How to Choose the Best Vinegar for Cooking
There are many fantastic vinegar options available on the market today, which can make it rather difficult to select which one you will add to your meal tonight. To help you out, we have put together an interactive guide that walks you through eight questions to ask yourself as you cook with vinegar. Not only will it help you decide which is the best vinegar to cook with, it will also prompt you to think more deeply about what flavors you combine and why. Bon appetit!
How much vinegar flavor do you want?
Not all vinegars are equally strong, which is why this is the first question. A light champagne vinegar will add a subtle tang, while the same amount of a robust balsamic vinegar can easily take over the dish. Deciding whether you want vinegar to be a supporting player or the star of the dish is the first decision you need to make.
What kind of vinegar flavor do you want?
Vinegars vary not just in strength but also in flavor. For instance, both champagne vinegar and rice vinegar are considered some of the lightest vinegars on the market, but champagne vinegar has more of a fruity taste whereas rice vinegar is more mellow. To choose the best vinegar for cooking, you need to decide what specific flavor you are going for.
What flavors are already present in the dish?
To help you choose the right type of vinegar, you should consider what flavors are already present. A salad dressing that is made with lemon and dill may go with a totally different vinegar, like a light and citrusy champagne vinegar, than a dressing with peanut and red chili flakes in it, which may benefit from a sweeter vinegar like apple cider vinegar. The more you cook, the more you will learn which combinations of flavors that you prefer.
If you are making a marinade, what type of protein are you working with?
Some proteins, such as steak and pork, already have a lot of flavor on their own, while others, such as chicken and tofu, are more of a blank canvas. Generally speaking, the stronger the flavor of the protein, the more robust a vinegar it can handle. This is why we love using our California balsamic vinegar for juicy steak marinades while choosing a lighter vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar, for chicken, which will take on more of the marinade flavor.
What vegetables, fruits and/or grains does the dish include?
Protein is not the only type of ingredient that vinegar complements. Considering the vegetables, fruits and grains is also critical to choosing the best vinegar for your particular cooking situation. Pasta noodles have a totally different flavor from, say, quinoa, and thus go with different vinegars. Just like with protein, pair stronger flavored grains with stronger, more acidic vinegars.
Are you working with a particular regional cuisine?
Obviously, one of the great benefits of 21st century food chains is being able to make fusion cuisine that marries flavors from many different regions. However, if you are really stumped, then looking to the meal’s regional cuisine can help you narrow down your options. For example, balsamic vinegar is very popular in Mediterranean recipes, while rice vinegar shows up more often in Asian cuisine.
Will you be heating the vinegar?
Heating sauces and marinades usually makes them taste stronger because it cooks off the water and concentrates the remaining flavor. Thus, if you plan to simmer or heat your vinegar concoction — especially on low heat over a long period of time — the flavor will become stronger and you need to plan to account for this when choosing what vinegar to add to your recipe. Regardless of whether you will be heating the vinegar, choose a high quality vinegar without additives or fake flavorings, as these can add a metallic taste that stands out in raw applications, and strengthens when cooked.
At what point in the cooking process are you adding the vinegar?
Related to the above question, you need to determine at what point in the cooking process you will be adding the vinegar to the sauce or dish and how long it will be in contact with the rest of your ingredients. The longer the food sits in the vinegar, the more the vinegar taste will infuse the dish. Adding a cold dressing to your salad at the last minute before serving is a totally different situation from soaking your meat in a homemade marinade for hours and then grilling it.
If you are looking to add to your vinegar repertoire, check out our offerings of high quality flavored vinegars, as well as our other pantry staples such as olive oil and raw honey.