Get your pantry ready for some serious deliciousness.

By Stacey Ballis
January 11, 2021
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When it comes to a pantry ingredient with punch that can elevate almost any dish, vinegar is a powerhouse. Acid is one of those things that home cooks often forget when looking to balance dishes, and chances are if you have ever tasted a dish and wondered what it was missing, acid is the solution. Salt, savory, spicy, sweet, bitter: Each is elevated by acid. And while there are a lot of ways to bring that acidic brightness to the party, vinegars are a great way to get it done and bring some wonderful flavor.

Credit: Courtesy Giuseppe Giusti

Make sure you're buying the right vinegars

Now is the time to elevate your vinegar pantry. While grocery stores carry basics in terms of white distilled, apple cider, red and white wine versions of vinegar, going slightly more upscale with some specialty products can really make your cooking sing.

Specialty vinegars can be one made from an unexpected base (like honey vinegar), or one that has been infused with flavors, or just a vinegar that has been aged longer. But what all have in common is that they will amplify everything you cook, from elegant vinaigrettes and sauce work to a last-minute zhuzh on vegetables. Don't wince too much at the prices: These are not vinegars to be used by the cupful for pickling nor large batch cookery, but by the spoonful or drizzle. Further, they last a good while in your pantry.

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

What to Buy: Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Once you try the silky syrupy wonder that is a true balsamic, aged to mellow perfection, you will understand what all the fuss is about. From a drizzle on your caprese, to a grounding boost in your Sunday night gravy, to a surprising and delicious topping for berries or vanilla ice cream, this stuff is magic.

Buy it: Giuseppe Giusti Gran Deposito Aceto Balsamico Di Modena Aged Artisan Italian Balsamic Wine Vinegar ($39.99), amazon.com

Credit: Courtesy Acid League

What to Buy: Living Vinegars

Bringing bright, intense flavors by fermenting unfiltered raw vinegars with fresh fruits, herbs, or vegetables makes for drizzlers that are as at home in cocktails and mocktails as they are on your salads. They come in a wide variety of unique flavors, and the more I buy, the more I seek them out. I'm loving everything from Acid League right now; their Strawberry Rosé is my favorite new pairing with everything from gin to jam.

Buy it: Acid League Strawberry Rosé Living Vinegar ($15.00), acidleague.com

Credit: Courtesy Gotham Grove

What to Buy: Flavored Vinegars

These vinegars bring more than just acidity to your cooking; they add flavors that can really make the simplest dishes become superior. A drizzle on steamed vegetables turns them into a celebration, they make vinaigrettes as simple as just adding oil and salt and can be the perfect way to punch up any sauce or gravy. If you're a huge fig fan like me but have found that fig vinegars were a bit too sweet, meet Hanega Fig Vinegar (imported from Korea). Their strawberry gochujang was also a gamechanger for me.

Buy it: Hanega Fig Vinegar ($42), gothamgrove.com

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

What to Buy: Honey Vinegar

Many honey or honey flavored vinegars are overly sweet. This vinegar is actually made from natural honey, so the sweetness is balanced, similar to apple cider vinegar. The unusual flavor is particularly good in salad dressings.

Buy it: Granada Honey Vinegar from Natural Honey ($19.99), amazon.com

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

What to Buy: Chinese Black Vinegar

The balsamic of China, this aged dark vinegar is often the dipping sauce you love so much alongside dumplings. It can be used alone for dunking or as an ingredient in sauces, and I love how it punches up my stews and chilis. Use anywhere you would use balsamic, or in your Asian cooking. It's important to buy a good brand, as lesser ones can be unpleasantly bracing or bitter.

Buy it: Chinkiang Zhenjiang Vinegar 6 Year Aged - Hengshun Brand ($19.69), amazon.com