Types of vinegars
Very detailed information on virtually all types of culinary vinegars.
White vinegar can be made by oxidising a distilled alcohol. Alternatively, it may be nothing more than a solution of acetic acid and salt in water. Most commercial white vinegars are 5% acetic acid solutions, although some US states such as Virginia have laws prohibiting the sale as vinegar of any product not made from acetous fermentation of alcohol. They are made from grain (often maize) and water. White vinegar is used for culinary as well as cleaning purposes because vinegar can also be used for sterilisation.
Malt vinegar is made by malting barley, causing the starch in the grain to turn to maltose. An ale is then brewed from the maltose and allowed to turn into vinegar, which is then aged. It is typically light brown in colour. However, most supermarket vinegar is actually extracted from beetroot.
A cheaper alternative, called "non-brewed condiment," is a solution of 4-8% acetic acid coloured with caramel (usually E150). There is also around 1-3% citric acid present.
I was recently dismayed to discover that the small 200ml Sarson's small vinegar bottle is no longer refillable, a huge step backwards in my opinion.
Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine, and is the most commonly used vinegar in Mediterranean countries and central Europe. As with wine, there is a considerable range in quality. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years and exhibit a complex, mellow flavour. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than that of white or cider vinegars. There are more expensive wine vinegars made from individual varieties of wine, such as Champagne, Sherry, or pinot grigio.
This is a most astonishing product, truly the king of vinegars. You can even drink sips of it and enjoy it. It is wonderful to cook with as it has such complex flavours. Great for salad dressings. It is now available from all supermarkets.
Apple cider vinegar, otherwise known simply as cider vinegar, is made from cider or apple must (freshly pressed juice), and is often sold unfiltered, with a brownish-yellow colour; it often contains 'mother of vinegar' (acetic acid bacteria). It is very popular, partly due to its beneficial health and beauty properties.
A second type (fruit-flavoured) include those infused with whole raspberries, blueberries or figs (or else from flavourings derived from these fruits). Some of the more exotic fruit-flavoured vinegars include blood orange and pear.
Balsamic vinegar is an aromatic, aged type of vinegar traditionally manufactured in Modena, Italy from the concentrated juice, or must, of white grapes (typically of the Trebbiano variety). It is very dark brown in colour and its flavour is rich, sweet, and complex, with the finest grades being the product of years of ageing in a successive number of casks made of various types of wood (including oak, mulberry, chestnut, cherry, juniper, ash, and acacia).
Balsamic has a high acid level, but the sweetness covers up the tart flavour somewhat, making it very mellow.
Rice vinegar is most popular in the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia. It is available in white (actually light yellow), red, and black variants. The Japanese prefer a light and more delicate rice vinegar for the preparation of sushi rice and salad dressings. Red rice vinegar is traditionally coloured with red yeast rice, although some Chinese brands use artificial food colouring instead. Black rice vinegar (made with black glutinous rice) is most popular in China, although it is also produced in Japan. It may be used as a substitute for balsamic vinegar, although its dark colour and the fact that it is aged may be the only similarity between the two products.
Coconut vinegar, made from fermented coconut water, is used extensively in Southeast Asian cuisine (particularly in the Philippines, a major producer, where it is called suka ng niyog), as well as in some cuisines of India. A cloudy white liquid, it has a particularly sharp, acidic taste with a slightly yeasty note.
Palm vinegar, made from the fermented sap from flower clusters of the nipa palm (also called attap palm), is used most often in the Philippines, where it is produced, and where it is called sukang paombong.
Spirit vinegar The term 'spirit vinegar' is sometimes reserved for the stronger variety (5% to 20% acetic acid) made from sugar cane or from chemically produced acetic acid.
Cane vinegar, made from sugar cane juice, is most popular in the Ilocos Region of the northern Philippines (where it is called sukang iloko), although it is also produced in France and the United States. It ranges from dark yellow to golden brown in colour and has a mellow flavour, similar in some respects to rice vinegar, though with a somewhat "fresher" taste. Contrary to expectation, it is not sweeter than other vinegars, containing no residual sugar. In the Philippines, it is often labelled as sukang maasim, although this is simply a generic term meaning "sour vinegar."
Vinegar made from raisins, called khal 'anab (خل عنب) in Arabic, is used in cuisines of the Middle East and is produced in Turkey. It is cloudy and medium brown in colour, with a mild flavour.
Vinegar made from beer is produced in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. Although its flavour depends on the particular type of beer from which it is made, it is often described as having a malty taste. That which is produced in Bavaria is a light golden colour, with a very sharp and not overly complex flavour.
Chinese black vinegar
Chinese black vinegar is an aged product made from rice, wheat, millet, or sorghum, or a combination thereof. It has an inky black colour and a complex, malty flavour. There is no fixed recipe and thus some Chinese black vinegars may contain added sugar, spices, or caramel colour. The most popular variety, Chinkiang vinegar, originated in the city of Zhenjiang, in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, China and is also produced in Tianjin and Hong Kong.
Herb vinegars are flavoured with herbs, most commonly Mediterranean herbs such as thyme or oregano. Such vinegars can be prepared at home by adding sprigs of fresh or dried herbs to store-bought vinegar; generally a light coloured, mild tasting vinegar such as that made from white wine is used for this purpose.
Chili vinegars are popular in many South East Asia countries. Chillies are sliced or pounded and steeped in vinegar, salt or sugar is added and it is left to pickle. Nam som prik dong is one such recipe. Mrs Beeton had a chili vinegar recipe in her 1950 cookery book, noting This will be found an agreeable relish to fish, as many people cannot eat it without the addition of an acid and cayenne pepper.
Fresh, washed, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in white wine vinegar, stored in a dark cool cupboard for 4 weeks for the flavour to develop. Use only French tarragon - Russian tarragon is inferior and impart very little flavour.
The word "vinegar" derives from the Old French vin aigr, meaning "sour wine." Louis Pasteur showed in 1864 that vinegar results from a natural fermentation process. That's a clue for your first vinegar substitute!