Vinegar: Boost Flavor Without Adding Fat
A humble bottle of vinegar comes with a long list of health claims. Folklore and anecdotal evidence claims that vinegar is the cure for lice, kidney disease, alcoholism, hypertension, jelly fish stings, tumors, ear infections and many more ailments and nuisances. Unfortunately, many of vinegar’s health claims cannot be backed with scientific evidence.
However, vinegar is an important and affordable ingredient to keep stocked in your kitchen. Some studies suggest that vinegar may help to control blood glucose levels in healthy and insulin-resistant individuals. Controlling blood glucose levels is important for long-term health in all individuals, not only those with diabetes. Vinegar is also a source of polyphenols, plant compounds that act as antioxidants in humans. Antioxidants protect the body from damaging free radicals. Another study suggests that vinegar may help people feel full longer, leading to fewer calories ingested, which may lead to weight loss over time. Generally vinegar is safe to ingest, when using in typical cooking amounts or diluted with water if ingested separately from meals. Vinegar supplements are not recommended due to the risk of esophageal burning.
As an ingredient, vinegar’s versatility cannot be overstated. Olive oil and vinegar make a classic salad dressing that is free from unwanted chemicals, preservatives, additives and sugars and can be adapted to any taste depending on the variety of vinegar and other seasonings included. By controlling the amount of oil used, you can also control the amount of fat and calories in your dressing. Vinegar is an easy substitute for lemon juice and also can be used to brighten the flavors of your food in place of using salt, especially if you are eating a low-sodium diet. Distilled vinegar is safe for those on a gluten-free diet. However, malt vinegar is not gluten-free and flavored vinegars should be checked individually for gluten. In baking, vinegar can be used to curdle milk as a replacement for buttermilk and in vegan baking, it is often used for leavening. Balsamic vinegar can be reduced on low heat on the stove and used as a sweet drizzle for roasted vegetables. With a little creativity you can turn this affordable staple into a healthy condiment used in place of higher-calorie options.
So what is vinegar? It is a fermented liquid (usually wine, beer or cider) that has been made accidentally or purposefully for thousands of years. Supermarket shells are stocked with a variety of vinegars these days allowing you to get creative with the versatility of flavors available. Here are some of the most common vinegars you may find and how to use them.
Red Wine Vinegar: Made from fermented red wine, red wine vinegar is likely the most common vinegar on the market. It's fairly inexpensive and its sweet, sharp flavor makes it great for dressings and marinades.
Balsamic Vinegar: Made from unfiltered grape juice, this Italian vinegar has gained popularity in the past few years for its sweet flavor and easy pairings in both savory and sweet dishes. It ranges from cheap to really expensive and the more aged the vinegar the thicker and sweeter it becomes.
White Vinegar: Likely the most inexpensive vinegar, white vinegar is predominantly used commercially. Its strong flavor makes it great for pickles but it's not often used in dressing or marinades. White vinegar is also used for cleaning.
Apple Cider Vinegar: Made from fermented apples, apple cider vinegar has a number of culinary uses including marinades, dressing and use in sauces. It's said to have many medicinal properties as well.
White White Vinegar: A mellow counterpart to its red wine cousin, white wine vinegar is mild in flavor and great in marinades and dressing.
Sherry Vinegar: A Spanish vinegar with a complex flavor; sherry vinegar is made from fermented sherry that's been aged in oak.
Rice Wine Vinegar: Used in Asian cuisine; this sweet vinegar made from fermented rice wine is used in sauces, marinades and stir-fries.