A Japnese Nihaizu Seasoned Vinegar
A Japnese Nihaizu Seasoned Vinegar

Two Basic Japanese Seasoned Vinegars

Nihaizu and Sanbaizu are both seasoned vinegars used in Japanese cuisine, sometimes as marinades, or the bases for dipping sauces, but primarily as dressings for the salad type preparations known as ‘Sunomono’. The basic forms for each are extremely simple and can be varied in any number of ways to suit personal needs and tastes.

The ‘Zu’ suffix is simply the Japanese word for Vinegar, which is understood to refer to Rice Vinegar. A ‘Nihaizu’ is a two-ingredient seasoned vinegar, with the vinegar being one ingredient, and soy sauce being the other.

A Sanbaizu, on the other hand, is a ‘three-ingredient’ blend. In effect, it is a Nihaizu with Mirin being added as the third ingredient. One could, in theory, substitute the Mirin with Sake and Sugar but then, strictly speaking, this would not be a ‘San’, or ‘Three’ ingredient blend.

Making your Own Japanese Seasoned Vinegars

A Cucumber Sunomono prepared with Nihaizu
A Cucumber Sunomono prepared with Nihaizu

The above picture shows a simple Cucumber Salad prepared with a homemade Nihaizu. Since the seasoned vinegar is just rice vinegar and soy sauce, it rather begs the question: Why bother mixing in advance?

Well, in theory, the two blends incorporate the primary ingredients in equal amounts (that is, one-part vinegar and one-part soy sauce for a Nihazu, with one-part Mirin being added for a Sanbaizu). In practice, however, this is rarely the case. You can make your own ‘signature’ blends using different proportions, and, since the blends will last virtually indefinitely, they are extremely convenient to have on hand.

Sample Nihaizu and Sanbaizu Blends

A common ratio for a Nihazu is 3 parts Rice Vinegar to 2.5 parts Soy sauce, but a blend I like (and which appears in the very first picture) is as follows:

1 Cup Rice Vinegar plus 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

For a Sanbaizu:

1 Cup Rice Vinegar plus 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce plus 2 Tablespoons Mirin

Comments, questions or suggestions most welcome!