The 5 Vinegars You Should Always Have On Hand
Here’s your primer on one of the most important ingredients in your kitchen—vinegar.
A squeeze of lemon on a bowl of pasta or a plate of chicken can be the difference between great and mediocre food. Why? Acid. It’s a flavor builder that helps bring other flavors into focus. Vinegar is a more shelf-stable source of acid, perfect for when you don’t have a lemon handy. Using acid in your dishes is a great way to make people wonder why your cooking is so much better than theirs. If done correctly, incorporating vinegar into your dishes will not make them taste like vinegar, but will simply make all of the ingredients taste more of themselves. Here are 5 types of vinegar to keep tucked into your refrigerator.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Rice wine vinegar is a super-mild vinegar used in lots of Asian cooking to add brightness to marinades and sauces. It’s made from rice wine and has a lightly sweet flavor. If you’ve ever wondered why sushi rice has such a bright, clean flavor, rice wine vinegar is the reason. Mix with a pinch of sugar and drizzle over sticky rice for homemade sushi rice. Try a small splash in your next stir fry, or drizzle it over cucumbers for a quick Asian pickle.
Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV is probably the most common vinegar to have on hand. Made from fermented apple cider, it is lightly sweet and assertively sour. There’s not much flavor of apple, but the sweetness from the fruit makes this a good catch-all vinegar. I keep apple cider vinegar in my refrigerator for the moments when I just need a touch of brightness, but don’t want to add much more flavor.
White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegar is made, perhaps not all that surprisingly, from fermented white wine. A good bottle may have the name of the white wine grape (Chardonnay, Viognier) on the label, which will indicate some of the flavors that you’ll find in the vinegar. White wine vinegar is mild enough that it works well in vinaigrettes, or to balance out any type of butter sauce you might make for chicken or fish.
The most important thing to know about balsamic vinegar is that it’s really a luxury product, so you’re probably going to have to pay more for a good one.Traditionally, it’s made from cooking the freshly pressed juice from Trebbiano wine grapes, then aging in wood barrels for up to 25 years. Because balsamic has become a super-popular product in the US since the 1980s, there are lots of cheap alternatives out there. Make the effort to seek out a bottle of the good stuff (look for a bottle labeled “IGP” to insure you’re getting the traditional Italian version), and you’ll see why it is such a prized ingredient.
A Fancy Vinegar
I recently received a bottle of Keepwell Vinegar’s Bitter Lemon vinegar as a gift, and it blew my mind. The complex, fruity flavor has completely changed my relationship with vinegar. Keepwell uses the natural sugars in produce (like raspberries, lemons and grapes) to create naturally fermented vinegars that taste nothing like supermarket brands. I’ve been using mine to dress mild lettuces in super-simple salads so the vinegar’s flavor really comes through, but these creatively flavored vinegars invite innovation. Dessert anyone?