Vinegar is one of those kitchen ingredients that makes people nervous. It makes them think of flaccid pickles, eye-watering coleslaw, and potato chips so strongly flavored that you can feel a hole burning in your stomach. But vinegar is as widely varied and subtly-flavored as wine—seriously! Whisked Foodie editor Kimberley recently covered the properties and flavors of apple cider vinegar, but that is just the beginning. There are many different types of vinegar in production, and they each have an ideal application in your recipes and kitchen adventures. So plug your nose and close your eyes. We’re diving into the world of culinary vinegars.
Malt vinegar is made by fermenting malt barley. It has a sweet, nutty taste and is typically light brown in color. Malt vinegar is traditionally served with British fish and chips, as it helps cut through the grease of the meal while adding a sweet balance to the salty nature of the dish. This is your go-to British cuisine culinary vinegar.
Sherry vinegar is made of fermented sherry wine, and as such, it carries the strongly acidic, umami taste and fragrance of the wine. This vinegar is excellent in salad dressings and compliments creamy and pungent flavors of cheese and vegetables. Use with French, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisine for easy flavor pairing.
Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice, and it can sometimes have sugar added to it. The relatively mild, earthy vinegar is used to make sushi rice, which gives the rice its signature sticky texture and slightly sweet flavor. It is useful in marinades for fish and meat, as well as raw vegetable salads. For easy flavor pairings, use it in Asian-inspired cuisine.
Typically considered the sophisticate of the vinegars, balsamic is made from the concentrated juices of white grapes. True balsamic vinegar is from the Modena or Reggio Emilia parts of Italy, and it has a protected status (check for a label that states origin of production to be sure). The longer a balsamic vinegar is aged, the thicker and sweeter it becomes—and the more expensive. The best balsamic vinegars are very syrupy should be used sparingly (like, drops), and they taste best with salty, nutty cheeses or with fresh berries for dessert.
Drinking vinegars are very popular in Southeast Asia and are gaining popularity in the U.S. Distributors like Pok Pok sell fruit-flavored drinking vinegars, made to be diluted with seltzer or drunk straight in flavors like apple, pomegranate, and tamarind. The flavors can range from sweet to tart and tangy.