Chinese rice wines and how to use them in Chinese cooking

Chinese cooking wines and how to use them
Rice wine and Shaoxling rice wine. Liv Wan

There are many different kinds of Chinese cooking wines and in this article I’m going to do a simple introduction of two very commonly used Chinese cooking wines and how to use them in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking.

1. Rice wine

Also known as “Mijiu” (米酒), rice wine is made from sticky/glutinous rice. It’s made from rice fermentation procedure. The colour of the rice wine should be as clear as water and taste a little bit spicy.

Some rice wines taste a bit sweet but it really depends on how people made the rice wine. Most of the cooking rice wines sold in Chinese supermarkets don’t taste sweet.

You can use rice in stir-fries, soups, stews, for marinating ingredients and many other kinds of uses. Both Chinese and Taiwanese people use this type of rice wine almost on a daily basis. Below are some examples of how to use rice wine in cooking:

1. Stir-fried vegetables (usually means green vegetables, i.e., cabbage, spring green, spinach). Some people like to add a couple drops of rice wine when they stir-fry the vegetables because the rice wine can enhance the flavour of the vegetable but also give the vegetable a special fragrance.

2. Stew or slow cooking. For example, people like to use huge amounts of rice wine when they cook Hongshao rou (紅燒肉). I know in fact some chefs in the East that cook stews or slow cooked meat cuisine that will only add rice wine and no extra water.

3. Desserts. There is a popular dessert in Taiwan. It’s sweet rice soup with dried longan. People put rice wine in the bowl before they serve this dessert. The reason for this is because the rice wine can enhance the flavour and add a special aroma to the rice soup. Some people add rice wine when they have sweet Tangyuan.

It’s for the same reason.

4. Soup. Rice wine is a very important ingredient for Taiwanese ginger and sesame chicken soup (麻油雞). Sometimes people won’t even put a single drop of water in the dish but instead they use a lot of rice wine to cook this dish. Some Chinese and Taiwanese chefs will add rice wine in the soup bowl before they serve the soup.


2. Shaoxing Rice Wine (Also known as Shaohing, Shaoshing or Shaoxing wine) 紹興酒

Shaoxing Rice wine is also a kind of fermented rice wine. It originates from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province which if you’ve looked at the states/counties in China will give you a hint as to where it got it’s name from.

Shaoxing rice wine is brown in colour and the flavour is much stronger than rice wine. It tastes stronger than the rice wine but sweeter. Just a reminder the rice wine I’m comparing in this article is the “cooking” type of rice wine and not the beverage. This rice wines in this article taste a lot milder. I know some of the rice wines people serve as drinks tastes very sweet, some of them even as sweet as honey.

I won’t recommend people use Shaoxing rice for daily basis cooking as Shaoxing rice wine has a very distinguished flavour. It’s not suitable for all dishes.

Otherwise all you can taste is Shaoxing rice wine’s flavour rather than other ingredients.

I personally use rice wine for most of my eastern dishes because it taste mild with a refreshing fragrance and I use Shaoxing rice wine when I cook drunken chicken, drunken prawn, Dongpo pork and other slow cook meat dishes.

There is a tradition about Shanoxing wine to share with everyone. Shaoxing wine has many different variations and one of these is called “nu’er hong” (女兒紅). Every family in Shaoxing will make Shaoxing wine when their daughter is one month old and bury it underground until the day of their daughter’s wedding date when they will open it and drink it to celebrate. “Nu’er” means daughter in Chinese and “hong” means red. Because red is a very lucky colour in both Chinese and Taiwanese culture and this wine is used to celebrate, so using “red” in the name adds a lucky meaning to it.

But if the daughter unfortunately pass away before her wedding day then the “Nu’er hong” will became another kind of Shaoxing rice wine called “Huadiao jiu” (花雕酒).

I hope you find this article is helpful for you when you choose what to use for your Chinese or Taiwanese cuisine. This article is just to give you guidance about the main types of Chinese cooking wines but of course how you choose to use wine is entirely up to you.