It happens to all cooks—we gather our supplies to make the perfect dish and realize we don’t have one key ingredient, especially vinegar. That isn’t surprising when you think about the many varieties of Asian vinegar, but what about sushi vinegar? If you can’t find sushi vinegar at home, you can make it yourself!
To make sushi vinegar, you need rice vinegar, sugar, and salt — 1 cup of rice, 2 tbsps of red vinegar, 1 tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of salt for two rolls. Combine in a saucepan and warm until the sugar and salt dissolve. If you don’t have rice vinegar, substitute apple cider or white wine vinegar.
Whether you ran out of sushi vinegar or forgot to buy some, there’s no need to panic. Making sushi vinegar is simple, which means you can devote your attention to the trickier aspects of making sushi—getting the rice to come out right and rolling the rolls. We’ll explain how to make it and go over some other options.
What Is Sushi Vinegar?
Rice vinegar is different from white wine vinegar, which is different from household vinegar. But sushi vinegar is not a different kind of vinegar. Instead, it’s created by combining rice vinegar with sugar and salt.
That’s it. If you have rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, you’re ready to make sushi vinegar.
Flavor enhancers are often added to bottled sushi vinegar. They’re already in flavored rice vinegar. Your sushi vinegar might not taste exactly like what you’re used to, but the difference will be negligible. However, you can’t add the enhancers, which I’ll discuss later in the article.
How To Make Sushi Vinegar
After gathering rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, the next step is determining the proportions you need for each. I’ve created a table that gives you the amounts you need based on how many full-sized rolls you plan to make.
These quantities assume that you’re using seasoned rice vinegar. If you’re using plain rice vinegar, then double the sugar and salt.
|Sushi Rolls||Rice||Rice Vinegar||Sugar||Salt|
|2||1 cup||2 tablespoons||1 tablespoon||1 teaspoon|
|4||2 cups||4 tablespoons||2 tablespoons||2 teaspoons|
|6||3 cups||6 tablespoons||3 tablespoons||3 teaspoons|
|8||4 cups||8 tablespoons||4 tablespoons||4 teaspoons|
Preparing Sushi Vinegar Is Easy
Combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir the liquid until the sugar and salt have dissolved. There’s no need to bring the solution to a boil.
Let it cool while you wait for the rice to cook.
You don’t need to get a saucepan dirty either, as you can prepare sushi vinegar in the microwave. Combine the ingredients and cook in 30-second intervals until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
And you don’t even need to heat the vinegar if you mix the ingredients well in advance. Pour the ingredients into a jar, shake vigorously, and let it sit for several hours.
What if You Don’t Have Rice Vinegar?
If you don’t have rice vinegar, don’t give up hope yet. Hopefully, you have one of these kinds of vinegar in your cupboard:
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Because this vinegar has a mild taste, it’s an excellent substitute for rice vinegar. The substitution ratio is 1:1, but apple cider is less sweet than rice vinegar, so for each tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, add ¼ teaspoon sugar.
- White Wine Vinegar. This vinegar has a mild but slightly more acidic taste than rice vinegar, so make the same sugar substitution as you would for cider vinegar.
- Champagne Vinegar. Not everyone has champagne vinegar in the kitchen, but if you splurged and treated yourself, now is the time to break it out. As with the other kinds of vinegar, substitute it with a 1:1 ratio. This vinegar does not need additional sugar.
Cook’s Tip: If there’s no apple cider vinegar in your kitchen, consider buying some because of its numerous health benefits. The probiotics in apple cider support your immune system, lower blood sugar, and help with weight loss, among other things.
Can I Use Regular Vinegar?
If you don’t have any of the above, what vinegar can you use? Try to avoid these:
- Household Vinegar. Regular vinegar has the opposite flavor profile—harsh and sour. No amount of sugar will hide the regular vinegar in a dish that uses sushi rice.
- Red Wine Vinegar. Unless you want your rice to have a pinkish color, avoid this vinegar.
- Balsamic Vinegar. Both regular and white balsamic vinegar are too strong for sushi rice.
It’s not time to panic yet. There’s one other solution: lemon juice.
Lemon or lime juice will add some of the acidity you expect from white rice without being overpowering. Substitute twice as much lemon juice when substituting rice vinegar but be prepared to add more sugar. No matter what you do, though, the taste will be different from what you’re used to.
Can I Use Seasoned Rice Vinegar?
If you’ve been cooking with seasoned rice vinegar, you’ll have to make adjustments because of the added seasonings. Natural rice vinegar has no added sugar or salt, but seasoned rice vinegar does.
Cut back on the sugar and salt if you use seasoned rice vinegar. Use trial and error until you get a vinegar that’s sweet but not cloying.
Seasoned rice vinegar also contains additional flavor enhancers. Unfortunately, finding out what those are isn’t easy.
Japanese nutritional labeling has been vaguer than other countries. For example, rice vinegar sold in South Korea will list the flavoring agents, while the Japanese product simply indicates there are flavoring agents.
That’s because food labeling in South Korea follows the European method of listing additives and enhancers by name and additive number.
If you bought Sushi Rice Vinegar in Europe, you would know exactly which flavor enhancers the vinegar contained. An imported Japanese vinegar sold in France lists E363, E621, and E635 as enhancers and E960 as a sweetener.
If someone wanted to know what those were, a search of a European website would reveal that:
- E363 is succinic acid
- E621 is Monosodium glutamate
- E635 is Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides
The European model of making the manufacturer list every ingredient is different from the American model where we still allow a food producer to use “natural flavor” as an ingredient, along with ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction.
The sweetener, by the way, is Steviol glycoside, or Stevia.
What Is Rice Vinegar?
Rice vinegar is a multi-step process. First, the rice needs to be fermented so that the sugars in rice are turned into alcohol. If the process is stopped there, then you have tasty rice wine.
Adding bacteria to the rice wine turns the wine into a mild vinegar called either rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar. The keyword here is vinegar.
Chinese and Japanese rice vinegar aren’t interchangeable. Chinese vinegar has a stronger flavor and can be white, black, or red, depending on what kind of rice is used to make it. Japanese rice vinegar has a milder flavor.
If you don’t have sushi rice at home, you can easily make sushi vinegar yourself using rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. And there’s no need to panic if you don’t have rice vinegar since there are other substitutes.
If you have to use them, you won’t get precisely the same taste, but it’ll be close enough that you won’t be disappointed in your sushi rolls.