How to Choose an Allergy Friendly Chinese Rice Wine
Rice wine in the right dishes in the right amounts makes Chinese food taste so good because it is an acidic ingredient that is often used to tenderize meats in a stir-fry or a “red cooked” style of stew. As a child, I remember my parents used to buy brown bottles of wine in glazed earthenware with a cork stopper and they used it for cooking and drinking. High quality rice wine is served in little cups, larger than a thimble but smaller than a shot glass. I couldn’t partake of the wine but admired the beautiful bottles which were simple with a dainty narrow neck, a curvy body, glazed with various shades of brown and sometimes decorated with flowery designs. They are not as common now but they are sold in stores packaged as a gift.
Eeeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo!!
I could have just selected my very first bottle of rice wine with a little chant of eeeny, meeny, miny mo because there are so many different varieties. Some are bottled in 2 liter plastic bottles and some are bottled in beautiful clay jars. Some are labeled “unfit for consumption” and some are gift packaged. Some are clear and some are dark brown in color. Many different brands look alike when they are sold in a brown glass bottle with a red label. I bought a random bottle many years ago but poured it down the drain because it made my meals taste awful. I gave up and used Japanese mirin as a substitute.
Rice Wine Facts
But as an allergy mom blogger trying to share a little bit of culture and traditions with her sons via cooking and eating together, I have thought about using more traditional ingredients and taking the time to source out allergy safe ingredients from reliable manufacturers. Motivated by a Nut Free Wok reader, Nancy, who wanted to know about an allergy safe rice wine, I did some online research and learned how it is made in one of my favorite food books, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (affiliate link) by Harold McGee.
- There are many kinds of rice wines in different Asian cultures. Meijiu is a generic name that refers to rice wine. The kind that is used in Chinese cooking is generally known as huangjiu (yellow wine).
- Just as there is wine and then there’s Napa wine, there’s rice wine and then there’s Shaoxing rice wine which is a type of rice wine from the Shaoxing, Zhejiang area in China. Shaoxing rice wine is probably the most well known rice wine from China.
- Huadiao jiu is a specific kind of rice wine from Shaoxing and associated with the tradition of burying a large jar of rice wine at the birth of a daughter and serving it on her wedding day. Andrea Ngyuen recommends Pagoda Brand, which I’ve never tried nor checked out the possible allergens. Her write up is helpful if you wish to learn more about the non-allergy related aspects related to choosing a rice wine.
- Some rice wines might have a label saying that they are “unfit for consumption,” which can be concerning. That just means that the rice wine has been seasoned with salt for the purpose of cooking only but not for drinking and cooking.
- Chinese rice wines are made from sweet glutinous rice and sometimes wheat or other grains that are cooked, shaped into rice cakes, and then left to develop mold, and then dried until the maker is ready to ferment the rice wine. After brewing the rice wine is filtered, pasteurized, aged, and then packaged. Sometimes caramel coloring is added.
- It’s possible that the rice wine could be fermented with wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, and/or peas as additional ingredients.
- Alcohol content of by volume is usually around 20%.
- Do not confuse rice wine with rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar.
Still a semi-random purchase, but better than before!
This time around I asked a slightly older lady who was also shopping in the rice wine section for her recommendation. She pointed out her favorite rice wine, Tai Jade Michiu by TTL, a popular brand from Taiwan. The same company also has an award winning rice wine, Meizhui Tou, but since it costs twice as much I opted for the $7 mid-priced rice wine instead. I’m pleasantly surprised with better results. I also called the distributor who told me that their Michiu rice wine is made in a rice only facility. If representative for the distributor and I understood each other correctly, this product would be free of the top 8 allergens.
Allergy Aware Conclusions about Rice Wine
Very few rice wine makers have a phone number to call or a website to check out and even if they do, I feel that clear communication is still limited. However, it seems from my research that it’s highly unlikely that there will be any cross contact with most of the top 8 allergens except for wheat, especially in Shaoxing or huadiao varieties. If one has an allergy to soy, peas, millet, or sorghum, be sure to thoroughly inspect the labels. Now that I understand the choices better, I would will pay more for a high quality rice wine that is not seasoned with salt nor colored with caramel. If wheat allergies are a concern, a safer alternative might be Japanese mirin which is made with only rice. And if Chinese rice wines are not available in your stores, dry sherry, sake, or mirin are other alternatives.
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