Vinegars and cooking wines are essential ingredients (Acids) for any home cook or chef. Some may even consider them the yin to oil’s yang. Sauces, dressings, and marinades would be nonexistent without these vital cooking components. Vinegar is also an awesome pan deglazing agent that can add a little zing to your favorite dishes; while wine tends to add a subtle sweetness.
Vinegar is a sour liquid of dilute and impure acetic acid extracted from the acetous fermentation of wine, cider, or ale. It is commonly used as a condiment to add tangy, sour flavor to food without any alcoholic content to burn off. Similarly, wine can also enhance a dish and bring unique characteristics to its final flavor, but generally contains alcohol.
A variety of cooking wines, and their non-alcoholic counterparts, have a number of uses similar to vinegar. In addition to flavor enhancement, these liquids often serve up their own unique health benefits such as aiding in digestion or promoting clear, healthy skin. Let’s explore these multi-faceted ingredients!
Vinegar is rich in anti-oxidants and minerals that serve a myriad of benefits. Here’s everything you would like to know, and then some, about vinegar – from the basics to the more experimental:
Vinegar is usually made in two phases:
This involves using yeast, a type of fungi, to convert sugars to alcohol – very much the same process as beer or wine making
During this process acetobacter, a type of bacteria, converts the new alcohol to acetic acid through oxidization
The super simple secret formula that depicts the process of making vinegar from sugar and yeast is:
Alcoholic Fermentation + Acidic Fermentation = Vinegar
Vinegars widely produced today are a combination of acetic acid and water. They contain vitamins and minerals that are produced naturally as a result of fermentation.
In addition, they are usually pasteurized to get rid of the bacteria and a substance called “Mother” that forms a gelatin at the bottom of your container holding the vinegar. This substance is a natural cellulose formed by the bacteria, and can be removed by sieving your vinegar content.
Yes, that was uncommonly scientific and a bit dry, but we’ve got to build a solid foundation. So, let’s move on to some good stuff!
Vinegar is made in a variety of flavor profiles that obtain their unique taste from the source of sugar (fruit) used to ferment them. The most common vinegars are made with grapes, rice, or apples. For instance, apples are fermented into hard cider, which is then fermented to deeply flavored apple cider vinegar.
As a result, every type of vinegar will have its own unique flavor profile. No two varieties will taste the same, and can vary greatly from brand to brand.
Distinguishing consistent flavors can be quite tricky due to the complex combination created through different methods and types of fermenting. Some categories, for example, may use fruits and wines, while others may use a blend of fruits, grains or malts.
Interestingly, vinegar can be made from anything with sugar. Therefore, different countries and regions may add their own local ingredients and twists to their creations. You could see options like banana and pineapple to rosemary and garlic.
Distilled White Vinegar: This is a super clear, clean, and cheap option of vinegar prepared from distilled alcohol made from commonly available corn or grains. The liquid is diluted with water and is of a 5-7% concentration. White vinegar isn’t used for its taste. It is more commonly used for cleaning. However, a pinch can be splashed into simmering water to solidify eggs.
Cider Vinegar: This is made from fermented apples and would go well with barbeque sauce if making your own. It comes in an unpasteurized form of 5% concentration. You may have to look for the “Mother” that forms at the bottom. The taste of apple pairs up with smoky flavors like mesquite and hickory.
Red Wine Vinegar: This is made with a subtle fruitiness that gives a rich flavor to vinaigrette. Plus, it can add a noteworthy taste to pickled red onions. These types are similar to sherry vinegar that acquires a unique taste based on age, type of barrel, or the variety of grapes used to prepare it.
Note – The rich color can stick to pots and pans, so you may have to set aside some darker colored cookware to prepare dishes with this type of vinegar.
White Wine Vinegar: This is as tangy as red wine vinegar with a shade of sweetness. This serves up some great taste with vinaigrette, marinades, and deviled eggs.
Rice Vinegar: This comes in seasoned or unseasoned varieties that go well with Asian cuisines. They add a mixed flavor of tart and sweetness at the same time. The seasoned version has sugar and salt that goes great to cook sushi rice. If you would like to reduce the salt content, then the unseasoned one would be most suitable for you.
Balsamic Vinegar: This is uniquely made without going through the double fermentation process. Italian grape varieties like Lambrusco or Trebianno are created during single non-aided fermentation, and allowed to age in barrels. The cooked grapes gradually reduce to concentrate into a thick, dark, golden juice that is reverently known as Balsamic.
Note – This type can be expensive, especially when it carries a seal of certification. A popular option, loved by many all over the world.
As an alternative to vinegar, cooking wines are also specially made to add flavor to your cooking. There are convenient go-to retail wines that will give you the flavor you need and are not too strong. This helps you reserve your drinking wine to go with your meal rather than utilizing it for cooking. However, our recommendation is to only cook with wine that you would drink and save the bottled store versions for emergency use.
If you need to decide on the best wine for cooking, you will have to focus on the complementary flavors of the food and the experience your taste buds are yearning for. The dry red and white wine varieties go well with stews and cream soups. For the 5 best White Wines for cooking, click here.
The dry white vermouth that is in classic Martini cocktails is good for cooking as well. Since it is fortified, it packs more of a punch than regular wine and can be substituted for white wine in recipes. Just be sure to use a little less than the amount of white wine called for, otherwise you could end up overpowering the dish. Red vermouth is sweeter and better served as a digestif rather than for cooking.
If you would like to find out more about recipes that use vermouth wines, the article here provides a number of interesting dishes.
If you are not comfortable using alcohol for cooking, or you don’t have any wine handy when you need it, then you can always try substituting with a no alcohol alternative.
One common substitute is lemon juice. The citrus can provide similar characteristics to vinegar or wine, but not quite the same taste, of course. Citrus cuts through the oil and lifts up the flavor to create a tarty, pungent kick to your cooking. Its acidic properties help balance the fats and oils in food, but a citrus splash won’t always be complementary to the final dish. In that case, here are a few other culinary considerations.
Recommended alternatives include:
Each of these substitutions can provide a very unique flavor that you may have never discovered before, or may never want to discover again. However, you won’t know until you try. Have fun and live a little! The article here can give you additional details for using these alternative solutions in your cooking.
– Have Fun In The Kitchen!