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)

4.5 from 4 votes
How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
12 mins
Total Time
22 mins
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. 
Course: Sweet Treat
Cuisine: Asian
Keyword: Chinese recipe, fermentation, fermented, fermented rice, Gluten-free, gluten-free vegan, vegan
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Joyce @Light Orange Bean
  • 2 cups sweet rice uncooked
  • 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.
Recipe Notes

See blog post for pictures and more details.

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


How to Make Fermented Sweet Rice (Jiuniang, Tapai)


  1. Melissa says:

    I have celiac and would love to try this recipe. Do you know of any certified gluten free yeast ball brands? I noticed some have “natural flavors” which is a sketchy ingredient when it comes to being gluten free…

    • Denis Cullinan says:

      Just buy some packets of wine yeast from one of those DIY wine and beer-making suppliers. They’re inexpensive. Add a. packet to your bowl of room-temperature (and slightly soupy, but not really flooded-with-water) steamed sweet rice, mix, let ferment. Easy as pie. Do yourself a favor and try this really easy method. The wine yeast is pure yeast, no gluten.

      • Joyce says:

        Wow, that’s good to know. I’m wondering if the flavor will be a little different (in a good way). I’m looking forward to try some wine yeast.

  2. Jean says:

    Is it necessary to soak the yeast in water to be mixed into the steamed rice?
    Am also making fermented rice but i just crush the yeast like powder then add to the steamed rice and mix and then keep in dark place for 2-3days

    • Joyce says:

      You don’t have to load the yeast in water. If you have already mixed the rice and yeast, you can just add some extra water to the rice so it help to soft the yeast and will help the fermentation process.

  3. Michelle says:

    Curious question
    I have made this many times but sometimes after 48 or more hours fermenting
    The rice reverts back to being very raw again
    Wonder if I have added too much or little of the yeast and some weird reaction is happening ? Thanks

    • Joyce says:

      Once the rice is fermented, I normally keep it in fridge to slow down the fermentation. I’m not sure about the rice reverts back to raw stage. Do you mean the rice getting too dry?

      • Christine says:

        I had a similar experience, using steamed brown rice as the base (for 35 mins). Maybe it wasn’t cooked enough in the first place…?

  4. PT says:

    I wonder if yeast starter (jiubing, or tapai yeast ball) are the same kind of yeast as kombucha? Do you think I can a little bit of kombucha to mixed with the cooked rice to ferment and get the same kind of rice wine? Hope to hear your opinion.

    • Eldwin Cheung says:

      Yeast in jiubing is mainly Aspergillus Oryzae (think miso, sake, such and such) with Rhizopus (think tempeh the food). The microbes in kombucha are not yeast, but rather bacteria called SCOBY. If u used kombucha, your sweet rice fermentation would end up very sour as SCOBY conduct acetic acid fermentation (vinegar)

    • Joyce says:

      No. The access water is from the fermentation and it’s the best part of the fermented sweet rice. It has all the probiotics in it and tastes delicious.

    • Joyce says:

      You can try. Store-bought usually don’t have much live bacteria. If you want to try, use 2 tablespoons of the liquid as starter. Please let me know the result. 🙂

  5. Christine says:

    Hi Joyce,
    I am impatient person so I used about a cup of the bought fermented rice as a starter. Possibly due to low room temperatures (20 – 10 degrees C) it’s taken a while for the ferment to start and after 4 days it was only fermented in the bottom of the jar. I couldn’t wait any longer so I put in more warm water (to a soupy consistency) to get it moving. It was a warmer day yesterday too, 28 C, and it really got going, bubbling away.
    Also, I used brown and white rice together (just normal rice, not sticky rice) so added about half a cup of sugar to the mix. It doesn’t taste sweet tho. I’m going to leave it a few more days.
    Also, I am going to try using some of this ferment to start another with glutinous rice.

    • Joyce says:

      Do you mean you see black mold? If so, that means your fermentation temperature is too high. Don’t eat the mold one. You can try a new batch and make sure there is no grease on your utensils.

  6. Tanya says:

    Hi, how would I adjust this recipe to work in a hotter climate? The climate is hot where I live, about 27-30 degrees Celsius even at night (about 80-86F).

  7. June says:

    Hi Joyce =) thank you for the recipe! I noticed that my batch seems to be drying out =(. I don’t know what went wrong. I definitely smell the yeast doing it’s thing. Just no liquid and the rice at the top seems to be very dry =(

    • Joyce says:

      You may need to add a little bit more water. Normally when the fermentation happens, it will produce quite bit water. Personally, my batches never had a problem.

      • Alex says:

        I have tried the recipe, but got black mold on top of the rice, and it doesn’t smell good. What did I do wrong?

        Also, do I have to steam the rice, or can I use the rice cooker instead?

        • Joyce says:

          If you can provide more details that would be helpful. What kind of yeast do you use? What temperature did you leave the fermentation to occur?

    • Joyce says:

      It all depends on the quality of your tap water. I only use tap water to wash dishes or my vegetables and fruits. I use purified water to drink and cook.

  8. Geza says:

    For everyone asking questions about what yeast can be used, normal yeast used for fermenting beer and wine cannot break down the starches in rice. Rice wine starter is a combination of fungus, yeast, and bacteria. The fungus breaks down the rice starches into simple sugars, and the yeast ferments it into alcohol. If you don’t have a starter that contains a fungus, you will not be able to ferment the rice properly and it won’t break down as intended. Fungus is an integral part of any fermentation involving rice like in Chinese rice wine, Korean makgeolli and Japanese sake.

Leave a Reply

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.