Anyone taking online cooking courses is familiar with at least some of vinegar’s near-infinite applications. The acidic liquid is a basic ingredient for recipes ranging from salad dressing to chicken adobo. However, vinegar also comes in a multitude of varieties. Knowing more about the different types available and their culinary applications could make all the difference in giving your next dish the necessary infusion of flavor.
The word “vinegar” comes from the French term for sour wine. Vinegars are prepared by diluting a mild acid in water and exposing it to oxygen, allowing bacterial fermentation to occur.
Cook book author James Peterson discussed with the Chicago Tribune what makes vinegar such an important ingredient for cooks.
“Vinegar brings out the intrinsic nature of whatever you’re cooking. … You’ll taste more of the other flavors,” Peterson said. “When you’re tasting and it appears that the flavors in a recipe are refusing to focus, a little vinegar will often do the trick.”
Here are just a few of the widely available types of vinegar:
The most common vinegar in the U.S. is distilled or white vinegar. It is great for salad dressings, mustard and pickling.
Cider vinegar is made from fermented apple cider, resulting in a sour flavor that also has hints of sweetness. The Kitchn recommended including cider vinegar in marinades, coleslaw or homemade condiments such as barbecue sauce.
Wine vinegars are available in both red and white. Serious Eats argued for red wine as the single most useful vinegar, serving well for vinaigrettes and complementing other strong flavors. However, if you wish to avoid overpowering your other ingredients, choose the lighter taste of white wine vinegar.
Balsamic is a dark and sweet wine vinegar with origins in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, according to Bon Appetit. It is particularly good for salad dressing or marinades.
If you’re interested in Asian-style cooking, you should have the sweet, delicate flavor of rice vinegar on hand. It is especially important for preparing sushi rice.