How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)If you love fermented food, you may already be familiar with those well-known ones, such as kefir, kumbucha, kimchi (whada-ya know, they all start with “K”), miso, sauerkraut, etc. Have you heard of fermented sweet rice? It’s a popular sweet treat throughout many Asian countries. It can typically be found in Asian grocery stores here in the US. However, I like to make my own fermented sweet rice at home. It’s quite simple and straightforward. After reading this post, I’m sure you’ll be able to make your own at home without any problem.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)Because fermented sweet rice is popular in many Asian countries, the name varies from country to country. In China, we call it “Jiuniang” or “Laozao”, where as in Singapore and other adjacent countries, it’s called “Tapai”. Fermented rice is a treat that has both a sweet and a mild-alcoholic taste. Chinese people, such as myself, often serve fermented rice for breakfast or as a dessert. Without adding any sugar or sweetener, it’s plenty sweet when it’s perfectly fermented. You can serve it as is, dilute it with a small amount of cold water, or even lightly boil in water to make a soup. My favorite way is to serve it cold with some dried osmanthus flower and goji berries.

Are you getting anxious to making some at home now? In the past I’ve had a number of my friends ask me how to make fermented sweet rice. So today, I’ll show a detailed step-by-step procedure so you can be successful even with your first batch.

  1. Soak the sweet rice or glutinous rice in cold water for at least 10 hours.

This step will ensure that there is no dried center after the rice has fermented.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

  1. Steam the soaked and drained rice for 12 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature before adding the yeast.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

  1. Prepare the yeast starter (jiubing, or tapai yeast ball).

You may find this yeast ball at your local Asian grocery stores or you can buy it from Amazon. It usually comes in a little bag with 3-4 balls in it. I crush and press the yeast ball into fine powder to make for easier measuring. It’s OK if you can’t achieve a really fine powder. It’s not an exact science.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

  1. Measure the yeast and suspend in water

If your yeast powder is a little bit chunky, letting it soak in water will help it break up. This will also help it mix with the steamed sweet rice evenly in a coming step.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

  1. Add the yeast and water into the steamed rice. Place it into a grease-free glass or plastic container. Use clean fingers, spoon, or chopsticks to make a hole in the middle.
  • The yeast doesn’t like any thing greasy. So make sure all your utensils are grease free.
  • The hole in the middle will help you to observe/monitor the fermentation.
  • One time, I had used a glass jar to make the fermented rice. The result was not as good as using a glass bowl. Bacteria in this fermentation seem to prefer more oxygen present. Using a bowl, as opposed to a jar, gives you a larger opening so the rice has larger surface area to come in contact with the air.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

  1. Cover the container with a lid and let sweet rice ferment at room temperature (72-76 °F) for 48 hours or longer.
  2. Seeing the hole in the middle of the rice full of liquid is a good indication it’s fermented. The rice should have a nice, sweet yeasty smell. The rice should float in the liquid and be light weight.

If you see some white hair growing on top of the rice, that’s normal. If the hair is black, it means the temperature is a little bit too high. Move the container to a cooler place to let the fermentation complete.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

Don’t be intimidated by my long detailed instructions. It’s easier than it sounds. Happy fermenting.

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)

How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Tools: A large mixing bow with lid, strainer, steamer, measuring cups and spoons, spatula or spoon for mixing
Recipe type: Sweet Treat
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 6 servings
  • 2 cups sweet rice, uncooked
  • 6½ cups water, filtered water preferred
  • 1 teaspoon yeast starter
  1. Soak the sweet rice or glutinous rice in 5 cups of cold water for at least 10 hours.
  2. Drain and rinse the soaked rice to remove the extra starch. Fill the steamer with cold water. Line the steamed plate with parchment paper or grease-free cheesecloth if you are using a double layered, Asian style steamer. Place rinsed sweet rice on the parchment paper and spread out evenly. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down to medium heat with gentle boiling. Steam for 12 minutes.
  3. Remove the steamer from heat. Carefully transfer the steamed rice into the large mixing bowl (the one you are going to use for fermenting). Let the steamed rice cool to room temperature. Approximately 7-10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to crush the yeast starter ball into powder.
  5. Add 1 cup of water to the cooled steamed rice and mix until there is no rice clump. Add extra water if needed, 2 tablespoons at a time.
  6. Add yeast starter into ½ cup water and stir to make the suspension. Pour the suspension into the bowl with rice. Stir gently to mix well.
  7. Use a clean utensil or your clean finger to make a hole in the middle. You may also sprinkle an extra dash of the yeast starter powder onto the surface of the rice at this point.
  8. Cover the bowl with lid and let rice ferment at 72-76 °F for 48 hours or longer until the hole is filled with water.
  9. Transfer the fermented rice into refrigerator after the fermentation is finished. It can be stored in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or longer.
See blog post for pictures and more details.

Preparation time does not include pre-soaking time and fermentation time.


Fermented sweet rice is a popular Asian treat that has both a sweet and a mild-alcoholic taste. You’ll find a detailed step-by-step procedure for making fermented sweet rice at home. (vegan, gluten-free)

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