Focus Ingredient: What is Chinese Black Vinegar?

Jun 28, 2011 by     21 Comments    Posted under: Asian, Focus Ingredients
Chinese Black Vinegar used as dipping sauce, marinade, or in stir fry

Chinese Black Vinegar used as dipping sauce, marinade, or in stir fry

Chinese black vinegar is an aged vinegar which is typically made from rice, but can also be made from wheat, millet, sorghum, or a combination of any of the four. It has a deep black color, similar to that of balsamic vinegar.

Compared to balsamic vinegar, Chinese black vinegar is less sweet, less acidic, and has a strong fragrant flavor that is almost spicy in nature (as in sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.); though that spiciness can vary between manufactures and their individual batches due to different makers adding different ingredients which may or may not contain sugar, spices, and colorings.

Uses for Chinese Black Vinegar

I love black vinegar and use it all the time in my kitchen, especially when cooking Chinese dishes.

  • It’s great used as a dipping sauce all on its own, or when mixed with soy sauce.
  • It adds the final touch on many dishes when sprinkled over the top or on some accompanying rice.
  • It adds a beautiful depth when added to marinades and sauces for stir frying.
  • It’s so good you could bath in it (just kidding).

An example of how to use it is found in Orange Spinach with Garlic Scapes and Chinese Sausage.

Substitution for Chinese Black Vinegar

Black vinegar can be sourced at any local Asian market, and is very inexpensive.  However, if you can’t seem to find it, or have simply ran out and don’t want to make a rush trip to the store, here is a simple substitution recipe to use.  It does not provide the exact same flavors, but is close enough to get the job done:

  • 1 part balsamic vinegar
  • 1 part rice wine vinegar
  • 3 parts water


21 Comments + Add Comment

  • I have a severe allergy to sodium metabisulfites. I avoid all vinegars made with wines and all wines as well as a number of processed foods.

    I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and they used Black Vinegar. Doe it contain sodium metabisulfite?

  • […] brown and Chinese black vinegar came from rice and is meticulously prepared like their cousin. You can also make your own homemade brown rice […]

  • I hear many Chinese/Japanese traditional foods don’t “set” too well with “westerners”, That is in no way saying Asian dishes are bad, but may sound bad. Asian dishes are prepared in the U.S. have this in mind, so “western substitutes” are used (“Real Asian” food is more of a “acquired” taste and may have toxic “shock” consequences for someone who is not accustomed to it ). Not to say that the food is toxic, the food is VERY good, but does take time for your system to adapt to “handling the food.” Is this true? (Plus the ingredients may be “upsetting” to those who are used to the western way of cooking.)

    • Probably true if you’re eating in China, as there are different microbes and such. But here in the states there’s probably no difference than eating anything else.

  • […] ruin the dish. I’m going to order some Shaoxing on the internet sometime soon. – Black vinegar is weird and amazing and worth the hunt – it’s earthy and fruity and smokey and a […]

  • […] Chinese Black Vinegar (I CANNOT STAND THE SMELL) […]

  • […] Malt vinegar if cannot find….or make a substitute with rice vinegar and balsamic per this link […]

  • I am in China now and have been several times to Shanxi. “Chinese black vinegar” is not one kind of vinegar any more than French red wine is one kind of wine. Sipping a highly tannic Madiran expecting nouveaux Beaujolais will give you a nasty shock. And those are both made from grapes.

    Zhejiang rice vinegar is made from rice. The Shanxi product is made from five inputs, all stronger flavored than rice. You can read about it in this article (the scientific content is not entirely correct, vinegar is indeed acidic):

    I’ve been to the Donghu Vinegar factory and museum in Shanxi described in the article and watched it made by long-time traditional handcraft methods.

    In short, Shanxi vinegar is a great dipping sauce for dumplings etc but too smoky and almost bitter for cooking southern Chinese food. It can often be found in the US. Get some. Dip dumplings in it, or other meat or wheat or potato foods (all staples in Shanxi). But no one in Shanxi puts it on rice (which was rarely eaten in Shanxi until recent times) and I don’t think you want it on a salad.

  • The black rice vinegar described here is not Shanxi Lao Chen Cu. The Shanxi product is made from rice wheat millet sorghum and peas, has a slightly smoky flavor and is not floral.

  • Hi!
    Is Shanxi mature vinegar considered a black vinegar? I’ve been looking for blk vinegar but could only find this Shanxi brand which I hear is great. Thanks!

  • We use black vinegar mostly for dips, usually combined with chilli jam, sichuan spice or/and cillantro..We got run out of it recently and i substituted balsamic vinegar for it when desperately in need, just bit less. To my surprice it was not bad idea at all. Balsamico vinegar seems like good match with chinese kitchen.

    • Cool Peter. Thanks for the comment.

  • Love the comment Gwen Meehan made about reading cookbooks for hours…I too do the same and have since I was old enough to read. When people ask what I am reading and I tell them a cookbook, their reply is truly in a surprised amazement. Too funny…Glad you made the comment, Gwen, for others to see that there are more of us out there who enjoy reading the same material! (And I might add, we enjoy preparing the recipes – probably with a few tweaks – we read with as just as much enthusiasm!)

  • I started out trying to find out about brown rice wine called for in several recipes for which I have previously substituted regular white rice wine vinegar. I ended up totally confused about whether there is a difference between brown and black rice wine;you google brown and often get black. I gather there is quite a variety of ingredients in these products. Then I stumbled on a Northern Chinese black vinegar called China’s Secret. It seems that the production is as complicated to make as real 12 year old balsamic and quite expensive. Then I hit a bunch of articles saying much of this revered product is fake-big scandal. What else is new with Chinese products.
    Back to my original question what do I use when recipe calls for brown vinegar;is it the same as black? I have access to quite a few large Asian markets. Thanks. Jeff

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for the question. I don’t have any experience with brown rice vinegar, but from what little I know, it is made from brown rice, while black vinegar is made from black glutinous rice. Regular rice vinegar is made from white rice. At least that’s the theory. They are all made with different ingredients as well, including sorghum and wheat. I would recommend substituting plain old regular rice wine vinegar (yellow/clear kind) for the brown vinegar rather than using black vinegar. The black will have heavy flavor notes that the recipe likely does not intend to have. However, if you have a lot of Asian markets near you, I’d go get some brown vinegar and try it out. It might be fun to try. I’m going to do my own little hunt for it now thanks to your comment. I asked my buddy that lives in China to see what he can find out, and I’ll let you know if he comes back with anything different. Meanwhile, there’s a good blog write-up about Asian vinegars I found that you might like:

    • In fairness, I don’t think the Chinese have a monopoly on food fraud – the Italians are also masters of the art, as is the commercial fish market in North America.

    • Jeff, where do you get China’s Secret? Is it still available?
      Thanks in advance

  • Thanks for the information about Chinese Black Vinegar. I’m trying a dish tonight that calls for it…with Yukon Potatoes and Eggplant, of all things (that’s what intrigues me)…and don’t want to go out to buy the Black Vinegar when a substitute might be available.

    It seemed to me that Balsamic Vinegar might work and you’ve confirmed it. But…I must admit…that I’m so excited about your description that next time I’m out shopping I’ll pick up a bottle anyway. I’m wary of sneaky, bomb-spiced items that set us on fire; we love a little adventure, but not too outrageous.

    I look forward to getting back to take a better look at what you’re doing. I’ve been a foodie all my life and have enough cookbooks and magazines to start my own store which is not unusual for people like us! Have you read/tried Yotam Ottolinghi’s books? I’ve used several recipes from “Plenty” and really appreciate his take on things. I have bought his others, but haven’t had time to sit down and read them one recipe at a time.

    People think we’re crazy to sit for hours “reading” a cookbook; they don’t realize that each recipe is an entirely new chapter with all kinds of possibilities.

    Thanks again for being excited about food and being willing to share that excitement.

    Gwen Meehan

    • Thanks for writing Gwen. Good luck with the adventure tonight! I do love cooking. As for the Chinese Black Vinegar, definitely pick some up soon. It’s mighty tasty and can turn plain ramen noodles into something delicious. Don’t use straight balsamic in your dish tonight though, as it will be too strong. Try using the substitute I recommended, or at least just water it down some. Happy cooking and happy eating!

I love hearing from my readers, so please go ahead and leave a comment!


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