Cooking wine (料酒, liàojiǔ) is an everyday, indispensable ingredient in Chinese cuisines, used in almost all dishes with meat or fish as a marinade and/or sauce component. Shaoxing Huadiao Rice Wine is considered the best liaojiu in the supermarket. Shaoxing wine has a deep amber color and a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. It is used in Chinese cooking for that flavor, where it adds depth and complexity to dishes, but most importantly as a method to deodorize meat and seafood by evaporating those odors.

The city of Shaoxing has been making wine for millennia in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, and its huangjiu, or yellow wine, is considered the pinnacle of the country’s traditional winemaking. Its rich but mellow flavor pairs exceptionally well with China’s other frequently used sauces, particularly soy sauce (think red-braised pork belly or three-cup chicken). 

According to our contributor Zoe Yang, Janet Wang notes in The Chinese Wine Renaissance that “the earliest archeological record of alcohol—10,000 years old—was found in China, and it was likely made from fermented grains. That early alcohol was the ancestor of huangjiu.”

Zoe also says: “The Chinese, as early as the Shang Dynasty in the second millennium B.C.E., began experimenting with controlling fermentation using yeasts, molds and bacteria. There are stories in Shaoxing of local winemakers plying their trade based on the strength of their secret 酒曲 (jiǔqū) starter blend…. These ancient and proprietary jiuqu blends, along with the fertile soil and clean water of Shaoxing, are what give the city legendary status as the prime terroir for huangjiu. Over time, marketing flourishes have only added to legend: “Huadiao”(花雕, huādiāo) refers to the drawings or engravings that once adorned wine casks, and “nuerhong”/”nuerjiu” (女儿红, nǚ’érhóng/女儿酒, nǚ’érjiǔ) traditionally meant wine cellared when a daughter was born, to be served on her wedding day. In modern usage, neither term is tied to production standards, and so both have become vague signifiers of quality. (To make things more confusing, there is even a Nu Er Hong brand of Shaoxing wine).”

Salted vs. Unsalted Shaoxing Wine for Cooking

Shaoxing wine is made from fermented glutinous rice and it includes wheat, because almost all Chinese sauces are brewed with a wheat-based starter (daqu fermentation).

Huadiao, like any other reputable Shaoxing wine brand sold for cooking in the U.S., also has added salt. The wine is 16% alcohol and includes 1.5% salt so that it can be sold as food vs. wine. It also has caramel for color, but no additional spices, ethanol or additives, as lesser liaojiu brands often have. Unsalted Shaoxing wine is nice to have for recipes where the wine plays a central role in the flavor of a dish (such as drunken chicken), but even then cooking wine may be used with little ultimate effect on the flavor for dishes that are also salted and cooked. The most important aspect for dishes with prominent Shaoxing wine in the recipe is that the cooking wine base be high-quality real yellow wine, not generic rice wine (mijiu) plus spices.

In China, cooking wine’s main function is to dispel the gamey, fishy or funky aspects of raw meats and fish. If you want to drink Shaoxing wine, do look for the oldest and best one you can find, but if you are cooking with it, don’t sweat the salt!

Like almost all traditional Chinese sauces, Shaoxing wine is fermented and aged in earthenware crocks. Image: Guyue Longshan

Guyue Longshan Shaoxing Cooking Wine

Guyue Longshan is one of the oldest and largest makers of Shaoxing wine and has multiple categories and brands. Huadiao jiu is the designation for the finest medium-dry Shaoxing wine, which was traditionally aged in earthenware crocks with etched decoration called huadiao.

In a tasting test against other Shaoxing cooking wines, Guyue Longshan’s Shaoxing Huadiao Wine was savory and fragrant with a strong flavor and complexity despite being unaged.


Shaoxing cooking wine

How to Use Shaoxing Wine Like a Chinese Chef

Cooking and Storage Tips

Store Shaoxing wine in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. We recommend refrigeration once opened to maintain quality.

  • Marinating: Shaoxing wine is commonly used to marinate meats. It helps tenderize the meat, infuse flavors, and remove any unpleasant odors. Combine the wine with fresh ginger and scallion and let the meat marinate for at least 15-30 minutes before cooking.
  • Blanching: If you cook a lot of Chinese or Asian meat recipes, you may notice there’s often a pre-cooking blanching step. This step helps deodorize the meat and clean away blood foam, which is especially important in making clear, flavorful soups. Blanch meats starting from cold water with a fresh splash of Shaoxing wine, ginger and scallion.
  • Stir-frying: Add a splash of Shaoxing wine toward the end of cooking to enhance the flavors.
  • Deglazing: Use Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan after searing meats or cooking aromatics. The wine helps to release the browned bits and adds flavor to the resulting sauce.

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