home > liquids > vinegars


vinegar   Cooks use vinegar to make pickles, deglaze pans, marinate meats, and add tang to vinaigrettes, sauces, and even desserts.  Vinegars are made by adding a bacteria called Acetobacter aceti to diluted wine, ale, or fermented fruits or grains.  This creates acetic acid, which gives the liquid a sour flavor.   Unopened, most vinegars will last for about two years in a cool, dark pantry.  Once opened, vinegar should be used within three to six months.  


  • Vinegar breaks down protein fibers, so adding it to marinades or braising liquids will help tenderize meat.  
  • To cut calories, make vinaigrettes from milder vinegars like balsamic, champagne, fruit, or rice wine vinegar.  Since they're less pungent, you can use a higher ratio of vinegar to oil.
  • Vinegar will dissolve reactive metals like aluminum, iron, and copper.  When cooking with vinegar, use pots and utensils made of stainless steel, glass, enamel, plastic, or wood. 
  • It's easier to peel hard-boiled eggs if you add a teaspoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of salt to the water they cook in.
  • Vinegar can reduce bitterness and balance flavors in a dish. 
  • Adding vinegar to a pot of water improves the color of any vegetables you're cooking.
Varieties:  There are many different kinds of vinegars, most of them associated with regional cuisines.  The French like red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar, which are tangy and great for vinaigrettes and marinades.  Italians prefer balsamic vinegar, which is dark, complex, and slightly sweet, while Spaniards often reach for their smooth yet potent sherry vinegar. Asians use rice vinegar, which is relatively mild.  Americans favor cider vinegar, which is tangy and fruity, which British and Canadian cooks prefer malt vinegar, which has a distinctive, lemony flavor.  The biggest seller of all is white vinegar, which is distilled from ethyl alcohol.  It's cheap but somewhat harsh-tasting, so while it's great for making pickles, acidulating water, and cleaning out coffee pots, it's not a good choice for most recipes.  

Substitutes:  lemon juice (as a flavoring or for acidulating water) OR lime juice (as a flavoring or for acidulating water) OR brandy (for deglazing pans) OR fortified wine (for deglazing pans and perking up sauces) OR wine (for deglazing pans and perking up sauces) OR ascorbic acid (mixed with water) OR amchoor OR tamarind paste

aceto balsamico

acidulated water   Pronunciation:   uh-SIJ-uh-lay-tid    Notes:    This is water that's been mixed with a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to make it slightly acidic.   If you put freshly sliced fruits or vegetables in acidulated water, they won't darken.   To make your own:    Mix one or two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar with one quart of water.

apple cider vinegar 

balsamic vinegar = aceto balsamico = aceto di balsamico   Pronunciation:  ball-SAHM-ick  Notes:    This enormously popular Italian vinegar is prized for its sweet, fruity flavor and mild acidity.  It's terrific for deglazing pans, dressing salads and vegetable dishes, and for seasoning everything from grilled meat to poached fruit.  Its quality varies enormously.   Expensive artisan-made balsamic vinegars (labeled traditional or tradizionale) are aged in wood barrels for at least 12 years and can cost over $100 per bottle.  They're exquisitely complex, syrupy and only slightly acidic.  Those who can afford them often drink them as they would a vintage port, or use them in desserts, where their sweetness and subtleties can be shown off to best advantage.  Cheaper commercial brands are watered down with wine vinegar and artificially colored, but they're fine for most recipes.   Substitutes:   brown rice vinegar OR Chinese black vinegar (cheaper) OR red wine vinegar + sugar or honey OR sherry vinegar OR fruit vinegar


cane vinegar = sukang iloko    Notes:   This is made from sugar cane syrup, and varies in quality.  You can get cheap cane vinegar in Filipino markets, but the Vinegarman at www.vinegarman.com recommends that you hold out for the smoother Steen's Cane Vinegar, which is made in Louisiana.  

champagne vinegar   Notes:   This light and mild vinegar is a good choice if you're want to dress delicately flavored salads or vegetables.  Mix it with nut or truffle oil to make a sublime vinaigrette.   Substitutes:  white wine vinegar (not as mild) OR rice vinegar (not as mild) OR raspberry vinegar (not as mild) OR apple cider vinegar (not as mild)

Chekiang vinegar

Chenkong vinegar

Chinese black vinegar = black vinegar = black rice vinegar = Chinese brown rice vinegar = brown rice vinegar = Chinkiang vinegar = Chekiang vinegar = Chenkong vinegar = Zhejiang vinegar    Notes:    The best Chinese black vinegars are produced in the province of Chinkiang (or Chekiang or Zhejiang--there are many spellings).  Black vinegar is more assertive than white rice vinegar, and it's often used in stir-fries, shark's fin soup,  and as a dipping sauce.   Gold Plum is a well-regarded brand.    Substitutes:  balsamic vinegar (similar, but more expensive) OR red rice vinegar (Add a bit of sugar to sweeten it.) OR apple cider vinegar OR wine vinegar OR Worcestershire sauce (as a dipping sauce)

Chinkiang vinegar

cider vinegar = apple cider vinegar    Notes:   Made from fermented apples, this fruity vinegar is inexpensive and tangy.  While it's not the best choice for vinaigrettes or delicate sauces, it works well in chutneys, hearty stews, and marinades.  It's also used to make pickles, though it will darken light-colored fruits and vegetables.    Substitutes:  malt vinegar OR white vinegar (a good choice for pickles) OR wine vinegar (not for pickles)


coconut vinegar = suka ng niyog    Notes:  This is a somewhat harsh and potent vinegar that's common in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and southern India.   Substitutes:  cane vinegar OR 3 parts white vinegar plus 1 part water OR white wine vinegar OR cider vinegar

cranberry vinegar  Substitutes:  raspberry vinegar OR red wine vinegar (sweetened, if you like, with some sugar)

distilled vinegar

flavored vinegar = infused vinegar   Notes:   These are vinegars that have been flavored, usually with herbs, fruit, garlic, or peppercorns.   They're handy if you want to whip up a flavorful salad dressing or sauce in a hurry.

fruit vinegar   Notes:    Fruit vinegars are assertive without being pungent, so they make terrific salad dressings.  More healthful ones, too--since they're not as pungent as other vinegars, you can cut calories by using less oil.   They're also good in marinades and in sauces for roasted meats, especially poultry, ham, pork, and veal.   Popular commercial vinegars include raspberry vinegar, blueberry vinegar, and mango vinegar.  They're easy enough to make at home, but seek out a trustworthy recipe.  If too much fruit is added to the vinegar, it may not be sufficiently acidic to ward off harmful microbes.   Substitutes:  vinegar plus fresh fruit OR champagne vinegar OR cider vinegar (sweetened, if you like, with some sugar) OR wine vinegar (sweetened, if you like, with some sugar)


herb vinegar   Notes:   Herb vinegars are a convenient way to preserve fresh herbs and to incorporate their flavor into salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.   They're easy to make at home.  Just put one or two sprigs of clean, fresh herbs in a bottle of warm vinegar, tightly seal the bottle, and let it stand for at least a few days.  The sprigs will eventually become bitter, so remove or replace them after a few weeks.   Make sure that the vinegar you use has an acidity level of at least 5% (this information is given on the label).  Wine, rice, or cider vinegars are good bases for most herb vinegars.  Don't add too many herbs to the bottle, or you may reduce the acidity of the vinegar so much that it loses its ability to preserve.    Substitutes:  vinegar plus fresh herbs

malt vinegar = alegar    Notes:    Most of us know malt vinegar as the condiment that's always put on the table wherever British fish and chips are served.   It's made from malted barley, and has a pungent, lemony flavor.  It's a good choice for pickling (assuming it contains at least 5% acetic acid), though it will darken light-colored fruits and vegetables.  It's also the vinegar of choice for making chutneys.  Since it's so assertive, it's not a good choice for vinaigrettes or delicate sauces.  Varieties include brown malt vinegar and distilled malt vinegar, which is clear.  Substitutes:  lemon juice (with fish and chips) OR cider vinegar OR white wine vinegar

palm vinegar = toddy vinegar   Notes:  This cloudy white vinegar is popular in the Philippines.  It's milder than wine or cider vinegars.   Substitutes:   coconut vinegar OR other vinegar (use less to compensate for the mildness of palm vinegar)

pickled plum vinegar

pineapple vinegar  Notes:  This is used in Mexico, but hard to find in the United States.  Grab a bottle if you can find it, for it's reputed to be quite good.   Substitutes:  apple cider vinegar

plum vinegar

raspberry vinegar    Notes:   This is a mild and fruity vinegar that makes a terrific salad dressing.   Substitutes:  sherry vinegar (especially with poultry) OR champagne vinegar (milder) OR blueberry vinegar OR red wine vinegar OR black currant vinegar OR rice vinegar OR apple cider vinegar OR balsamic vinegar

red rice vinegar = red vinegar = Chinese red vinegar = Chinese red rice vinegar   Notes:   This Asian vinegar is a bit salty.  It's sometimes used in seafood or sweet and sour dishes, or as a dipping sauce.  Substitutes:  Chinese black vinegar (sweeter) OR cider vinegar OR red wine vinegar

red wine vinegar    Notes:   This assertive vinegar is a staple in French households.  It's used in vinaigrettes and for making marinades, stews, and sauces.  It's a good choice if you're trying to balance strong flavors in a hearty dish.   Substitutes:   white wine vinegar (very similar) OR balsamic vinegar OR sherry vinegar OR apple cider vinegar OR rice vinegar


rice vinegar = rice wine vinegar    Notes:   Rice vinegars are popular in Asian and they're sweeter, milder, and less acidic than Western vinegars.   They're sometimes called "rice wine vinegars," but they're made from rice, not rice wine.   Most recipes that call for rice vinegar intend for you to use white rice vinegar, which is used in both China and Japan.   The Chinese also use red rice vinegar with seafood or in sweet and sour dishes, and black rice vinegar in stir-fries and dipping sauces.    Substitutes:  apple cider vinegar (also add a pinch of sugar if you like) OR white wine vinegar OR 3 parts white vinegar + 1 part water

seasoned rice vinegar = seasoned rice wine vinegar = sushi vinegar    Notes:    Accomplished Asian cooks who find this in your pantry are likely to purse their lips, just as Italian cooks would over a packet of spaghetti sauce mix.  So keep it well hidden.  It's lightly flavored with sugar and salt, and saves time when making sushi.  You can also use it to dress salads, vegetables, and other dishes.   Substitutes:  3/4 cup white rice vinegar plus 1/4 cup sugar  plus 2 teaspoons salt.  

sherry vinegar = sherry wine vinegar = vinagre de Jeréz = Jerez vinegar = vinagre de Xeres = Xeres vinegar   Notes:   Sherry vinegar is Spain's answer to balsamic vinegar.  It's assertive yet smooth, and great for deglazing pans and perking up sauces, especially those that will accompany hearty meats like duck, beef, or game.  The most expensive sherry vinegars are aged for a long time in wood casks.   Substitutes:   balsamic vinegar OR red wine vinegar (Also add a little sugar if you wish.) OR rice vinegar

tarragon vinegar = tarragon wine vinegar   Notes:  This popular herb vinegar is used to make Béarnaise sauce and vinaigrettes.   It's easy to make at home.  Just put one or two sprigs of clean, fresh tarragon in a bottle of warm white wine vinegar, tightly seal the bottle, and let it stand for at least a few days.  The sprigs will eventually become bitter, so remove or replace them after a few weeks.   Make sure that the vinegar you use has an acidity level of at least 5% (this information is given on the label).  Don't add too much tarragon to the bottle, or you may reduce the acidity of the vinegar so much that it loses its ability to preserve.   Substitutes:   One tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves plus one cup vinegar (preferably white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or apple cider vinegar)  One teaspoon dried tarragon leaves plus one cup vinegar (preferably white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or apple cider vinegar)

umeboshi vinegar = umeboshi plum vinegar = ume vinegar = ume plum vinegar = pickled plum vinegar = plum vinegar   Notes:  This Japanese vinegar is quite salty, and it has a distinctive, slightly fruity flavor.  It's typically used in dips and salad dressings.   Substitutes:  red wine vinegar (Since this isn't as salty as umeboshi vinegar, you may want to add salt or soy sauce to the dish.)

umeboshi plum vinegar

ume vinegar

verjus = verjuice  Pronunciation:    vehr-ZHOO or VER-juice  Notes:   A medieval ingredient that's making a comeback, verjus is a sour juice made from unripened red or white grapes.  Vinegars in salad dressings sometimes create off-tastes in the wines that accompany a meal.  Verjus doesn't, so it's a good substitute for vinegar if you're planning to serve an expensive wine with dinner.  Some people also mix it with sparkling water and ice to make a sophisticated  non-alcoholic drink.  After the bottle is opened, store verjus in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about a month.  If you can't use it that fast, pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, then store the cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer.   Though becoming more popular, verjus is still hard to find.  Look for it in gourmet specialty shops.   Substitutes:   lemon juice (a very good and much cheaper substitute) OR white wine vinegar

white rice vinegar = su  Notes:    This Asian vinegar is milder and sweeter than Western vinegars.  It's used in Japan to make sushi rice and salads, and in China to flavor stir-fries and soups.  Western cooks often use it to flavor delicate chicken or fish dishes, or to dress salads or vegetables.   Japanese brands tend to be milder than Chinese, but they can be used interchangeably.  Substitutes:  champagne vinegar OR seasoned rice vinegar OR white wine vinegar 

white vinegar = distilled vinegar = distilled white vinegar = white distilled vinegar   Notes:    This cheap vinegar gets all the mundane jobs, like making pickles, cleaning out coffee pots, and washing windows.  Distilled from ethyl alcohol, it's a bit too harsh for most recipes, but it does a great job with pickles.  Be careful if you're substituting another vinegar in a pickle recipe--to adequately preserve, vinegar should have an acidity level of at least 5%.   Substitutes:   cider vinegar (This can be used for pickling if the acidity is at least 5%--check the label.  Cider vinegar may darken light-colored fruits and vegetables.) OR malt vinegar (If you're pickling with it, check the label to make sure it has at least 5% acidity.  This may discolor light-colored fruits and vegetables.)

white wine vinegar    Notes:   This is a moderately tangy vinegar that French cooks use to make Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces, vinaigrettes, soups, and stews.  It's also an excellent base for homemade fruit or herb vinegars.  Substitutes:   red wine vinegar (This has a stronger flavor, and it may discolor a light sauce.) OR champagne vinegar OR rice vinegar OR cider vinegar


wine vinegar   Notes:    Wine vinegars are milder and less acidic than cider or white distilled vinegar, so they're a good choice for salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.  There are several varieties, ranging from mild champagne vinegar to the tangy white and red wine vinegars to the dark and assertive balsamic and sherry vinegars.  The milder vinegars go best with more delicate dishes, like salads, which stronger ones are best for deglazing pans, marinating meats, and adding tang to sauces.  Rice vinegar, though it's sometimes called rice wine vinegar, is made from fermented rice, not rice wine.   Substitutes:  cider vinegar OR rice vinegar (milder) OR malt vinegar


Copyright © 1996-2005   Lori Alden