Which vinegar and why?

Homecooking Recipes Vinegars

My early memories of my Gramp (and probably the start of my fascination with vinegar) are of him making his legendary pickled onions at the end of every summer, using fried onions for added flavour, sugar & mixed peppercorns. He’d bring the malt vinegar to the boil and drop in the fried onions, sugar and peppercorns. Then he’d switch off the heat and allow the vinegar to cool slightly, before adding the mix to the filled jars of peeled small onions. We all knew that there’d be no shortage of pickled onions on Xmas day!

If you’ve ever had a vindaloo, you’ll probably have noticed its vinegary flavour. In this dish, vinegar is used at the beginning to help tenderize the meat and to add depth of flavour.  In the Vindaloo spice pot we stock at The Cooking Plumber, the recipe calls for either white wine or malt vinegar but why not try an alternative? Personally, I love trying and retrying recipes with different varieties of vinegar and experimenting with the different flavours so here’s a short list of the most common alternatives - plus my tips for buying and keeping your choices.

Balsamic vinegar

This has to be my favourite of all the vinegars. Made and matured in wooden barrels in Italy. Dark in colour and syrupy in consistency. Great with cheese because of its fruitiness or for making a sauce for meats using crème fraiche. See our recipe page for pork chops with roast onion balsamic sauce or if you want the best mustard sauce, use Little Black Hen’s roasted onion balsamic when making Fox’s Spices mustard mixes.

Malt vinegar

Most of us love malt vinegar on our chips. Matched with salt, chip lovers are in food paradise.  But what makes it taste so good?

Malt vinegar is made from malted grains of barley and has a woody, peppery tart flavour. Its journey to becoming this great liquid starts as a grain which is then made into beer and then enters a second fermentation stage which turns it into the vinegar that we know and love (thus making it not gluten-free, of course). Try using it in marinades and sauces.

Cider/apple cider vinegar

We always think of cider vinegar as being a cooking vinegar made from apples but it can in fact be made from other fruits too. Apple cider vinegar however is made from apples and is much lower in acidity so can be used in drinks, dressings, marinades & sauces.

Red wine vinegar

There are many kinds of red wine vinegars on the market. Depending on how much you pay, you should get a full-bodied, fruity flavour. Great in dressings, for roasting and for pickling. Good for sweet and sour dishes and particularly good (I think) in onion gravy!

White wine vinegar

This vinegar can be made from different types of wine so the flavours will be slightly different depending on which type you choose but it should always have a crisp, dry taste. Great with veg or fish and good for dressings, pickling & homemade chilli sauces.

Tips for buying & keeping vinegar

1. When you buy a vinegar, taste it. Find a brand you like and stick to it. Sometimes at food shows (when they're back up and running!), you'll get the chance to try before you buy. Take advantage of this as you will have a better understanding of how you can use it in, or on, your food.

2. Personally, I think it’s always worth paying the money for a good quality vinegar. If it’s an ingredient in a recipe, don't just buy the cheapest because it is an extra thing ticked off the shopping list. And read the ingredients to check that it doesn’t contain any unnecessary extras.

3. Vinegars don’t go off as such. They’re a preservative after all - but left with an open top or in direct sunlight, they will go cloudy and lose their flavour. So best to keep whichever variety you choose in a dark, cool cupboard with an airtight seal.....or finish it off with an extra few batches of those pickled onions! 

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