Essential Types of Vinegars

The Vinegars You Should Have in Your Pantry

Assorted vinegars
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Vinegars are ubiquitous in the kitchen. This ingredient is used in cooking and baking—it is an essential part of making salad dressings, a key flavor in a marinade, and can transform milk into a buttermilk substitute. With so many vinegars to choose from, you may be asking yourself if you really need a bottle of each. From balsamic to apple cider to distilled white, each vinegar has a unique flavor and purpose in the kitchen, warranting the purchase of several different types.

Once you decide which to buy and bring them home, you need to store them properly. All vinegars should be tightly closed and put in a cool, dark place. They will last for about a year after opening; after that time, the flavors will diminish. Purchase expensive vinegars in very small quantities and be sure to use them within one year.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar can range in price depending on how pure it is and how long it has aged. The longer it's aged, the sweeter and thicker it gets—and the more expensive too. Feel free to buy several different types of balsamic vinegar for different uses. Less expensive vinegars are best for marinades and salad dressings where there are lots of other ingredients; the flavor may not be best on its own but works very nicely when combined with oil and seasonings. The really expensive balsamic vinegars that are aged for years in oak are ideal to drizzle over cheese and greens, or used as a garnish or finishing touch to many recipes. It would be a waste to use such a special vinegar in a salad dressing. White balsamic vinegar is also available, perfect for a light colored salad dressing.

Wine Vinegars

Red and white wine vinegars are more everyday vinegars. They are good for salad dressings and marinades. Red wine vinegar is best used with heartier flavors and foods, like beef, pork, and vegetables. White wine vinegar is best for chicken and fish dishes and can be used in a pickling brine. Champagne vinegar is the lightest in flavor and is good for dressing lighter foods like pale greens, chicken, and fish.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is mild and inexpensive. Since it is mild, it's a good choice for marinating fish or chicken. It is also good for making flavored vinegars. (Flavored vinegars should be stored in the refrigerator because some dangerous bacteria such as E. coli can grow in acidic environments.) This vinegar has also been reported to have health benefits such as reducing heartburn, clearing up skin problems, and assisting with weight loss.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is the mildest of all, with much less acidity than other kinds of vinegar. It is often used in Asian or Chinese cooking and is made from fermented rice wine. The sweet taste and gentle nature makes it a versatile vinegar and ideal for not only Asian-inspired dishes but also interesting marinades.

Distilled White Vinegar

Plain distilled vinegar is made from grain alcohol and has a very sharp, unpleasant taste. If including in a recipe, it should be used in very small quantities. If you need a buttermilk substitute, you can add a bit to milk. Distilled white vinegar is also used for cleaning purposes, from an odor absorber to a wood floor cleaner to a natural product for cleaning out the coffee maker and microwave.