What Is a Substitute for Vinegar? | Choosing an Alternative


Bottle of Vinegar with Glass Bowl in Front

If you are in your kitchen getting ready to cook for dinner and you suddenly realize you don’t have one of the ingredients, you would naturally look for the best alternative that you have available. One of the common things people run out of at the worst time possible is vinegar. So, is there a substitute?

Depending on the dish or food item you are preparing, acceptable substitutes for vinegar include lemon or lime juice, wine, or tamarind paste. There are also other types of flavored vinegar, like apple cider vinegar and malt vinegar, that you can use to substitute the usual white vinegar.

There are, however, certain considerations for using these vinegar alternatives. Whether you can use a particular option would depend on what you will be using the vinegar for. So read on and find out what the best vinegar alternatives are and when they can be used. 

What Are Good Substitutes for Vinegar?

So what if your recipe calls for vinegar and you realize you are out of it and it’s too late to run to the nearest grocery store? You do the next best thing and search your pantry for an alternative. 

It would be best if you remembered that there’s no fixed vinegar substitute for everything. The perfect alternative depends on what type of vinegar the recipe calls for and what you are supposedly going to use it for. Moreover, you need to think about the flavor profile and the viscosity when considering vinegar alternatives.

Lemon or Lime Juice

Two of the most common alternatives to distilled white vinegar in cooking and baking are lemon and lime juice. These can be used if you need to add a sour taste and an acidity to what you are cooking. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, vinegar and lemon juice have the closest acidity or pH levels among food and food products, with lemon juice being just slightly more acidic than vinegar.

Vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice are commonly used as acidifiers in home canning recipes like tomato sauce, salsa, and jams to prevent pathogens’ growth. As such, you may use lemon or lime juice in place of vinegar in your canning recipes. 

However, lemon and lime possess a strong citrus flavor, relying on citric acid, whereas vinegar is acetic acid-based. This means that lemon and lime juice has a different flavor profile.

Thus, it would be best if you made sure that using them one does not spoil or significantly alter the taste of your dish and the original recipe.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Other Vinegar Varieties 

What if a recipe calls for a particular type of vinegar, but you have a different kind? 

The good news is that certain types of vinegar can be substituted with other vinegar varieties. All you really need is to be familiar with the different flavor profiles of the various vinegar types.

According to food writers Becky Sue Epstein and Hilary Klein, champagne, malt, or rice vinegar may be substituted by apple cider vinegar. They also wrote that 1 1/2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar may replace a tablespoon of sherry vinegar.

Food editors at Better Homes & Gardens wrote that apple cider vinegar, which is mild and has a subtle hint of apple flavor, is the most versatile of all vinegar varieties and can be used as a substitute for almost any other type of vinegar.  

They also offered the following tips and guidelines on when to use certain varieties as an alternative for other kinds of vinegar:

  • White vinegar. White vinegar has a harsh and sour flavor, so be careful about using it as an alternative to another type of vinegar. It might end up overpowering a dish’s more delicate flavors.
  • Fruit vinegar. Fruit vinegar typically has a mild and slightly sweet flavor. You can use them as a substitute for other kinds of vinegar when you are preparing chicken recipes and salads.
  • Malt vinegar. Malt vinegar is mild and sweet so, you can use it as an alternative to other types of vinegar with a mild flavor, such as fruit vinegar. If your dish calls for vinegar with a more robust flavor, you just add a little more extra malt vinegar to your recipe than the required amount. Malt vinegar is also great for fish and chips. 
  • Wine vinegar. Both white and red wine vinegar has a rich and fruity taste. So they would make flavorful substitutes to certain dishes. More specifically, white wine would make an excellent substitute for other kinds of vinegar used for salad vinaigrettes. Red wine vinegar, meanwhile, could discolor dishes that have pale, light ingredients.
  • Rice vinegar. This vinegar has the sweetest and most delicate taste of all types of vinegar, so you can use it as a substitute for delicate dishes.   

A Word of Caution When Using Vinegar Alternatives

If you are preparing food for long-term storage, lifestyle, and eating resource, LEAFtv advises that you should be familiar with the type of vinegar specified in the recipe and that vinegar’s acid level. 

So if you are substituting that vinegar with another kind, you need to make sure it has a similar or close to the same acidity.

Here are the typical acidity levels for different kinds of vinegar:

  • Balsamic Vinegar: 6 – 7% acidity
  • Cider Vinegar: 4 – 5% acidity
  • Distilled White Vinegar: 5 -10% acidity
  • Malt Vinegar: 4 – 5% acidity
  • Red Wine Vinegar: 6 – 7% acidity
  • Rice Wine Vinegar: 4 – 7% acidity
  • Sherry Vinegar: 7 – 8% acidity
  • White Wine Vinegar: 6 – 7% acidity

Maintaining similar acidity levels will ensure that the kind of chemical reaction expected to happen in preparing for a food item will occur. Otherwise, the food you have made may not last as long you wanted it to and may become unsafe to consume after being stored for some time.

What Is Vinegar and How Is It Used in Cooking?

Vinegar is a solution made by water and acetic acid, which is usually produced by fermentation and trace chemicals. 

It has distinct flavorings and is generally known for its sour and harsh flavor and its unpleasant smell. Source materials for vinegar include fruits like apple, coconut, and grapes, as well as alcoholic beverages, grains, sugarcane, and other fermentable food.

Vinegar is most commonly used in cooking and food preparation, usually to balance out saltiness, sweetness, and other flavors. There are types of vinegar that are ideal as an ingredient in chutneys and sauces like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and hot sauce. 

Moreover, vinegar is also used in making vinaigrettes, pickles, and other salad dressings, as well as in marinades. Some people even love using it in condiments or as a condiment by itself. In certain international cuisines, vinegar is added to soup and other dishes.

However, vinegar is not just used for cooking and preparing food. For instance, in certain cultures, vinegar is used as a folk medicine treatment for various health conditions. It also has several household uses, including as a cleaning and polishing agent, and as a herbicide.

Different Types of Vinegar Used in Cooking

There are many types or varieties of vinegar, depending on the source materials for making them. 

Fruit Vinegar

Fruit vinegar is made from fruit wines, and their most common flavors include apple, tomato, blackcurrant, and raspberry. Some varieties are famously produced in certain countries. For instance, Israel has pomegranate vinegar, New Zealand has kiwifruit vinegar, China has wolfberry vinegar, and South Korea has persimmon vinegar.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is an aromatic and aged variety originally produced in Italy from a specific type of grapes. This vinegar has a high acidity level, which is masked by the sweet taste of the other ingredients used.

Palm Vinegar

Palm or coconut vinegar is made from fermented coconut sap or water and is most commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking, notably in Filipino cuisine. Palm vinegar is typically cloudy white with a sharp, acidic taste.

Grain Vinegar

There are different varieties of grain vinegar. There’s rice vinegar made from red, black, or white rice, and which is most prevalent in Asian cuisine. There’s malt vinegar made from ale, and which is most popularly used in Canada and the United Kingdom as a traditional seasoning for their fish and chips. There’s also Chinese black vinegar, which is an aged vinegar made from wheat, rice, sorghum, and millet.

Cane Vinegar

Cane vinegar is made from sugarcane juice and has mellow flavors, with a fresher taste than rice vinegar.

Spirit Vinegar

Spirit vinegar comes from an agricultural source and is made by double fermentation, where the first fermentation converts sugar to alcohol, and the second fermentation converts alcohol or acetic acid. Spirit vinegar includes sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, and distilled or white vinegar.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you are using vinegar for, whether it be cooking or trying to find the right vinegar to water ratio for pickling, running out at the wrong time is quite annoying. I hope this article has helped you solve your problem and move on with making something tasty.

Thanks for stoppin’ by for a visit!

Jelly Grandma

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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