Rice vinegar comes in several varieties. The simplest is made from fermented rice and is often nearly colorless in appearance. The second type is made from sake, and is a variant on the wine vinegar familiar to those in the US. When made from sake, this condiment it is often called seasoned rice vinegar and will exhibit a stronger taste. It’s also a common ingredient in sushi.
This type of vinegar is made in several Asian countries, and differences exist in final taste and product. Japanese rice vinegars are in general much milder than Chinese varieties, and is usually most likely to be colorless. Similar simple white rice vinegar exists in China, but is still slightly sharper than Japanese varieties. Many enjoy the Chinese version as it bears slightly more resemblance to Western white vinegar. However, there is really no comparable product in either Japan or China that can be equally substituted for western white vinegar. You would need to use at least double the amount of rice vinegar in any recipe to substitute for white wine vinegar.
Black and red rice vinegar are also made in China. The black type is usually made from sweet rice and can include millet or sorghum. The name suggests the color, which is a dark brown. Its smoky flavors makes it distinct from other forms.
Red rice vinegar is made with fermented red yeast rice. Many prefer this vinegar above the others because of its complex flavor range that features both tart and sweet notes. It may be a little harder to find in Western stores, but you can usually find both red and black varieties in Asian grocery stores.
Rice vinegar tends to be slightly lower in calories than wine vinegars. It also is sweeter, and many prefer its light taste in salad dressings, as added flavor to stir fry, and in a variety of dishes. It is certainly worth trying in a number of dishes, and is especially good on any Chinese inspired salads, like Chinese chicken salad.
The sweet notes of this condiment are often best paired with sesame oil. If you use toasted sesame oil, which can be quite smoky in flavor, you may want to use one of the darker vinegar variants, so the oil taste won’t completely overwhelm the vinegary taste. Consider black or red versions for dressing and white or seasoned versions in other dishes.