The Two Basic Japanese Seasoned Vinegars, known as Nihaizu and Sanbaizu, are used in a wide variety of dishes. and can be varied to taste.
Nihaizu and Sanbaizu are sometimes as marinades, or the bases for dipping sauces, but are primarily used as dressings for the Japanese 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 in ‘Nihaizu’ and ‘Sanbaizu ‘ is simply the Japanese word for Vinegar, and 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
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