Shaoxing Wine vs. Sake: What Is the Difference? (Explained!)

When we speak of Asian cuisine, you can find several recipes that call for rice wine. The reason is that wine gives food a glaze and sweetness that makes them savory and rich in flavor. Now, the thing about cooking wine is that they come in varieties. For instance, Shaoxing wine and Sake are often confused. Thus, you may ask: What is the difference between Shaoxing wine and Sake?

In general, Shaoxing wine and Sake are both rice wines made through fermentation. However, they differ in the flavor they give as well as the cooking needs and purposes. Thus, while you can use both interchangeably when necessary, it’s still best to use them the way they’re needed.

As for cooking wines, Shaoxing wine and Sake offer different flavor profiles to dishes and recipes. Thus, you must understand these flavors to know you’re getting the right one for your dish. Further, it will help you adjust the seasoning if you’re to replace one if necessary.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basic things you need to know about Shaoxing wine and Sake. This way, you can understand what each of these cooking wines can do and how you can use them the best way possible.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Shaoxing Wine vs. SakePin

Is Shaoxing wine the same as Sake?

Shaoxing wine is not the same as Sake. Although both are cooking wine and rice wine, these two products are different from each other.

For instance, Shaoxing wine and Sake give distinct flavors to food and recipes. Thus, you can find that their uses are also different from each other. To understand further, read more about each one.

What is Shaoxing wine?

Shaoxing wine is a transparent, amber-colored drink that is slightly sweet and aromatic. Even though it contains the term “wine,” Shaoxing wine does not taste like alcohol. 

Because there isn’t much alcohol in it, it tastes more like a vinegary and caramel-like fluid. However, it is also consumed as a drink. 

This condiment, like wine, adds depth and flavor richness to Chinese dishes. It’s used to flavor meat marinades, dumplings, or wonton stuffing, season our wok, and flavor stir-fries, as well as sauces and braises. 

Some would even argue that Shaoxing wine is used in the vast majority of our savory cuisine. Thus, you can find Shaoxing wine helpful in most dishes.

What is Sake?

Originally derived from rice, Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage. Despite its common name, Sake is more closely related to beer than rice wine.

Sake, like beer, is made by soaking grains while they boil and develop with yeast. The difference between Sake and beer is that rice is used instead of grains like hops, barley, and wheat.

Furthermore, beer typically has an ABV of 4 percent, but Sake has 16 percent. After brewing and fermenting with yeast, it is fermented a second time with koji mold.

Sake, like wine and beer, has a wide range of taste profiles. Therefore, you may sample a variety of sake brands, spanning from dry to sweet. 

Most people interpret Sake’s flavor as clean and somewhat sweet. Then there are the subtleties, like nutty or flowery aromas.

If you drink Sake and it has a muddy white tint, it is unprocessed. This appearance signifies that the Sake contains rice solids that have not been fermented or filtered away. 

What is the difference between Shaoxing wine and Sake?

The difference between Shaoxing wine and Sake is noticeable in their flavor and taste. Although both are rice wines, they still differ in the flavor they give. However, let’s also look at each aspect to understand their difference clearly.

Shaoxing Wine vs. Sake taste and flavor

Shaoxing wine has a more pungent alcoholic taste than Sake. Also, most Shaoxing wines are too salty. On the other hand, Sake has a milder alcoholic taste and slightly fruity and sweet flavor twinges.

In terms of flavor, Shaoxing wine has an alcoholic flavor as well as a salty taste profile. Likewise, it is not appropriate for consumption. However, it is a critical ingredient in many Chinese dishes. When it comes to western cooking, it tends to lend a nuanced and layered flavor to stews and soups.

Shaoxing wine is often used in modest amounts to create a unique taste. It is typically used in savory dishes. Therefore, it will be pretty challenging to locate a Chinese cuisine that does not use Shaoxing wine.

Sake is similar to white wine in flavor since they are both dry, smooth liquids. Cold Sake tastes like extremely dry white wine, but some varieties have more flavor. The hot Sake that you consume in the cold tastes like vodka.

Shaoxing Wine vs. Sake uses

Due to the difference in taste and flavor, Shaoxing wine and Sake also have different uses or purposes. In general, Shaoxing wine is a cooking condiment, while Sake is more of a spirit or beverage for consumption.

Most Shaoxing wines have high amounts of salt along with their sharp alcoholic taste. Thus, most recipes that need this cooking wine are the ones with fishy or raw scents. The sharp alcoholic flavor eases out the odor and seasons the meat or fish at the same time.

On the other hand, Sake is more of a drink than a seasoning. Although it’s also used for cooking, Sake is a chilled or heated drink for direct consumption. 

For this reason, it may seem challenging to use one as an alternative for the other. However, it’s also a replacement that will change the flavor and taste of your food, so it’s best to avoid doing so at all costs.

Shaoxing Wine vs. Sake alcohol content

Shaoxing wine has a higher alcohol content than Sake. The former has an alcohol content ranging from 15 to 20 percent, while Sake has around 14 to 16 percent. Thus, you can find Shaoxing wine having a more substantial alcohol effect and flavor than Sake’s milder alcohol.

Shaoxing Wine vs. Sake calories and nutrition

Sake has a bit higher calorie content than Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine only has 120 calories for every 100 grams, while Sake has 134 calories per 100 grams. Although the difference isn’t much, you still get higher calorie content with Sake. 

Can you substitute Sake for Shaoxing wine?

Yes, you can substitute Sake for Shaoxing wine, although you can get an entirely different flavor. The thing about Sake is that it has less alcohol and salt content than Shaoxing wine. 

Thus, if you need Shaoxing wine but use Sake, you can get a different flavor. In short, you can find better alternatives for Shaoxing wine, but if you only need a little, you can use Sake to compensate for it.

Can you substitute Shaoxing wine for Sake wine?

Yes, you can substitute Shaoxing wine for Sake, but you will find the flavor entirely different. Thus, you would do better if you found other alternatives. If you use Shaoxing wine instead of Sake, you won’t get that rich umami flavor. 

Further, you’ll find Shaoxing wine giving a rich, alcoholic taste to your food. Thus, you can replace it with better alternatives. Or, if you only need a little, you can get away with it, but you may notice a bit of change in taste and flavor.

How is Shaoxing wine made compared to Sake?

Although Shaoxing wine and Sake are both rice wines, you can find their manufacturing process different from each other.

Shaoxing wine is made by fermenting rice, water, and a small quantity of wheat (keep in mind that it does include wheat. Therefore, it is not gluten-free).

Like beer and wine, Sake is produced by yeast fermentation, when yeast (a microorganism) creates alcohol and CO2 from sugar. Sake is a fermented beverage manufactured from rice, koji, and water.


In a nutshell, Shaoxing wine and Sake are not the same, and you can differentiate each other in several aspects. However, both condiments’ tastes and flavors are different, mainly if used in recipes or dishes. For example, Shaoxing wine is more alcoholic and salty, while Sake has a richer flavor with a tinge of sweetness but less alcohol. 

For this reason, you won’t find it ideal to use one as an alternative for the other. Also, you can find better alternatives for each other.



Image credits – Canva

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