I have access to a lot of Asian and specifically Chinese grocery products where I live (Austin). However, a thing that's never been made clear to me by anything I've read or watched is whether the commonly-used "cooking wines" are really intended to be obtained as "cooking wine".

In Western cooking, "cooking wine" is generally considered unusable; if I'm making a European wine sauce I'll of course use "real" wine, like wine that I'd be willing to drink.

Is that the case for Chinese "cooking wine"? Should I look for drinkable wine, or are recipes designed around the "cooking" versions that generally have a lot of added salt?

  • Example recipes, please? I haven't seen Chinese recipes that require "cooking wine". – FuzzyChef Oct 7 at 2:15
  • @FuzzyChef usually it's called "rice wine", "Shaoxin Wine". This blog suggests that the "cooking" variety is indeed awful, so that may be my answer. – Pointy Oct 7 at 11:36
  • Yeah, that's not a cooking wine. That's real wine; better grades of it are drinkable. Hmmm, you know, I think I have an answer for this. – FuzzyChef Oct 8 at 21:58
up vote 2 down vote accepted

That depends on the wine.

Generic "rice wine" usually means something like sake. Chinese recipes often use Shaoxing wine, which is a drinkable dark/sweet rice wine. If it's a Chinese recipe, and it calls for just "rice wine", you may need to guess at the flavor expected. If the sauce should dark & sweet, then Shaoxing, if it's supposed to be light or acidic, sake. Chinese, Japanese and Korean folks also cook with Plum Wine, which should be called for specifically.

All of these wines are drinking wines, and you'd no more substitute the cooking variety than you would with wine made from grapes. As with grape wine, "cooking" rice wines are really just poor quality wine that's been salted to make it undrinkable.

Except there is one cooking wine that you should use specifically: Mirin. Mirin is a sugary sake made for cooking, and recipes that call for it expect that sweetness. If you have to substitute regular sake, you'll need to add sugar to the recipe.

  • Yes I know about Mirin, thank you. This seems like exactly the story I was looking for, though as with choosing soy sauce it's still quite complicated. – Pointy Oct 8 at 23:30
  • Yeah, I'm pretty sure that I buy poor quality Shaoxing wine because I have no idea how to select it. – FuzzyChef Oct 8 at 23:36

Shaoxing is the wine normally used in Chinese cooking. I don't think anybody drinks Shaoxing but that doesn't mean that certain brands are not better than others. Look for the one with the blue label with a golden pagoda.

  • Huadiao wine
  • Shaoxing wine
  • Erwotou
  • Sorghum wine
  • rosolio (rose, sorghum, and sticky rice)

There are many more.

  • Yes thank you. And do you agree that I should not buy the "cooking" wine with added salt? – Pointy Oct 7 at 15:26
  • 1
    Depends, with salt , it is fine for cooking, not very tasty in terms of drinking. Shoaxing, it is a fantastic alcoholic beverage, some of them had been aged over 10years, usually serve warm and pair with crabs. Like any kind of alcoholic drinks, you can cook and drink it, depends on the grade and your purpose. – Ko Loy Yee 高賚怡 Oct 9 at 12:27

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.