Rice vinegar 米酢
The key ingredient in sushi
Made by fermenting rice, rice vinegar (yonezu in Japanese) is an essential ingredient in today's Japanese cuisine. It is known around the world for its vital role in the preparation of sushi.
The history of rice vinegar
The manufacture of vinegar was introduced to Japan in the 4th century from China. In the west, vinegar (from the French "sour wine") is made with wine, however the Japanese use cereals (wheat, rice, maize, malt) to make their vinegar. The use of traditional vinegar developed along with the cultivation of rice. Rice vinegar first became popular in the Edo period (1603-1868), along with miso and soy sauce.
To produce rice vinegar, several steps are required. First, rice is mixed with water, which gives sake. To this sake vinegar yeast is added to speed up the fermentation and create vinegar.
The virtues of rice vinegar are numerous because it is low acid and slightly sweet thanks to the rice. It also has anti-bacterial properties. Rice vinegar is energizing and helps your body fight fatigue. It is also renowned for appetite.
Star of the summer kitchen
Rice vinegar is very popular in Japan. The Japanese use it throughout the year, but especially in summer, for foods that don't need cooking. The Japanese rarely use rice vinegar as-is in the kitchen. For example, they add sugar and salt to it when preparing sushi meshi, the seasoned rice used in various types of sushi. For raw vegetables or marinades, rice vinegar with soy sauce is called nihai-zu. And if the sweet cooking sake mirin is also added, it's called sanbai-zu. To make a fish marinade, one uses tosa-zu, that is to say sanbai-zu with added dashi broth. All recipes are carefully thought out to enhance the taste of each food. All this may seem complicated, but these are staple ingredients of Japanese cuisine, complex, and certainly one of the best in the world!
A rice vinegar museum in Nagoya
To find out more about rice vinegar, visit the Mizkan Museum in Handa, near Nagoya. Mizkan was a pioneer in the manufacture of rice vinegar in Japan in 1804. From a humble former sake distillery, he created the largest rice vinegar company. At the museum you can learn everything about the history, culture and secrets of making rice vinegar, from the Edo period to modern times.
Access: JR Taketoyo line, get off at JR Handa station, 3 mins walk. Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00, closed on Thursdays. 300 yen entry fee.