Vinegar 101

With so many varieties of vinegar available, choosing the right vinegar to compliment your dish can get confusing. These vinegar basics will get your taste buds on track.

Vinegar made our list of top 10 healthy flavor boosters. With so many varieties available, choosing the right vinegar to compliment your dish can get confusing. These vinegar basics will get your taste buds on track.

Vinegar Fundamentals

The word vinegar originates from the French word vin aigre, which translates into “sour wine.” Vinegars are made by introducing bacteria into a fermented liquid like wine, beer or cider and converting it into acetic acid (that’s the sour flavor you taste in vinegar). As for nutrients, most varieties of vinegar contain about 3 calories and not much else.

Vinegar has been used for thousands of years as a cooking ingredient, condiment and preservative (like for pickles!). The acidity in vinegar makes it a great addition to marinades—the acidity helps break down the protein fiber and softens the meat. Vinegar can also be used to balance out the flavor of dishes and cut down bitterness.

Common Varieties

Here’s the lowdown on the most common varieties and where to use them:

Balsamic Vinegar

This dark red, sweet vinegar has been produced in Italy for over 800 years. It’s typically made from red or white wine from Trebbiano grapes. The wine is aged in wooden barrels for up to 50 years. The longer this vinegar ages, the sweeter and thicker (and pricier) it gets. Many balsamic vinegars are made with the addition of sulfites, which some asthmatics may be allergic to.

Best for: dishes with strawberries or tomatoes, salad dressings, sauces, soups, marinades, grilled meats, and poached fruit.

Cider vinegar

Also known as apple cider vinegar, this vinegar has a rich and fruity flavor and is pale brown in color. It’s made from fermented apple cider, unpasteurized apple juice, or pulp and isn’t very pricey.

Best for: Chutneys, hearty stews, marinades, sweet pickles, and coleslaw dressing.

White Vinegar

Also known as distilled vinegar or distilled white vinegar, this colorless vinegar is made from grain alcohol. It has a very high acidity and overpowering sour flavor. This inexpensive vinegar is also useful for household chores like washing windows and cleaning coffee pots.

Best for: Preserving and pickling.
Rice Vinegar

This vinegar is made from fermented rice and is commonly referred to as rice wine vinegar. It has a mild, sweet flavor and is much less acidic than other vinegars.

Best for: Salad dressing, seafood marinades, and Japanese and Chinese cuisine like sushi and pickled ginger and seafood.

Red Wine Vinegar

This vinegar is made from red wine and is typically aged in wooden barrels. Its strong flavor makes it a perfect choice for hearty dishes. Both red and white wine vinegars are typically used in French and Mediterranean cuisines and are much less acidic than cider or distilled vinegar.

Best for: Stews, sauces, marinades and salad dressings
White Wine Vinegar

Depending on the wine it was derived from, the flavor of this versatile vinegar can range from mild to very tangy. Champagne vinegar (made from the bubbly beverage) is pale in color with a mild and delicate flavor.

Best for: Vinaigrette, vegetable dishes, soups and stews and pickled veggies.

Purchasing and Storage Tips: Choose vinegar that’s clear in color, not cloudy or muddy. Store unopened in a cool, dry place for 1 to 2 years. Once opened, vinegar can last for up to 3 months.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

Next Up

Diet 101: Ayurvedic Diet

Ayurvedic eating is pretty much the opposite of a fad diet — it’s existed for some 5,000 years. Here’s what you need to know about doshas, kitchari bowls and eating mindfully.

How to Wash Fruit with Vinegar

Here, two different fast methods.

Pellet Grills 101: Your Guide to Cooking on a Smoker

Pellet grills can do the work of a smoker, grill and oven — all in your backyard. Here's why you need one, pronto.

CBD 101: Here's What You Need to Know

Read this before trying the latest wellness trend.

5 Unique Balsamic Vinegars for Zhuzhing Holiday Dishes

Grateable balsamic, our favorite balsamic glaze, vegan balsamic caviar and more.

6 Ways You Should Definitely Be Using Balsamic Vinegar

We're talking salad dressing and beyond.

Ramp Vinegar Is the Essence-of-Spring Staple You Need In Your Pantry

This might just be how you get the magical, fleeting flavor of ramps all year round.

Microwave 101

A microwave is a lifesaver for reheating, and it's fantastic for leftovers, but is it possible to break this appliance out of its reheated-coffee comfort zone? Can a microwave pull its weight as a cooking tool in its own right? (Spoiler: It can.) In testing its abilities we discovered a few things to keep in mind.

Oktoberfest 101

German phrases, a traditional Oktoberfest menu, classic German and beer-centric recipes and a list of local biergartens.

Tea 101

Everything you've ever wanted to know about tea (and tisanes).