Vinegars add a delicious tang to some of our favorite recipes. Just a tablespoon can take a muddled heavy dish and turn it into something light and bright. There are many kinds of vinegars that can be used in many different ways; to make a simple vinaigrette, a marinade, sauce, or to add a burst of tang to the final note of a dish.
The word vinegar comes from the French vin aigre, meaning “Sour Wine” and it can indeed taste sour if you try it on its own. Yet all vinegars, while tasting quite tart, have distinctive variations of taste between them depending on what liquid they are made from.
Remember to store you vinegars in airtight containers in a cool, dark place and they should last six-eight months.
Red Wine Vinegar: Popular in French cooking and made from fermented red wine with a bold rich taste. This can be used in marinades, braises, and simple vinaigrettes and dressings. The more expensive red wine vinegars have been aged in oak casks for at least a year to make a mellow yet complex flavor.
White Wine Vinegar: Also popular in French cooking and is moderately acidic. It’s most often used in creamy dressing to add a shot of flavor and in simple vinaigrettes. The French use white wine vinegar in reductions and in classic sauces like hollandaise and Bearnaise. It’s made from fermented white wine and can be aged in oak to mellow its acidity.
Champagne Vinegar: Fermented from the same grapes used in champagne, pinot noir and chardonnay, Champagne Vinegar is less acidic than red and white wine vinegar and it can have a pleasantly sweet, delicate flavor.
Sherry Vinegar: Most commonly used in Spanish cooking. A true sherry vinegar is regulated in Spain and marked “Jarez”. It’s both sweet and assertively tart and complex. It’s often used with red meats and game and to flavor soups and sauces. Sherry vinegars are made from fermented sherry and aged in oak.
Rice Vinegar: Made from fermented rice and popular in Asian cuisine, Rice Vinegar has a lightly acidic and sweet taste and is commonly used in marinades, dressings, and vinaigrettes. It has crossed over into Western cuisine in the past ten years and can be readily found in most major grocery stores.
Apple Cider Vinegar: More tart and acidic than vinegars derived from wines. Commonly used in American BBQ to brighten sauces and marinades as well as to make vinaigrettes. It’s made from fermented apple cider.
Distilled White Vinegar: Has a high acidity level, which makes it great for pickling vegetables and as a natural cleaning solution.
Balsamic Vinegar: Popular in Italian cuisine and made popular in American in the 1980s. A true balsamic is made from aging white grape juice in a wooden cask for a minimum of 12 years, giving an enormous depth of flavor and it’s characteristic sweetness, for which it is known. These true balsamicscs are labeled “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia” or “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” with the most expensive and aged being marked “condimento” or “tradizionale”, with prices starting at around $40 for a small bottle. Tradizionale and condimento vinegars are used as finishing vinegars, to add a last punch of flavor as a drizzle on a plate, or in vinegareittes. They’re rarely used with cooking methods with heat since it would affect it’s delicate flavor. When looking for an everyday balsamic, go with something labeled “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” which you can use in marinades, sauces, and a simple vinaigrette.