Take a closer look at how your favorite pantry ingredients are made and how to pick them, store them and, of course, cook with them. First in the series: vinegar.
The culinary history of vinegar goes back centuries; ancient civilizations used it for both medicinal and culinary purposes. It became especially important because the high content of acids enabled the safe preservation of food. Pretty big win in the world of refrigerators. So what is true? Well-known food scientist Harold McGee writes in his book About food and cooking, “Vinegar is the fate of alcohol, a natural continuation of alcoholic fermentation.” Vinegar is the result of another alcoholic fermentation. Sometimes this is done with alcoholic beverages like cider, beer or wine. The French word for vinegar is “vinegar, “Which in translation means“ sour wine ”. Fruits and grains can be fermented into alcohol specifically to make vinegar.
Most people think that vinegar is just a component in a salad dressing, and although vinaigrette will always have a place in our kitchen, vinegar can do much more. Acid is a crucial element in cooking and with proper use can balance richness, salinity and sweetness. It can add complex layers that awaken an otherwise single-note dish.
Which vinegar should you use? The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing vinegar is that it used to be alcohol, so what that alcohol is made of will inform its taste. For example, apple cider vinegar started as an apple, which was then fermented into alcohol and then fermented into vinegar. So it’s safe to assume it will have a bit of an apple flavor, with sweet, fruity notes along with acidity.
Below is a list (not exhaustive, but close) of our favorite vinegars. Do you need everything? No, you can certainly handle a few, and all the pleasant puffing of your lips will rip you out of your heart and palate. If you’re trying to match your pantry, but still want some variety, try using a few selected vinegars in tandem with other acid sources. Use lemon and white wine vinegar to lubricate the pan for a quick sauce or add a pinch of astringent sumac to a red wine grape. These different acidic elements can work well together, adding depth and dimension. Just keep your balance; as always, try how you go. While we have great respect for the kitchen minimalist who limits his pantry to three vinegars, we have an attitude towards vinegars that is more-and-more. Since they are one of the largest preservatives in the world, they never really spoil, so we don’t see any damage in ordering.
Distilled white vinegar
Plain white vinegar is good for more than homemade cleaning solutions. White vinegar may seem less interesting than the wine and apple cider vinegar below, but that’s actually its best feature. Since it is made from an alcoholic grain similar to vodka, the result is a neutral acid of pure taste. Adds an extra touch without sweetness or other distracting flavors. Use it to make pickles, round the sugar in the marinades or add a little thin to the creamy blue cheese topping.
Our selection: Heinz naturally distilled white vinegar
It is also called wine rice vinegar, but it should not be confused with rice wine like Shaoxing and mirin. Rice vinegar is tender and slightly sweet, a softer cover than most vinegars. It is commonly used in East Asia and Southeast Asia in sauces, marinades and salad dressings. This light sweetness makes it ideal for quickly pickled vegetables like the ones you’ll find stuffed in banh mi. Some rice vinegar is labeled as “spicy,” meaning it has sugar in it, so it’s ready for use in sauces for quick dipping or seasoning rice sushi, but we mostly prefer the regular variety so we can better control the amount of sweetness as we cook.
Also called Chinkiang or Zhenjiang vinegar, this dark-colored vinegar is made from fermented grains – usually sticky rice or a combination of rice and wheat, millet or sorghum. Like rice vinegar, this one is not aggressively sour, but it has a lot of flavor. It’s earthy, almost malty and a little sweet. You can use it to dress salads – it’s especially nice in cold Chinese appetizers like mushroom salad made from wood lice or seaweed – and it’s essential for dipping sauces for dumplings.
While ACV may be covered as a home remedy, let’s not forget how delicious cooking can be. Because of this recognizable apple flavor, it’s pretty easy to figure out what goes with it: mustard, pork, walnuts, rosemary and ginger come to mind. Use it for daily dressings, pickles, and especially in BBQ sauce—It gives sweetness and acidity that can cut through both fat and smoke.
Most supermarket brands are good, but check with the local farm market to see if apple sellers sell small quantities of ACV – it’s no surprise that premium apples result in even better vinegar. If you are lucky, you may find an unpasteurized version in which a slimy stain of unusual appearance floats – but completely safe. This stain is known as mother and works similarly to what SCOBY would do in a kombucha: It converts sugar into alcohol, and alcohol into acetic acid, which creates vinegar. If it bothers you, you can remove the mother; if you are an adventurer, you can use this mother to ferment your own vinegar from leftover wine or hard cider.
Red wine vinegar
This is our daily vinegar. GP uses it in it Go to Vinaigrette. Like red wine, it is fruity and bold and can be sustained against great flavors: salted olives, raw red onions, tuna packed in oil, bitter chicory. Try using it to finish copious stews and stews. That little hit of acid awakens rich and earthy foods like lentils, beef or even greens.
White wine vinegar
A milder relative of red wine vinegar, this one is bright and sharp. Like white wine, it is a nice addition to pan sauces and seafood dishes. Try in vinaigrette with soft spring herbs like kerevil, tarragon and chives or in butter The delight of Castelvetrano olives. Champagne vinegar is made from champagne, so while it’s not exactly the same as white wine vinegar, it can be used as a substitute – if anything, it’s a little more delicate.
Made from fortified Spanish wine, sherry vinegar is like a cooler older brother or sister than red wine vinegar. Sherry isn’t that sharp, and his taste is more nuanced as he gets older. It’s a little sweeter, a little more nutritious, with almost – and we mean it in the best possible way – the taste of raisins. Like Parmigiano-Reggiano and champagne, sherry wine and vinegar are protected imports from a particular region (in this case, a part of Spain known as the Sherry Triangle). When shopping, look for Spanish brands labeled CSR. They will often be referred to as Xeres or Jerez because sherry is an English term. Sherry vinegar with a little Dijon mustard makes vinaigrette so delicious, that you could use it as a dipping as well. It’s a dream of tomato tops in season and really shines when used to finish a sauce for a roast pork pan or braised cabbage.
It is one of the more complex vinegars on our list. The process of making traditional balsamic is unique – it is probably the only grape-based vinegar that is not made directly from wine: it is made from grape must (crushed grape juice) and certain red wine grapes (Trebbiano and Lambrusco). The must is reduced to obtain a higher sugar ratio and then fermented and aged for three to five years in various wooden barrels. The result is sweeter and slightly thicker than most vinegars. Like sherry vinegar, balsamic is a specialty to import from a particular region (in this case Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy), and there are certificates you can look for to confirm that you are buying a real item. Anything that has CSR or IGP should be from these regions. “Condimento” is another sign that you have found good things. Last clue: It will probably fall on the more expensive side. Although it is worth pouring a little real balsam on a perfectly ripe fig with goat cheese.
However, most of the balsamic vinegar on the food shelf is not a true balsamic from Modena or Reggio Emilia. You can still find a decent mid-range balsamic that is not certified or is from Italy. If the ingredients include grape must, that is a positive sign. If you see the listed ingredients like caramel color and wine vinegar, it could be another type of vinegar with added sugar, colors and flavors that mimic balsamic. And finally, anything that is balsamically labeled as a drop, glaze, or reduction is not actually vinegar and is usually a thickened, syrupy product. You’ll get a better taste by gently cutting your own balsamic at home for some drizzle to decorate it with.
Coconut vinegar is commonly used in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Many grocery stores in the U.S. now have coconut vinegar (along with other coconut products, such as coconut amino acid and coconut water). This vinegar is mild, slightly sweet, but not predominantly coconut. The tropical scent is suggestive in the background. Give it a try French fries, curry or marinades for grilled meat and fish. Similar to the natural sweetness of rice vinegar, coconut vinegar makes it a good candidate for quick pickles.
Our selection: Coconut secret coconut vinegar
You may only know malt vinegar in the context of fish and chips and other British pubs. Malt vinegar is made from ale of brewed barley, which also serves as the basis of many beers. Malt vinegar goes with rich, salty, fried tavern food for the same reason that beer does: it is spicy and refreshing. Malt vinegar is used, however, outside of fried potatoes. It has aged, which gives it almost caramel notes. Use malt vinegar to add a touch of acidity to glazes – like maple glaze for fried carrots. It’s not the sharpest vinegar, so pickles could work well, and you can combine it with other vinegars for a more layered flavor.
On special vinegar to look out for
There are several interesting vinegars that fall outside of traditional cannon cannons. Sour vinegar i Acid League are two brands that we love and that produce some wild and delicious vinegar. They use atypical bases with vinegar, like celery, kombu, mango and Meyer lemon, which makes them fun to play with. These vinegars may not go into your workhorse vinaigrette, but you would use them for special food moments – like when the peaches are just ripe and begging for burrata or when you’ve finally cooked a large pot with that wonderful bean legacy. We are also in the idea of using them in cocktails, like a decoy fruit bush.
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