Q: When do I use rice vinegar, and when do I use rice wine in cooking? A: You've hit on a common topic of confusion for occasional cooks...

Q: When do I use rice vinegar, and when do I use rice wine in cooking?

A: You’ve hit on a common topic of confusion for occasional cooks of Asian food.

Part of the problem is that rice vinegar is often called rice wine vinegar. Both rice vinegar and rice wine are made from fermented rice, but different processes are employed.

The dregs, or lees, of wine are sometimes used in the making of Asian rice vinegars, which have low acidity and are considered milder than western vinegars.

Freshly steamed glutinous rice is fermented to make rice wine, which has a comparatively low alcohol content relative to other wines and beer.

Sake and mirin are common rice wines; Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Indian rice wines are all quite different in clarity and flavor, although most tend to be sweet.

To add depth or sweetness to a dish, use rice wine, especially shaohsing cooking wine, which is aged and somewhat mellow. Try sherry as a substitute in recipes that call for rice wine instead of reaching for the rice vinegar; it’s a closer match. Rice wine will hold up in stir-fries, braises and stocks.

Use rice vinegar to perk up or heighten flavors, such as those in sweet-and-sour dishes, or use the condiment in place of more tart vinegars when you want to soften the edges of a dressing or marinade.