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5 Alternative Vinegars That Will Brighten Your Pantry

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Sometimes it feels like there are only three types of vinegar to work with to add acidity to or build flavor in your dishes—red wine, white wine, or balsamic. But, vinegar enthusiast, rest easy: There are many, many more out there, and they deserve a spot on your shelves. If you more thoroughly poke around the vinegar section, or perhaps find yourself in a non-Western food market, take stock of more than these regular suspects—you'll notice flashes of brilliance in liquid form.

Vinegars from left to right: tomato, apple, citron, honey, raspberry, and rosé.
Vinegars from left to right: tomato, apple, citron, honey, raspberry, and rosé. Photo by Bobbi Lin

To get the lowdown on weird and wild vinegars to watch out for—and then snap up—we asked Michael Harlan Turkell, author of the forthcoming vinegar-focused cookbook Acid Trip and self-proclaimed "vinegar man", to talk us through five different styles you should be stocking from now on.

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Switchel

Switchel by Caroline Lange

Red Hot Greens

Red Hot Greens by vvvanessa

Fruit and vegetable vinegars

The vinegar that probably comes to mind when you think fruit is apple cider vinegar. And sometimes it's really good (like this version, made in Montreal), but it's a big world, and vinegars can be made from nearly any fruit, from raspberries and figs to citrus and coconut. "Anywhere there's citrus, there can be vinegar," Michael says. In cooking, these vinegars reinforce a recipe's flavors, he points out; they also make an excellent addition to a cheese plate (in a cruet for dipping), on top of ice cream, or mixed with a fruit salad.

Vegetables aren't left out here, either. Michael says that tomato vinegar can be used for pickling tomatoes or in slaw instead of white vinegar, and it can also be used in place of pickle juice in fried chicken batter. He also makes a hot pepper vinegar, which is lighter and multi-dimensional compared to other vinegar hot sauces on the market. While by all means you can choose to tackle some of these at home like Michael, regional specialty vinegars aren't hard to find if you just do some searching.

Malt vinegar

Butter-Braised Fingerlings
Butter-Braised Fingerlings

In its basic form, malt vinegar is a strong, sharp friend to a mess of fries—and because it is so tangy, it's easy to forget that it's made from leftover beer. With the proliferation of craft breweries in America, and in turn, lots of spent grain from brewing, Michael predicts that there will soon be more access to higher-quality malt vinegars (for pub food and beyond) than what you'll see today.

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With all the ways to cook with beer, it's not surprising that this byproduct is just as useful in the kitchen. It's an especially good substitute for red wine vinegar, which can often be too acidic in cooking. Here are a few ways to use malt vinegar more regularly:

  • Sprinkle on baked potatoes
  • Baste burgers
  • Marinate red meat, especially gamey meats like rabbit and lamb
  • Stir into aiolis and mustards
  • Add to a roast that's stewing
  • Use in sausage making

Alternative wine vinegars

Roger Vergé's Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar
Roger Vergé's Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar

Do you know what grapes your wine vinegar is made from? If you can't find out what the varietal is from label, Michael says, the vinegar's usually not that great. And while those details aren't always possible to find out, it's a telling thing to look for when you are trying new vinegars. Wines from around the world are, as you can imagine, made into vinegars that reflect those regions—Michael mentions Cava, Vin Santo, and Moscato as particular favorites. Rosé vinegar is often more delicate and fruity than red wine vinegar, a complex substitution for either that or white wine vinegar.

Honey vinegar

Honey vinegar is not only something you should keep on hand to cook with—it's also an excellent addition to your bar cart. It can stand in for white wine vinegar in many recipes, and can also be used in cocktails or something to top off a glass of seltzer water.

"It's the easiest one to make on your own if you can't find it, too," Michael adds. His recipe? Mix honey with water 5:1, put the mixture in a mason jar, cover the top with cheesecloth, and let it all ferment for a month.

Dark rice vinegars

Lucky Peach's Odd Flavor Sauce
Lucky Peach's Odd Flavor Sauce

You'll find basic rice vinegars in both Chinese and Japanese cooking, but why not swap it out for something with a bit more complexity? Michael suggests to go beyond the awasezu—the pre-seasoned stuff for sushi that we get here—and experiment with Chinese black vinegar, amber vinegars, and Chinkiang vinegar. A combination of any of these with soy sauce and some chili oil makes a quick sauce for noodles or, as you see above, something a little further afield.

No matter what vinegars you choose to add to your repertoire, Michael left us with some guidance for storage: Don’t store your vinegars over the oven, and always keep the good stuff in the fridge.

Vinegars beyond red (or white) wine: Yay or nay? Tell us your favorite in the comments below.

Tags: vinegar