No doubt you’ve been hunting through your pantry lately. If you’ve found an assortment of vinegars, let us reassure you, you can use them. Vinegar keeps indefinitely.
But how and when do you best use each vinegar? Used right, it can become the star ingredient in everything from homemade condiments and even dessert. We’ve asked chefs to demystify each variety of vinegar and give us their best tips for how to use what you have on hand to make your dishes come to life with exciting flavors and balance.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Super affordable and a staple in many kitchens, apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting sugar from apples and turning them into acetic acid, its main active ingredient.
Though the internet abounds with claims of apple cider vinegar’s many health benefits, don’t consider it a cure-all. Anne Masri, owner and founder of MediChefs, teaches clients with chronic disease how to cook for health. She cautions not to rely on apple cider vinegar as medicine. While scientific studies support the vinegar’s ability to maintain lower blood sugar for diabetics in conjunction with proper medication, “The main thing is you can’t place everyone in the same box,” Masri said. “There is some compelling evidence that it can be a healthful addition, but many claims need more research.”
Easy Refrigerator Pickles
Mildly sweet with a bit of tart, apple cider vinegar works well as a natural preservative. Its acetic acid keeps harmful bacteria at bay, making it perfect for pickling. Easy refrigerator pickles preserve veggies for 2 to 3 weeks.
All that’s needed is a sterilized jar, some vinegar, sugar, salt, spices and enough vegetables to fill the jar. Thinly sliced peppers, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, carrots and fennel work well.
Once you simmer your vinegar with its accompanying spices, you pack vegetables into the jar and pour the mixture in until it’s 1/4 inch from the top. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you can reach for a different variety. “Each variety of vinegar imparts a different personality,” Masri said.
Andy Harris, owner of Grand Ole BBQ, a Central Texas-style BBQ eatery in San Diego, praises the smoky undertones that apple cider vinegar adds to barbecue sauce.
“Apple cider vinegar is the vinegar of BBQ,” Harris told HuffPost. Harris’ favorite house sauce uses apple cider vinegar, organic ketchup (he likes the lower sugar content of organic varieties compared to conventional ketchup), salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. “It’s heavenly on pulled pork.”
Though his roots are from Texas, Harris loves to occasionally include a mustard-based Carolina sauce on his menu, also perfect on pork. He purees mustard, apple cider vinegar, pineapple chunks, a little sugar, salt and pepper and dash of hot sauce. The sauce packs a sweet, tangy, spicy punch that perfectly compliments a pulled pork sandwich topped with cool slaw.
Red And White Wine Vinegars
Don’t let the name fool you. Made from fermented wine (red and white respectively), these vinegars do not contain any of the alcohol content that wine does. They are ideal for making salad dressings.
Masri advises, “When choosing a vinegar, my first consideration is to always reach for organic. Grapes are consistently on the dirty dozen list, so for vinegars derived from grapes such as red and white wine and balsamic, organic is important for my clients’ health.”
In his cookbook “Jamie‘s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals” chef Jamie Oliver touts the wonders of salad dressing. “Your body can absorb far more of the nutrients from salads because of the presence of oil and acid in the dressing. So dressings give you a double whammy of being a healthy benefit and also delicious!”
Oliver recommends a ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar, to which he adds simple ingredient combinations: chopped shallots, herbs, salt, pepper, honey, dijon. Homemade dressings such as these are so easy and flavorful that you may never buy store-bought again.
Chimichurri For Grilled Beef
On weekends, Harris’ barbecue joints are well-loved for their Argentine-style grilled meats. Chimichurri, an herb-packed sauce, is made from lots of chopped garlic, flat leaf parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Its vibrant tang makes an excellent compliment that stands up to beef.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Similar to white wine vinegar in color, rice wine vinegar imparts a sweeter flavor. Its acidity can be used to add flavor and has been used over the ages as a preservative.
You know rice wine vinegar as a major component in sushi. Chef Davin Waite, executive chef and co-owner of sushi restaurant Wrench and Rodent SeaBasstropub in California, shared this fun fact with HuffPost: Sushi means vinegared rice in Japanese.
To make sushi rice, Waite makes a house vinegar combining rice wine and apple cider vinegars and adds it to short grain rice and seasoning. Wrench & Rodent uses local fish like yellowtail from Southern California and Baja, which has a strong, gamy flavor that needs a punch from the added cider vinegar to balance it. “Vinegar is about balance of flavors. It allows me to pay respect to ingredients,” Waite said.
To create her favorite salad dressings, Masri chooses rice wine vinegar because “it’s very light and sweet.” To add an interesting hint of tart to the sweetness, she incorporates a bit of marmalade and adds chopped shallot, dijon and avocado oil.
Originating from Italy and aged in oak, the longer balsamic vinegar has been aged before bottling, the sweeter and thicker it gets — and the more expensive, too. Balsamic comes in light and dark varieties. A refined white might be so sweet you can almost drink it, Waite told HuffPost. The darker the color, the bolder the flavor.
Masri reaches for balsamic for clients who are on a very low-fat diet. “For people avoiding oils, balsamic is hearty and clings nicely to greens.”
Because vinegar is a commodity used in such small portions, she suggests if it’s within your budget, it’s a nice item to seek in a specialty oil and vinegar shop like her local Baker & Olive.
To jazz up a basic balsamic from the grocery store, Masri offers this tip: Reduce it and add a little touch of something sweet (like coconut sugar or pure maple syrup). Drizzle the reduction over strawberries for a delightful, healthy sweet treat.
Use It To Balance Flavors
“I like to use balsamic to marry sweet and savory. The sweet undertones enhance and integrate flavors in a sauce or salad,” Masri said. She combines spicy arugula, tangy goat cheese and adds balsamic. Using balsamic makes sweet and sharp come together to form an irresistible partnership.
Chungah Rhee, founder of the blog Damn Delicious that’s known for easy, flavor-packed cooking, chooses basic balsamic to add refined flavor to everyday cooking. Balsamic elevates and adds tang to a basic sheet pan dinner of chicken and vegetables like her Honey Balsamic Chicken Breasts and Veggies.
Or use balsamic to create a sophisticated sauce to pair with steak. Deglazing a pan with it after cooking the steak creates a sauce that imparts sweetness to a savory dish.
Derived from barley, this is the one vinegar to avoid if you’re eating gluten-free. Malt vinegar’s dark, bold flavor stands up to balance other big flavors and cuts fattiness. That’s why it’s perfect on fish and chips. Try it over fries to add zippy tang like the Brits do.
Waite, whose parents originate from England, is fond of mint sauce poured over a traditional Sunday roast complete with roast potatoes, roast lamb and Yorkshire pudding. This isn’t the insipid jarred mint jelly on grocery shelves. Waite’s fresh sauce is made by mixing chopped mint, diced onion, sugar and malt vinegar. The sauce’s brightness stands up to the strong flavor of lamb. “Adding sugar to a rougher, less refined vinegar helps temper it,” Waite said.
Distilled White Vinegar
Made from corn distilled into alcohol, this vinegar is often best saved for cleaning purposes. However, if you have a jug hanging around, it holds two practical uses in cooking.
Crack a fresh egg into a cup, add a spoonful of distilled white vinegar and cook in a whirlpool of simmering water for 3-6 minutes. The vinegar won’t change the egg’s taste and will help keep whites from whisping.
No buttermilk? No problem.
To create a substitute for buttermilk, savvy home cooks know to add 1 teaspoon vinegar to 1 cup milk to make buttermilk.