Sake vs. Rice Wine: What Are the Differences? (Explained!)

Sake and rice wine are two words often interchanged with one another. Thus, as someone still unfamiliar with both, it can be confusing if there’s even any difference between the two. So, if you’re wondering as most people do, you may ask: what are the differences between sake and rice wine?

In general, sake is a type of rice wine. Thus, you can consider every sake as rice wine, but some rice wine may or may not be sake. In addition, sake is made through a two-step fermentation process. Therefore, you can think of sake more of a beer instead of wine.

Sake is one of the products often used in Japan, both for drinking and cooking. Since it’s often interchanged as rice wine, you’ll need to understand the difference between each one. This way, you won’t get confused and know what you’re hearing about when someone speaks of these drinks.

In this article, we’ll answer some of the fundamental questions about sake and rice wine. This way, you can understand each one and understand how they differ from each other. 

Without further ado, let’s get into it! 

Sake vs. Rice WinePin

Is sake rice wine?

Yes, sake is rice wine. However, in reality, sake is similar to beer due to the process through which it is made. 

Wine, by definition, is an alcohol made from the sugars in fruit. Therefore theoretically, there is no wine if there is no fruit. 

Sake, unlike wine, uses a two-step fermentation procedure to break down rice. First, yeast converts rice starch to sugar, which is ultimately turned to alcohol. As a result, the sake production process is more closely connected to beer than to wine. 

However, the method through which sake is made is entirely unique in the realm of alcoholic drinks. As a result, sake merits its own categorization.

Does rice wine taste like sake?

Rice wine tastes like sake in the sense that they come from the same material. Also, sake is generally a type of rice wine. 

Now, since both these drinks are grain alcohols made from rice, you can say they have a similar taste. The only difference is their manufacturing process. 

Rice wines are distilled or fermented, while sake is only fermented. In short, sake is only halfway through the process compared to rice wine. 

What is the difference between sake and rice wine?

The difference between sake and rice wine is their manufacturing process. However, rice wine and sake are the same because they are both rice-derived grain liquors. 

Rice wines can be either distilled or fermented, but sake can only be fermented. On a fundamental level, they are identical, yet the techniques involved in producing rice wine and sake are distinct. The diverse methods of preparation result in two drinks with distinct tastes and fragrances.

Can you substitute sake for rice wine?

Yes, you can substitute sake for rice wine, although you’ll find better alternatives to it. For instance, you may also use Chinese rice wine or dry sherry if the dish only asks for a small quantity of sake. 

The method of manufacture separates sake from rice wine. However, rice wine and sake are similar in that they are both rice-based grain liquors. For this reason, you can substitute sake for rice wine.

If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can replace rice wine vinegar combined with water or fruit juice for the sake of 1 to 3 part proportion.

Can you substitute rice wine for sake?

Yes, you can substitute rice wine for sake. Still, as I mentioned earlier, you can find other alternatives. Dry sherry or Chinese rice wine are the closest alternatives for sake. If you cannot ingest alcohol, you can substitute water or stock for sake while steaming or preparing a sauce.

The production technique distinguishes sake from rice wine. However, rice wine and sake are similar in that they are both grain liquors made from rice. As a result, you can interchange the two, although you may get a slightly different output.

Cooking sake vs. rice wine: is it the same?

Cooking sake is almost the same as regular sake. The only difference is that it contains added salt and other additives to enhance cooking. Thus, cooking sake is not the same as rice wine, so you shouldn’t interchange both.


In a nutshell, sake is a type of rice wine, so both drinks don’t differ much from each other. Still, you can think of sake as a drink halfway through becoming a rice wine. However, since this drink is fermented, it’s more like a beer than wine. 

Now, with such a similarity, you may find it alright to interchange both in most cases. However, when some recipe calls for rice wine, you can find a better substitute or alternative compared to sake.



Image credits – Canva

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