Rice vinegar (or rice wine vinegar) is a staple ingredient that’s used in a wide variety of Asian cuisine, and there are many different kinds. It’s much milder than white vinegar (with about half the acidity), can be made with white, brown, black, or red rice, and can also be seasoned with other ingredients such as sugar, salt, and MSG. Seasoned rice vinegar makes a great two-ingredient pickle, a bomb salad dressing, and exquisite sushi rice (though it’s good on any rice, in my opinion).
The flavor of white rice vinegar can differ depending on the style—Japanese rice vinegars tend to more delicate than their Chinese counterparts. Brown rice vinegar is made with unpolished brown rice, and has a darker, toastier color, and a few more nutrients.
Red rice vinegar is made with fermented rice, which gives it its color and slight sweetness; some brands have a distinct wine-like flavor. According to The Woks of Life, red rice vinegar is “probably the least used type of rice vinegar in Chinese cuisine,” but it does have a few very specific, very delicious uses, like Chinese fried pigeon, dipping sauces, and as a finisher for soups.
Black rice vinegar is made from fermented black sticky rice (or glutinous rice) and other grains like sorghum, millet, and/or wheat. There are Chinese black rice vinegars and Japanese black rice vinegars, and both have a distinct smoky flavor and a deep, dark color. It’s a fantastic condiment—just sprinkle and go—as well as a great base for dipping sauces and stir fries.