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.
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- 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.
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.