Cooking with Vinegar—Every Chef’s Secret Ingredient

By Nicole Hopping November 8, 2012 No Comments on Cooking with Vinegar—Every Chef’s Secret Ingredient

Flickr (cc): maic2010

Famous chefs and foodies alike know something the average household cook may not — they’re in tune to that spark, that perfect balance of flavors that makes a dish come alive. That spark, or secret if you will, is none other than vinegar.

It’s no wonder then, that vinegar has claimed its place in the kitchen since ancient times; from the table of Cleopatra to Babylonian cured meats. And let’s not forget the love affair Chinese cuisine has with it or the French chef who’d be powerless to create rich sauces without it.

So what exactly is vinegar? It gets its name from the French word vin aigre, meaning sour wine, which is an explanation of the original process. Wine becomes sour and turns to vinegar. So, vinegar is just a sour liquid made from the fermentation of sugar to alcohol and alcohol to vinegar. Nowadays, vinegar is made from a great many other products too, like rice, fruit, and grains.

Aside from the spark it adds to each dish, vinegar has a few other trade secrets up its sleeve:

  • A dollop of vinegar and tablespoon of salt added to the pot when hard-boiling eggs makes for easy removal of eggshells
  • Vinegar enhances the color of vegetables
  • Vinegar is great in marinades, as it breaks down protein which helps tenderize meat
  • Vinegar balances saltiness and can reduce bitterness
  • Vinegar has many cleaning applications—window washing, odor removal, sanitation — to name only a few

Now that I’ve let you in on the secret, here’s a cooking-with-vinegar chart to get you started in the kitchen.

Type Flavor Specific Uses Cuisine Substitute Made From
Apple Cider Vinegar(Cider Vinegar) Medium, Tangy Marinades, cooking with vegetables, stews American Malt vinegar or wine vinegar Fermented apples
Black Vinegar(Chinese Black Vinegar, Chekiang Vinegar, Brown Rice Vinegar) Medium Stir fries, dipping sauces Chinese Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar Combination of fermented rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and spices
Balsamic Vinegar Mild, Sweet Salad dressings, savory desserts Italian Brown rice vinegar, sherry vinegar Unfermented grape juice
Cane Vinegar Mild Seasoning, cooking Philippine N/A Sugar cane
Champagne Vinegar Mild, Fresh Salad dressing, vegetables American White wine vinegar, rice vinegar Champagne
Coconut Vinegar Strong Cooking Southeast Asian 3 parts white vinegar plus 1 part water or cane vinegar Fermented coconut water
Flavored Vinegar Mild—Medium Salad dressings, sauces American N/A Varies, though usually includes spices and peppercorns
Fruit Vinegar Strong but not pungent Marinades, sauces, salad dressings American Champagne vinegar, or cider vinegar with sugar Varies, includes fruit
Malt Vinegar(Alegar) Medium, Pungent Condiments, chutneys, dipping sauce English Lemon juice (with fish and chips) or cider vinegar Barley
Rice Wine Vinegar Mild, Sweet Stir fries, Asian salad dressings Chinese, Japanese Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar Fermented rice
Red Rice Vinegar(Chinese Red Vinegar) Medium, Salty Sour dishes, seafood, sweet dishes Chinese Cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar Strong Marinades, stews, sauces, salad dressings French White wine vinegar Fermented red wine
Sherry Vinegar(Jerez Vinegar) Medium, Complex Salad dressings, cooking Spanish Balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar Fermented sherry wine
White Vinegar (Distilled Vinegar) Very Strong Ingredient in condiments, pickling, also used for cleaning American Cider vinegar (for pickling, if the acidity is at least 5%) Distilled, fermented alcohol
White Wine Vinegar Medium, Tangy Cooking, soups, stews, sauces French, American Champagne vinegar, rice vinegar, or cider vinegar Fermented white wine


Vinegar has a sizeable shelf-life which is perfect for the experimental cook. Most varieties will store for about two years in a cool, dark place. Once opened, use within three to six months.  So pick up a few different varieties on your next grocery run, and get cooking!

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