Vinegars

Vinegars

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.


To find substitutions for vinegar in general, click here.


Tips:


  • 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.

acidulated water
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.
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balsamic vinegar
balsamic vinegar
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.
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cane vinegar
cane vinegar
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.
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champagne vinegar
champagne vinegar
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.
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Chinese black vinegar
Chinese black vinegar
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.
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cider vinegar
cider vinegar
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.
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coconut vinegar
coconut vinegar
This is a somewhat harsh and potent vinegar that's common in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and southern India.
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flavored vinegar
flavored vinegar
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.
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fruit vinegar
fruit vinegar
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.
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herb vinegar
herb vinegar
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.
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malt vinegar
malt vinegar
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.
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palm vinegar
palm vinegar
This cloudy white vinegar is popular in the Philippines. It's milder than wine or cider vinegars.
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pineapple vinegar
pineapple vinegar
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.
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raspberry vinegar
raspberry vinegar
This is a mild and fruity vinegar that makes a terrific salad dressing.
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red rice vinegar
red rice vinegar
This Asian vinegar is a bit salty. It's sometimes used in seafood or sweet and sour dishes, or as a dipping sauce.
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red wine vinegar
red wine vinegar
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.
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rice vinegar
rice vinegar
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.
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seasoned rice vinegar
seasoned rice vinegar
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.
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sherry vinegar
sherry vinegar
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.
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tarragon vinegar
tarragon vinegar
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.
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umeboshi vinegar
umeboshi vinegar
This Japanese vinegar is quite salty, and it has a distinctive, slightly fruity flavor. It's typically used in dips and salad dressings.
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verjus
verjus
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.
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white rice vinegar
white rice vinegar
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.
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white vinegar
white vinegar
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%.
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white wine vinegar
white wine vinegar
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.
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wine vinegar
wine vinegar
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.
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