The 9 Best Vinegars for Cooking—and 2 You Should Never Use
Whether you’re cooking or cleaning, here’s how to know which types of vinegar are best.
There are so many types of vinegar, you probably have more than one kind in your kitchen right now. But what exactly is vinegar and how do we know which type is best?
Vinegar appropriately takes its name from the French term vin aigre, or “sour wine.” It’s made by adding bacteria to any type of alcohol—wine, hard cider, beer—or sugars, which is then fermented and converted into acetic acid. The length of time it takes for the vinegar to naturally ferment depends on what it is made from.
Every type of vinegar has its own individual flavor profile and often a unique purpose outside of the kitchen. This means the vinegar you use to clean your floors probably isn’t the same one you’re using to dress your salad or marinate your chicken.
Here’s a breakdown of every type of vinegar and the best ways to use each one.
Distilled White Vinegar
Distilled white vinegar, which is also sometimes labeled as white vinegar, is usually made from a combination of about 5 to 10 percent acetic acid and approximately 90 to 95 percent water. This kind of vinegar is one of the most versatile.
With an intense, sharp flavor, there are several culinary uses for white vinegar. It’s used in ketchup, for hard boiling eggs, and even to make mashed potatoes stay a bright white shade.
But white vinegar is mostly known for its excellent cleaning properties. For example, when mixed with baking soda, it creates a foaming solution that is useful for removing grease and baked-on food off pans.
White vinegar also makes an excellent all-purpose cleaner. Just add one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle, shake it up to mix. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lemon works great for this purpose) to cut the odor of the vinegar.
White vinegar also has other uses around the home. It can be put in the laundry to soften fabric, to clean and de-scale a coffee maker, help to keep flowers fresh, and so much more.
White Wine Vinegar
As the name indicates, white wine vinegar is made from fermented white wine. The taste is milder than distilled white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. It has quite a few culinary purposes and is often used in salad dressings, sauces, and even marinades.
Balsamic vinegar is one of the most popular types of vinegar. The longer it is aged, the darker the color, sweeter the flavor, and the thicker the consistency becomes. While it’s easy to find balsamic vinegar at any supermarket, it can vary in price going all the way up to around $200.
Balsamic vinegar is made in Italy from grape must, which is the juice of freshly crushed whole grapes. Must contains the entire fruit: skins, seeds, stems and all.
Balsamic vinegar is one of the best types of vinegar for food. It can be mixed with extra virgin olive oil for an easy salad dressing. It also makes a delicious chicken marinade and is quite tasty drizzled on top of mozzarella cheese (just add some tomatoes and a basil leaf).
White balsamic vinegar is another type of balsamic vinegar, but it is made from white Trebbiano grape must.
Champagne vinegar is made from—you guessed it—champagne that has been fermented. Of all the types of vinegar, it has the lightest flavor, which is both tart and sweet. Champagne vinegar tastes great in salads, on braised pork, as well as chicken.
Red Wine Vinegar
Made of red wine that is allowed to ferment until it finally turns sour, red wine vinegar has a number of uses. It's an ideal ingredient in salad dressings, sauces, slow cooker recipes, marinades, making reductions, and for pickling.
Rice vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, is made from fermented rice wine. It has a sweet, rather delicate flavor and is less acidic compared to most types of vinegar. The color of rice vinegar can vary depending on the bottle's country of origin, ranging from clear to brown, red, and even black shades. This type of vinegar is mostly used in Asian recipes including stir-fry, salads, noodles, and even vegetables.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has had a surge of popularity in recent years because it has such a wide variety of uses. This vinegar is made from fermented apple juice, giving it an entirely different flavor than other types of vinegar.
You can mix apple cider vinegar and olive oil to create a salad vinaigrette. It’s also an ingredient in recipes for meatloaf, shrimp, and even some potato dishes.
Apple cider vinegar is also known for aiding digestion and improving gut health. Some people even drink it straight or simply mix it with water. There are many recipes for wellness tonics that use apple cider vinegar as the main ingredient.
You can even create an apple cider hair rinse, which helps restore volume and remove product buildup from hair.
Sherry vinegar is made from sherry wine in the Cadiz province of southwestern Spain. It is naturally fermented and aged for at least six months. Reserva sherry vinegar is aged for at least two years, whereas Gran Reserva is aged for more than 10 years.
This kind of vinegar can be used as a substitute for balsamic vinegar in dishes such as Caprese salad, but it has a unique flavor all its own.
Malt vinegar is made from malting barley. Best known as an ingredient in the traditional recipes for fish and chips, many people use this type of vinegar for beans on toast and even for making pickles.
Cleaning vinegar isn’t a food product at all. In fact, it’s unsafe to ingest. With an acidity of 6 percent, (most vinegar is 5 percent) it’s a great natural solution for cleaning most surfaces in the home. You can make an all-purpose spray with cleaning vinegar the same way you would white vinegar—with a ratio of one part vinegar to one part water.
Like cleaning vinegar, industrial vinegar, which is sometimes called horticultural vinegar, is dangerous to ingest. Industrial vinegar usually has between 20 to 30 percent acid and is used for a variety of tasks from cleaning commercial buildings to killing weeds.