Whether it’s a splash of pickle juice in my Bloody Mary, a squeeze of lime over stir fry, or a drizzle of vinegar to round out a soup or sauce, I love using vinegar and other acidic ingredients in my cooking. I’ve mentioned this before, but oftentimes people will add salt when a dish is lacking flavor when really acid is what the dish needs.
It’s a good idea to have a variety of vinegar in your pantry, as they lend themselves to different applications. These are the varieties I always keep on hand.
Distilled white vinegar is a colorless, highly acidic vinegar. While it may not be the best choice to cook with, it can be used both in and out of the kitchen. Dilute it with water to clean produce of wax, dirt and chemicals. A splash of this highly distilled vinegar can also be added to simmering water when poaching an egg to help coagulate the whites.
Red and white wine vinegars are made in one of two ways—by adding a bacterial “mother,” or by processing it through an aeration machine with bacteria. Both methods feed the wine and convert alcohol sugars into acid. Both varieties have a crisp, light taste, with white wine vinegar having a slightly sweeter profile. These varieties lend themselves particularly well to making vinaigrettes.
Apple cider vinegar is best purchased unfiltered to maintain its fruity flavor and healthful benefits. Its flavor is less harsh than other varieties, but it still has a sweet acidic kick. A versatile vinegar, it can be used in anything from vinaigrettes to tart, refreshing beverages and marinades.
Balsamic vinegar has one of the most complex flavor profiles due to being aged in wooden barrels until it becomes sweet and syrupy. Many less expensive varieties bypass the aging process and achieve a likeness by adding colors and sweeteners. Balsamic vinegar works great in a vinaigrette, but try an authentic variety drizzled over grilled fruit and paired with mascarpone cheese for a savory and unexpected dessert.
Sherry vinegar, like balsamic, is also aged in barrels, but not for as long and with sherry rather than red wine. The result is a toasty, warm and slightly sweet vinegar that pairs well with savory cooking. I reach for this bottle to deglaze a pan, further intensifying the caramel flavors, or to round out the flavors in a soup or sauce.
Rice vinegar is commonly known as the seasoning in sushi rice, but it has other uses as well. Rice is steamed, combined with yeast and fermented, and then aerated to create this variety of vinegar. Its origins make it suited for Asian cuisine—I like using it in stir fry sauces, or to lightly season raw vegetables to top a bowl of ramen. It is sold both seasoned and unseasoned, but I tend to opt for the latter so that I have more control over the end flavor.