Vinegar has been for used by humans for millennia, with traces found in ancient Egyptian urns dating back to 3000BC. Throughout history, this saporous acid—I know, total oxymoron—has always been multi-purposeful, for domestic, industrial, and even medical uses. This unique liquid consists of up to 20% acetic acid, which is a product of ethanol fermentation by the acetic acid bacteria.
To this day, they remain a crucial ingredient in the kitchen, as they’re used in essentially everything—salad dressings, baking, cooking, pickling, and marinades. But with such a diverse selection of vinegars on the market, how do you know which one to use and for what? It gets overwhelming. We’re going to break it down for you.
Which vinegar should you use?
Dark and White Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic is one of the most popular vinegars. It originates from Italy, and is well-known for its sweet, fruity flavour with mild acidity. Certain products will label the ageing, as it affects the flavour of the vinegar. The longer it is aged for, the sweeter and more viscous it is, and the pricier it gets!
Balsamic vinegars also come in a wide range of colours, from light clear yellow to dark red. Dark balsamic is used in dark-coloured dishes stews whereas white balsamic has a mild, subtle flavour, and is mostly used in light-coloured dishes like seafood. Expensive, thicker, aged dark balsamic are more often used in appetizers and charcuterie as a drizzle over cheese paired with cured meats. Less expensive ones are often used as a marinade to tenderise meat.
Substitutes: red wine vinegar (for dark balsamic); white wine vinegar (for white balsamic)
Apple Cider Vinegar
This fruity version is not only super popular but also very healthy. Apple cider vinegar, made from fermented apples, has been attributed to improving health issues including diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart problems, and high cholesterol. It is mild and fruity in flavour, and stands out terrifically in stews, marinades, and even chutney. You can also double it as a cleaner or mosquito repellant!
Substitutes: white wine vinegar, rice vinegar
Red and White Wine Vinegar
It’s the battle between red wine and white wine all over again, but this time in another category. Both versions are incredibly versatile and are both considered for daily use. Similar to their wine counterparts, the red version stands up well with heartier and fuller flavours and foods, such as dark meats, whereas the white version complements best with seafood, chicken dishes. They are both, however, great in vinaigrettes, sauces, dressings, and stews.
Substitutes: can substitute one another as long as discolouration of food is not a concern; balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar (for red wine); rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar (for white wine)
Sometimes referred to as rice wine vinegar, the rice vinegar isn’t actually made from rice wine, but simply rice. It is a true kitchen staple in many countries in Asia, as it is essential in many Asian cuisine dishes. This rice-based version is delicate and mild with low acidity compared to their Western counterparts. A recipe may call for a “seasoned” version at times, meaning that the vinegar is seasoned with sugar and salt, which is most ideal for making sushi rice.
Substitute: apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar
Malt vinegar is made from malted barley and has a potent, pungent smell. Most of us simply associate it with fish and chips condiment, but malt vinegar is also great for pickling. It’s not the best, however, for making delicious sweet vinaigrettes as its flavours are much too strong and would overpower any delicate flavours.
Substitutes: lemon, white wine vinegar
White vinegar is like the new intern at work who does all the mundane tasks at a minimum wage, but super helpful nonetheless. It’s actually more commonly used as a cleaner nowadays, for pots and pans, coffee pots, windows, etc. In the kitchen, white vinegar is used in pickling, but can also be used to make marinades, sauces, etc. This vinegar is strong! So a little will go a long way.
Substitutes: malt vinegar (for pickling), apple cider vinegar (if strong enough)
Regardless of which vinegar you reach for the most, it’s definitely helpful to have a variety in your kitchen. While all of them share common uses like tenderising meat, making vinaigrettes, and balancing out bitter flavours in a dish, it’s best to use the vinegar that the recipe calls for in order to enhance and bring out the flavours of the dish you’re making.
Do you have a favourite type of vinegar? Which one do you consider a true staple in your kitchen?