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Everything you should know about vinegar and its uses!
Not all types of vinegar are created equal
As a mild acid that can be both a cooking ingredient and a household cleaner, vinegar is somehow ubiquitous and yet undervalued. Commonly made into vinaigrettes, there are many other uses for all types of vinegar that you are likely to be unfamiliar with. Whether your pantry is filled with a sparse selection of vinegars or hardly used bottles - did you know that no two vinegars are the same? A haphazard swap of rice vinegar for balsamic vinegar is sure to not end well - but why? And what is vinegar anyway? Knowledge is power and knowing which vinegar is used in which cooking situation is guaranteed to improve your self-confidence and the taste of your food a lot.
What is vinegar and how is it made?
As a product that goes through not just one, but two fermentation processes, acetic acid, water and a mixture of vitamins and mineral salts that result from the fermentations mentioned form the basis for good vinegar. The basic ingredients can vary, but the process of making vinegar is usually the same, simple process: alcoholic fermentation (using yeast to convert sugar to alcohol) + acid fermentation (using yeast and Acetobacter to convert the alcohol to acetic acid) = vinegar!
Traditional vinegar production is usually based on slow fermentations that can take months or years. Of course, industrial vinegars take much less time and are therefore not of particularly high quality, either in terms of quality or taste.
So that vinegar doesn't just cause a small, unpleasant "acid shock", it gets its unique taste from sugar, which is used to initiate the first fermentation. Grapes, rice, and apples are the most common components, but virtually any fruit and vegetable high in natural sugar, as well as grains like barley and even honey, can be used to make vinegar. With that in mind, let's get acquainted with the everyday vinegar products we're likely to find in your kitchen!
The 9 most common types of vinegar and what to use them for
Cooking with vinegar is not easy. It is a highly acidic ingredient that rounds off the taste and especially the sweetness of a dish, reduces the saltiness, balances the fat content and even softens the spiciness.
While these are the most commonly used vinegars, not all are equally important - so you can create your own personal vinegar supply however you like. We'll also give you some ideas for vinegar substitutes, but keep in mind that lemon or lime juice can also be substituted for vinegar. The taste will of course be different, so try it first on dishes you know the taste of.
A relatively mild vinegar made from - you might have guessed it - apples or cider. This is a great strain and has many uses. It's inexpensive, a little sweet, and usually unpasteurized - meaning you can use it to make your own vinegar at home (more on that later). It is just as suitable for stews as it is for dressings and also as a "loosening agent" in cakes. In addition, homemade ketchup would only be half as good without vinegar.
Substitute for apple cider vinegar: Red wine vinegar with a pinch of brown sugar
More recipe suggestions with apple cider vinegar:
- Homemade aioli
- Paleo chocolate muffins
- Braised pork shoulder with beer sauce
Balsamic vinegar is unique in the world of vinegars. Made in Italy from Italian grapes, mostly Lambrusco or Trebbiano, balsamic vinegar is a slowly and intensely caramelized reduction of the grape must that is matured in barrels. It can mature into a traditional balsamic vinegar between 12 and 25 years. The longer it has aged, the thicker and sweeter it becomes. Some D.O.P.-certified vinegars can cost over € 100.00 per 100 ml!
But you don't have to spend a small fortune on high-quality balsamic vinegar. A small bottle of nuanced balsamic vinegar reserved for special vinaigrettes or starters should not cost more than € 20.00. You should have a bottle of "normal" balsamic vinegar ready for cooking - try to find a bottle with IGP labeling (indicazione geografica protetta - a specially protected designation of origin, similar to D.O.P.).
White balsamic vinegar is made using the same process as traditional balsamic vinegar, but the grape must is only reduced, not caramelized, so it retains its golden color. It's also typically less than 12 years old, resulting in a sweet and sour vinegar with a less syrupy consistency - although some white balsamic vinegars can take on a thicker consistency.
Balsamic substitute: Reduce the port wine over medium heat until thick and syrupy, add a little honey and equal parts molasses and lemon juice to the apple cider vinegar, and add a dash of soy sauce
Cooking with balsamic vinegar
More recipe suggestions for balsamic vinegars:
- Strawberry balsamic cake
- Chicken and zucchini pan
- Pork fillet in a coffee crust with blueberry sauce
- Mixed salad with balsamic, honey and mustard dressing
Black vinegar (also called black rice vinegar)
A deep dark vinegar with a malty, woody, often even smoky taste. Black vinegar is very popular in Chinese cuisine, where it often gives dishes a special flavor or is responsible for the intense dark color in pot roasts and glazes, especially popular in southern China. There it is called Chinkiang (or Zhenjiang) vinegar. It is made from rice or grain or a combination of both. There is also a closely related Japanese version called Kurozu, which is made entirely of rice and is not nearly as dark as its Chinese counterpart. Both are fermented in a closed pot until they take on their rich color, but they are still quite mild in taste.
Replacement for black rice vinegar: Halve the required amount and use one part balsamic vinegar and one part red wine or rice vinegar, 12-year-old balsamic vinegar
Cooking with black rice vinegar
The distilled white vinegar is made from a distilled alcohol (usually from corn or another grain) and then diluted with water. It's super cheap, looks like water, and is the first choice for most vinegar-based cleaners - if you're interested, here is a recipe for an organic kitchen cleaner. Since it does not have a taste of its own, but is very strong and quickly makes the eyes water, only use it in very small quantities when cooking. It can be added to milk as a buttermilk substitute and is often used for pickling foods.
Substitute for vinegar essence: None for cleaning, you can use white wine or rice vinegar for cooking.
Aside from apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar, red wine and white wine vinegar - all made from fruit, there are tons of other types of fruit vinegar on the market. You just have to know where and what to look out for. From salty Japanese umeboshi vinegar (also called ume plum vinegar) to special banana vinegars (yes, you read that right!), Fruit vinegar comes in different flavors, colors and uses. However, there are no set rules when, how much and what you use the varieties for - by simply trying out what tastes and fits, you can put together your own small selection of vinegars. You will quickly notice how you can use the different flavors to highlight flavors and round off dishes.
Raspberry vinegar is a popular but somewhat unknown type of vinegar - try these recipes and immerse yourself in the world of fruit vinegars.
Not surprisingly, malt vinegar is made from malt - the germinated grains, mostly barley, are used in beer production. As a companion to many fish dishes, malt vinegar has a nutty, bitter taste. Some high-quality malt vinegars are made directly from beer instead of malt and have a more pronounced, malty taste. In Germany, malt vinegar is rather unknown and difficult to obtain, but in Great Britain it is an indispensable component of fish'n'chips, which is also served directly over the French fries to flavor.
Replacement: Try apple cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, lemon juice on fish and French fries
Rice vinegar (also called rice wine vinegar)
Most commonly used in Asian cuisine: rice vinegar. It's light, just a little sweet, and has a natural rice flavor - it's made from rice, after all. It is a milder vinegar than many of the others we have known so far, which makes it suitable for various marinades, sauces, dips and dressings and gives them a depth of flavor. There are many different types of rice vinegar, including flavored and unseasoned. Seasoned rice vinegar is typically used to flavor foods such as sushi rice and also contains sugar and salt. Unseasoned rice vinegar is the classic rice vinegar made from fermented rice wine. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese rice vinegars are particularly popular to experiment with, but the ones you will find in the grocery store are likely Chinese or Japanese in origin.
More recipe suggestions for rice vinegar:
- Hand-rolled sushi
- Grill marinades 3 times different
- Baked chicken in honey-ginger-soy sauce
- Korean style chicken wings with cucumber salad
When we think of wine vinegar, we probably think of red wine and white wine vinegar first - but you can even buy champagne vinegar. The red wine vinegar is fruity and piquant, rich in nuances and unique. In contrast, white wine vinegar is a lot more acidic and tangy. Both are great for vinaigrettes and various sauces, from homemade bernaise to romesco. Wine vinegar is always a reliable substitute if you don't have a special vinegar on hand.
Made from none other than sherry, a specially matured wine from southern Spain, sherry vinegar is similar to balsamic vinegar, as it can take on very different flavors depending on its age and processing and is protected by the D.O.P. certification. Different Spanish grapes can be used for its unique taste. It ages in wooden barrels, from 6 months to 10 years and is known for its caramel color and liquid consistency. Sherry vinegar has a unique, nutty and sweet taste that goes well with most Mediterranean and Basque recipes - for example, with lavish bean dishes, hearty stews or creamy purees. As always, try to avoid unnecessary additives.
Substitute for red wine vinegar: diluted sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Substitute for white wine vinegar: champagne vinegar or vinegar essence
More recipe suggestions for types of wine vinegar:
- Mango salad with popcorn
- Bavarian sausage salad
- Simple biscuit
How to make your own vinegar
While the flavors of long-matured, expertly produced, and commercially available vinegars are difficult to reproduce, you can in fact make decent vinegar at home. Even if it's not complicated, it takes a little dedication and patience. A less time-consuming method is to refine vinegar that has already been purchased with new flavors.
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