5 Types of Vinegar

Assorted vinegars on wooden block with grapes.

Annabelle Breakey / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Vinegar is ubiquitous in the kitchen. It's an ingredient used in cooking as well as baking. Vinegar 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 kinds of vinegar 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.

The Spruce Eats / Theresa Chiechi 

Storing Vinegar

Once you decide which to buy and bring them home, you need to store them properly. All vinegar 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.

It's best to buy high-quality vinegar, which can be expensive but they're definitely worth the price. If you purchase them in very small quantities you'll be more likely 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 been 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 kinds of vinegar are best for marinades and salad dressings where there are lots of other ingredients. The flavor may not be best on its own but it will work very nicely when combined with oil and seasonings.

The really expensive types of balsamic vinegar that are aged for years in oak are ideal to drizzle over cheese and greens. They can also be 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. It's perfect for a light-colored salad dressing.

Wine Vinegar

Red and white wine vinegar are more everyday vinegar. 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. It is good for dressing lighter foods like pale greens, chicken, and fish.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (or ACV as it's popularly abbreviated) 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 vinegar. Keep in mind that flavored vinegar 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. These include reducing heartburn, clearing up skin problems, and assisting with weight loss. However, you should never drink it straight and it should be diluted with water (at least 1 tablespoon for 8 ounces). ACV capsules are also available for wellness uses.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is the mildest of all, with much less acidity than other kinds of vinegar. It is often used in Asian cooking and is made from fermented rice wine.

The sweet taste and gentle nature make it a versatile vinegar. Not only is it ideal for Asian-inspired dishes, but it also makes some interesting marinades.

Distilled White Vinegar

Plain distilled vinegar is made from grain alcohol and has a very sharp, unpleasant taste. If you're including it in a recipe, it should be used in very small quantities. If you need a quick buttermilk substitute, you can add a bit to milk. You will only need 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of milk.

Distilled white vinegar is also used for cleaning purposes. It's a great all-purpose, natural cleaner for everything from absorbing odors to cleaning floors, the coffee maker, or microwave.

Since it has become popular for this use, you will find vinegar labeled "cleaning vinegar," which should not be used for food. The regular distilled white vinegar sold at the grocery store is a more versatile and economical choice because you can use it in recipes as well as cleaning.