Have you wondered what is the difference between all the different vinegars? There are so may to choose from, which is healthiest? Which one tastes best in my recipe? Here is my ultimate guide to vinegar, with explanation of seven different kinds. I always have them in my cabinet, and I will explain why each is important, and my favorite uses of each one.
One of the things I have been excited to do with these Thursday Things posts is to start talking about building a healthy pantry. So today I want to do just that and focus specifically on vinegar. Really? A whole post just about vinegar? Yes indeedee! Okay, go ahead and roll your eyes, but I am a total vinegar lover, and I actually have a cabinet next to my stove with two shelves. One is all vinegar and the other is all oil. And I use all of them!
Just stand in the vinegar isle at the supermarket, and it can be overwhelming. Which vinegar do I buy? For starters, I think you should have all of these seven vinegars listed below. And maybe even a few more that I haven’t. These are all very different.
Besides being sour, what they all have in common is that they are all derived by the fermentation process. The starting liquid can be anything from wine to apple cider (as long as there are sugars present.) Just like in the fermentation process of making beer or wine, the sugars in the starting liquid or juice are broken down by bacteria and yeast. That produces alcohol, and then eventually vinegar. Depending on the speed and technique for this fermentation process, and the liquid from which it starts, there are varying degrees of acidity and flavor in the end results.
Below you’ll find the seven vinegars I think you should consider buying for your healthy pantry. I have included notes on acidity and uses. I also added in a note about seasonality too. This has more to do with the types of food these vinegars work with best (not about availability.) I also linked to a featured recipe for each. Enjoy!
ACIDITY: 7.5% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: This is crazy sour and really strong coming in at the most acidic of all. It needs to be used in moderation. It has a strong oaky, caramely and somewhat smoky flavor. I love to pair it with strong greens and big flavors. I particularly love it with honey and paprika. I add a touch to sautéed greens or a splash into vegetable soups in the fall. Buy it at good grocery stores, gourmet stores and health food stores.
SEASONALITY: Fall and winter
FEATURED RECIPE: Beet Green Salad with Feta and Sherry Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar:
ACIDITY: 6% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: Made from white wine, this is probably my favorite vinegar of all. I love using it with shallots and herbs in a salad dressing like in this yogurt dill dressing or added into recipes with a creamy dairy element. The bright acidity pairs well without competing with the flavors. It is really clean and bright and quite tart. You’ll need to balance it with salt.
SEASONALITY: spring or summer
ACIDITY: 6% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: When it comes to balsamic vinegar, you really get what you pay for. The less expensive grocery store balsamic vinegars are usually Balsamico Di Modena, a cheap imitation of traditional balsamic. They are often harsh and have added caramel to flavor and color it (and sometimes thickeners.) With the real deal, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, some bottles go for upwards of forty dollars, but they really are a thing of beauty. Traditional Balsamic vinegar is made from reduced Trebbiano and Lambrusco wines. It is aged for varying lengths of time, usually a minimum of 12 years, and the longer it ages, and the more it evaporates the more thick and complex it becomes. There is a multi barrel process used for all of this, and it is steeped in tradition. This process, also happens to be how it gets more and more expensive. Pair good balsamic with naturally sweet produce like tomatoes or try drizzling really good aged balsamic vinegar over fresh strawberries. Use less expensive varieties to enhance cooked vegetables and bring out their natural sweetness.
SEASONALITY: Fall, year round
FEATURED RECIPE: Balsamic Kale with Cranberries
Distilled White Vinegar:
ACIDITY: 5% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: This is made from a base made of grain and/or corn, and frankly has a harshness to it that is only appropriate in some recipes. It has no flavor other than sour. I don’t use it very often. I usually have a large jug of this under my sink for cleaning around the house. And a smaller organic bottle in my pantry. I like to use it with strong flavors, particularly Asian inspired seasonings. It’s neutrality also makes it great for pickling. I usually add some sort of sweetener too to balance it out. Note: if you are strictly gluten free or are cooking for someone who is gluten free, you may want to avoid this type of vinegar.
SEASONALITY: Late winter, Spring, year-round
FEATURED RECIPE: Sesame Coleslaw
Apple Cider Vinegar:
ACIDITY: 5 % acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: I wrote an entire post about this vinegar already. You can read about it and the health benefits of it here. As the name implies this is fermented from apple cider. Look for locally made cider vinegars or ones that have the mother of vinegar floating around in the bottle. Avoid the clear ones that have been filtered. It has a natural sweetness that is great with cold weather food. It loves to hang out with bacon, honey, sweet onions and cheddar.
SEASONALITY: Fall, Winter
FEATURED RECIPE: Sweet Potato Cheddar Soup with Chipotle
Red Wine Vinegar:
ACIDITY: 5% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: Fermented from red wine, obvi, this has a really nice range of uses and is one of the most versatile of all the vinegars. It is a little sharper in flavor than white wine vinegar, even though technically it is usually lower in acidity. I love to add a splash of this to brighten up savory dishes and it is amazing in a marinade. It can really amp up the flavor of a dish without adding any calories. Just be sure to balance it with a salty or savory element.
SEASONALITY: Summer, year-round
FEATURED RECIPE: Black Bean Soup with Ham Hocks and Vinegar
Rice Wine Vinegar:
ACIDITY: 4.3% acidity
CHARACTERISTICS AND USES: This is a very mild vinegar and can be used in larger quantities without throwing a recipe out of wack. I love to use it for a base for dipping sauce, like for dumplings or summer rolls. It is very mild in flavor and has natural sweetness. Make sure you read the label before buying, some are seasoned. These have salt and sugar added.
FEATURED RECIPE: Simple Skinny Cucumber Salad
How many different vinegars do you have in your pantry?
What is your favorite vinegar?
How do you use vinegar the most?
Would you add another vinegar to this list?
Would you include malt vinegar in this list?
How about flavored vinegars, do you use them?