice wine and Shaoxing wine?

The difference between Rice wine and Shaoxing wine is their appearance, main ingredient, flavor, and uses. These two wines have distinct tastes and characteristics, yet they may both be utilized in various recipes.

Rice wine vs. Shaoxing wine taste and flavor

The main things that set Rice wine and Shaoxing wine from each other are their taste and flavor. For instance, Rice wine gives food a more neutral but saltier flavor. On the other hand, Shaoxing wine gives a lighter saltiness but packs in a rich flavor.

In a nutshell, you can better understand the difference between the two, like a light soy sauce and salt. The former is the Shaoxing wine, having darker color, less salty but adds a lot more flavor.

On the other hand, the latter is the rice wine. It has a more transparent appearance, and it’s pretty slatier, although it lacks flavor. In general, it gives your food the chance to shine in its flavor by only adding neutral saltiness.

Shaoxing rice wine often has a richer flavor and taste. In addition, Shaoxing wine has a peppery flavor. Thus it is not ideal for every food. On the other hand, rice wine gives a neutral flavor, so a touch of this cooking wine can help add saltiness without changing the food’s flavor.

Rice wine vs. Shaoxing wine uses

Both Rice wine and Shaoxing wine have a wide variety of uses in cooking. However, while the former works by enhancing the saltiness, the latter enhances the flavor. Thus, if you’re choosing between the two, you should consider what condiment you need.

Shaoxing wine, like wine, provides depth and taste richness to Chinese foods. People use it to flavor meat marinades, wonton, or dumpling stuffing, caramelize our wok, and add flavor to stir-fries and flavor sauces and braises. People would even go so far as to state that Shaoxing wine is used in the great majority of our savory dishes.

Rice wine, made from rice and water, is a popular drink and cooking ingredient in China. It provides acidity to stir-fries and sauces and tenderizes meat in marinades. The hue of Chinese rice wine should be clear, with neutral taste notes.

Can I use rice wine instead of Shaoxing wine?

Yes, you can use Rice wine instead of Shaoxing wine, although the taste of your food will change a bit. If you want the Shaoxing wine’s rich but less salty flavor, you won’t get much from Rice wine. Still, it’s the best alternative you can get for the cooking wine.

What makes rice wine a great substitute is that they have a similar manufacturing process, even though you’ll get a neutral but salty flavor.

Can I use Shaoxing wine instead of rice wine?

Yes, you can use Shaoxing wine instead of rice wine. However, the flavor of your food may tend to be richer, so make sure you watch out for that one. The thing about Shaoxing wine is that it has a lighter saltiness but richer flavor than Rice wine.

For this reason, using this cooking wine in your food may lessen the saltiness but give lots of flavors. If you want to replace Rice wine without changing the taste too much, you can only add a bit and replace the excess amount with some salt. 

When making these adjustments, make sure you taste your food to achieve your preferred flavor and taste.

How is Shaoxing wine made compared to rice wine?

The manufacturing process of both Shaoxing wine and Rice wine are mostly similar. The only thing that sets them apart is the rice used to make them. For instance, Rice wine comes from regular rice, while Shaoxing wine uses glutinous rice.

Here are each of the cooking wine’s manufacturing processes.

Shaoxing wine manufacturing process

Shaoxing wine is a Chinese rice wine named after Shaoxing, a city in China’s Zhejiang Province known for its rice wine manufacturing.

Shaoxing Wine is one of China’s earliest types of rice wine. Furthermore, rice, water, and a trace of wheat are fermented throughout the manufacturing process. Shaoxing wine includes wheat and is therefore not gluten-free. It’s clear rather than hazy, with a dark amber hue and a somewhat sweet, aromatic scent.

Rice wine manufacturing process

The manufacturing process of Rice wine involves the fermentation of rice starch. You have already converted such kinds of rice starch to sugars. Rice wine is a typical liquor that you may consume and cook with most of the time. It is known as sake in Japan and is the country’s national beverage. Mirin from Japan and Huangjiu from China are two more varieties used in cooking.

You should ferment rice starches with yeast, fungus, and lactic acid bacteria to make rice wine. For example, Aspergillus oryzae, a mold, transforms starches into sugars, while Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast, creates alcohol.


In a nutshell, Rice wine and Shaoxing wine have their differences. Although Shaoxing wine is a type of rice wine, it’s darker and comes with a richer flavor. On the other hand, Rice wine gives a saltier taste but a more neutral flavor to lessen the effect on the food. 

In general, Shaoxing wine is classic Chinese rice wine. As a result, if you compare it to clear Rice wine, you’ll notice that they have many things in common. On the other hand, Shaoxing wine has a softer but deeper flavor, and Rice wine has a saltier but more mild flavor.



Image credits – Canva

You May Also Like