Chinese Cooking Wine

02 Nov

When one mentions Chinese cooking wine, they are usually referring to a rice wine callled Shao Xing Hua Diao (To make life easy, I’ll just refer to it as Chinese wine in this post). Shao Xing is a reference to where the wine is traditionally made, much like ‘St. Emilion’. Hua Diao is a reference to a fermenting procedure using certain ingredients, akin to a term like ‘Riesling’. To be entirely accurate, Hua Diao derives from the ornate carvings on the clay containers that the folk would bury their wine in while it fermented, often for several years.

In China, there are two main types of liquor. Distilled liquor is called white liquor (i.e. spirits), while the fermented liquor is know as yellow liquor ( Shao Xing Hua Diao is one of the primary yellow liquors. It is light brown in colour, in a shade that is quite close to whiskey and has a typical alcoholic content of 16%, although I have come across ones that go as high as 19%. They come in bottles of all shapes and sizes as you can see from the three bottles I had lying around the house. Those that come in brown glass are of a better quality and they’re easily available from any kind of store selling Chinese foodstuffs.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Chinese wine is fermented from rice. When rice wine is mentioned, Japanese Sake, another type of wine that is fermented from rice immediately comes to mind. And in fact, it would be quite instructional to include a brief comparison of the two. I have no doubt they started out as similar wines sometime in perhaps the Tang dynasty. The Japanese over their centuries of isolation learned to refine the sake producing process, to arrive at the clear and delicate white liquor that we enjoy today. This has made sake less versatile in the cooking arena, although it is still useful for specific dishes or purposes.

In contrast, Chinese wine was left behind in the evolutionary race. It has retained a more rural and relatively unsophisticated character (to me anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of people who beg to differ). I’d describe Chinese wine more as a sugarless liqueur than an essential part of a bartenders’ inventory, which brings me to why Chinese wine is such a wonderful addition to the kitchen. The traditional alcoholic beverages used in Western cooking, be it wine, port, sherry or cognac are made from fruit, and as a result they all have sweet undertones. They are complimentary ingredients and they add their own distinctiveness to the dish that is being created. Chinese wine on the other hand is a supplementary ingredient, thanks to its earthy and slightly salty flavour. I myself do not know of any other wine that is salty. This allows it to blend into a dish, remaining unidentified by the untrained palate. This makes it unique. Don’t judge it by its raw taste. Its value-added when it comes to cooking is not immediately obvious. Chinese wine has been used in Chinese cooking for ages. Perhaps you have had the fortune of trying a Chinese dish with the word ‘drunken’ in its name, such as drunken chicken or drunken prawns? These contain a sizable amount of Chinese wine.

So how can you use Chinese wine? The closest Western analogue that comes to mind is sherry. Any part where a recipe says add a dash of sherry to a soup or sauce, you can substitute Chinese wine. It can also be used as part of marinades, and is especially useful for freshening up seafood. I have also used it to great effect as a deglaze over pan-fried meat, say like over the bacon in a carbonara sauce. A spot of Chinese wine might also go well with various cold dishes. Anyway, you’re not really going to see many recipes asking you to add Chinese wine. Even in my own posted recipes, I’ll plop in cognac, rum etc. to suit the general populace, even though I might be actually using Chinese wine myself. My point is, experiment with it… and maybe you’ll get to experience that little twinkle of delight when you guests just can’t put their finger on your ‘secret ingredient’.

If you liked this post on Chinese Cooking Wine, you may also be interested in my post on its sweet complimentary, Mirin.


Posted by on November 2, 2010 in Ingredients, Oriental


Tags: , , ,

11 responses to “Chinese Cooking Wine

  1. Jennifer

    November 2, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Loved the new post! I didn’t even know about Chinese Wine up until now, it sounds like something fun to experiment with.

    I often cook with sherry myself, so does my uncle, though I think I’ll throw my cultured uncle for a loop by using some Chinese Wine next time =D

    • kobayash1

      November 3, 2010 at 1:54 am


      If you like this post, you can also check out something called Mirin – if you’re not already familiar with it.

  2. anazar

    January 25, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Thanks for this post, much enlightening 😉

  3. Capt. h. Bose

    August 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    If I use it for cooking, how much of chinese wine should be added say in a kilo of chicken?

    • kobayash1

      August 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      If you are making a stew or using it as part of a marinade, I would suggest something like a few tablespoons up to 1/4 cup for 1 kilo of chicken. This would serve to enhance the flavour but I presume the main flavour would be something else.

      But if you want to make your chicken distinctly Chinese wine flavoured, then it would be more like 2 cups per kilo. I don’t happen to have something similar on my blog at the moment as Shanghainese cooking is not really my thing, I suggest you Google “Drunken Chicken Recipe” to get a feel for how its done.

  4. Cathy

    October 11, 2012 at 4:45 am

    How long does chinese cooking wine last after opening?

    • kobayash1

      October 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      For years and years, just like whisky.
      I don’t even store my Chinese wine in the fridge.
      Just keep it in a cool place.

      • Cathy

        October 12, 2012 at 3:47 am

        Really? That’s amazing! Thank you so much!!

  5. Noel McLauchlan

    October 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Great, thanks kobayash1, that’s exactly what I needed to know. I’m going into town tomorrow a will pay a visit to my Chinese grocer.

  6. Marlina

    August 10, 2015 at 2:36 pm


    Can I substitute the chinese wine with vineger. PLease advise. I’m a muslim need a halal food in my cooking.


    • kobayash1

      August 15, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      I’m afraid not. Chinese wine is not sour. For non-alcoholic substitutes you can check out this website under sherry.
      (I can’t vouch for this website as I haven’t tried any of their substitutes)

      Off the top of my head I’d say, you can also try using rice vinegar neutralized with a bit (a very very small amount) of bicarbonate of soda.


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