Chinese rice wine is made from fermenting and distilling rice, where the rice starch is converted to sugars which turn into alcohol through fermentation. Chinese rice wine is used as an important ingredient in many Asian dishes, and is sometimes enjoyed as an alcoholic beverage.
When compared to beer and wine, which averages to 5 and 12 percent in alcohol content, Chinese rice wine has an alcohol content ranging from 18 to 25 percent, making it a much stronger drink compared to beer and wine from grapes.
In the regions of the South, Southeast, and East Asia, you can find nearly 2 dozen varieties of rice wines which are mainly enjoyed as a beverage.
Two types of rice wines stand out, which are very important ingredients in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine, and they are Mijiu rice wine and Shaoxing rice wine.
Mijiu rice wine
Let’s take a look at the history of Mijiu rice wine first.
Mijiu rice wine comes from sticky rice (glutinous rice) or millet that undergoes a fermentation process. It is considered to be an alcoholic Chinese beverage that is not distilled, known as a form of “huangjiu”, i.e., yellow wine, and has an alcohol content ranging from 8 to 20 percent.
Though labelled as a yellow wine, Mijiu rice wine should have a clear colour and taste slightly spicy. Some Mijiu wines do have a sweet taste, but this depends on how they are produced.
The Mijiu rice wines sold commercially in supermarkets for cooking purposes are lower quality and contain salt, hence they do not have a sweet taste.
Mijiu rice wines are used in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking in daily dishes such as stir-fries, soups, stews and even desserts. A small quantity of Mijiu added to stir-fried vegetables (greens like spinach and cabbage) gives the dish a special fragrance as well as enhances the vegetable flavour.
A copious amount of Mijiu rice wine is used in cooking a dish called hongshao rou or braised pork belly. In fact, some chefs only use Mijiu rice wine to prepare slow-cooked meats or stews or a Taiwanese favourite, ginger and sesame chicken soup. Certain chefs will even add some Mijiu to soup bowls before serving up the soup in them.
Mijiu is also poured into dessert bowls before sweet rice soup with dried longan, a popular Taiwanese dessert, is added. The wine is said to enhance the flavour and adds a special aroma to the dessert.
During the Chinese Lantern Festival or Winter Solstice Festival, it is customary for both Chinese and Taiwanese people to eat tangyuan or glutinous rice flour balls as a dessert. Mijiu is also added to tangyuan to bring out the flavour and add aroma to this traditional dessert.
Shaoxing rice wine
Now let us look at the other popular rice wine called Shaoxing rice wine.
This wine has its origins from Shaoxing, in Zhejiang province. Shaoxing rice wine is also a fermented rice wine, but is brown in colour with a much stronger flavour and it is sweeter compared to Mijiu rice wine.
Shaoxing rice wine goes well with certain slow-cooked meat dishes like drunken prawns, drunken chicken, and dongpo pork which is another delicious braised pork belly dish. It is not normally used for daily dishes as its strong taste will mask the flavour of other ingredients.
There is a tradition in Shaoxing which is also practiced in Taiwanese culture. One rice wine variation is a celebratory Shaoxing rice wine is called “nu’er hong”. Translated into English, “nu’er” means daughter and “hong” means red. The colour red signifies luck in both Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, giving it a special significance to the rice wine.
Families in Shaoxing follow a tradition of making a bottle of nu’er hong Shaoxing wine when a new-born daughter is a month old. The bottle is buried in the ground where it ages for years, after which it is dug out to be opened and drunk during the daughter’s wedding day celebrations.
This is Part 1 of our health article on the history of 2 Chinese rice wines, Mijiu and Shaoxing rice wines. Stay with us for Part 2 which will focus on the benefits of these two wines.
15th July 20:002020