A Guide to Different Types of Vinegars and How to Use Them

Words: Jess Spiro

A Guide to Different Types of Vinegars and How to Use Them. Acidity in food is very important. If you think back to a memorable bite of food, it will almost certainly have had a decent punch of acidity. Why does acid play such an important role in cooking? Well, firstly acidity roughly translates to sourness, and if you think of eating something sour you’ll recall your mouth watering. When your body gets ready to eat, your mouth will water, meaning that adding acid to your food is basically making it that much more appetising to eat.

Acidity also cuts through rich, fattiness, giving luxurious sauces like Hollandaise and Bearnaise a touch of freshness. Potentially meaning you can eat more. Lastly, acidity balances out sugar, similar to the fattiness, and makes a dish that much appealing. There are many ways to add acid to your food, but we’re looking at vinegars specifically. If you’re not cooking with vinegars then you’re definitely missing out. They have a great way of balancing dishes, while being able to add delicate flavour notes of their own. We run through some of the best and most useful vinegars to have in your kitchen.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is pretty much everyone’s first foray into the wild world of vinegars. In every childhood, an inexplicably large bottle of cheap white vinegar can usually be found. While the taste of white vinegar can be very sharp, it is handy to have for a quick pickle. It also makes for a fantastic cleaning product, a lot of natural companies will use vinegar in place of harsh chemicals.

White Wine Vinegar

White wine vinegar really is the one acid you should always have in your cupboard, it has a much milder, delicate flavour than white vinegar. This vinegar is great for those times you need a little brightness in a dish, like if you forgot to deglaze with white wine and your dish is a little flat. A splash or two of white wine vinegar will freshen things up nicely. It’s also one of the best acids to have on hand for a quick dressing or marinade, as it’s zingy without imparting too much of its own flavour.

Red Wine Vinegar

Sharing similar delicate rounded notes with it’s white wine counterpart, red wine vinegar is mildly tangy with a refreshing crispness. Use red wine vinegar the same way you would white, to finish dishes off, for dressings and marinades.

Apple Cider Vinegar

If you Google apple cider vinegar you’ll be inundated with uses for it that don’t necessarily involve cooking. Simply put there are many uses for apple cider vinegar, and you should probably have a bottle in your cupboard. When you are using it in cooking however it adds that desired acidity, along with a decidedly fruity note. The flavour is slightly toasty, almost buttery in some brands, making apple cider a delicious vinegar to have around the house. Because of its flavour, it’s best shown off in a dressing.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic seemed to have a bit of a moment in South Africa about 12 years ago and it’s never really fallen out of favour. What is it? Well, it’s grape must or juice that has been allowed to ferment and then aged in wooden barrels. It’s also an artisanal product, and the quality stuff only comes from Modena (much like Champagne only being allowed to come from Champagne in France). To be clear, we’re talking about the high-quality varieties, which will be labelled tradizionale/DOC or aceto balsamico di Modena. The flavour of this Balsamic is rich, almost like figs, prunes and molasses and the texture will be thick and glossy. The cheap stuff is literally cheap vinegar that is mixed with caramel colourings and will taste of it. The pure Balsamic isn’t really something that you would cook with, you would more use it to finish dishes off like a rich risotto or grilled meats. Where it really shines is delicately drizzled over ripe strawberries, Parmesan (also from Modena) and rich desserts like panna cotta.

Champagne Vinegar

Made from fermented Champagne, Champagne vinegar is the perfect acid to add to dressings and vinaigrettes, thanks to its super delicate flavour. If you do plan to use it to finish a dish, it works wonderfully splashed sprinkled over a rich, creamy soup.

Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar comes from – can you guess? – sherry that’s fermented in barrels for at least six6 months. This vinegar easily has one of the most complex flavours of all vinegars, being nutty, rich and sweet, while still retaining that sought after delicate acidity. Although, as the vinegar can be aged to varying degrees, the flavour can vary quite a bit too. Use it to make a banging dressing, or to finish off very rich, meaty dishes.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar, made from rice wine, is mostly associated with Asian cookery. It has a much sweeter flavour than other vinegars, and is much less acidic too. It’s best used in Asian cookery to counteract any fattiness, so is lovely in stir-fries and Asian salads.

Malt Vinegar

If you’re a fish and chips fan, or if your family is English, you’ll be familiar with malt vinegar. It’s made from barley that’s made into beer and then allowed to ferment and age for complexity. The resulting flavour is a rounded acidity, with a mellow toastiness – perfect for drowning chips in.

Chinese Black Vinegar

Chinese black vinegar is made from malt and rice that is then aged. Its flavour is almost irreplaceable as it has mild acidity, with lots of sweet spice notes like nutmeg and cinnamon. In Chinese cuisine it’s used as a dipping sauce as is, but also makes up a lot of sauces and dressings.

Check out our list of tasty pickle recipes here including these two for Pineapple Vinegar and Pickles Three Ways.

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