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All About Vinegars

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Assorted vinegars
Annabelle Breakey/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Vinegars are used in cooking and baking; for making salad dressings, to transform milk into a buttermilk substitute, and in marinades. Which type of vinegar should you use?
  • Balsamic vinegar is the most expensive because it is aged for a longer period of time. The longer it's aged, the sweeter and thicker it gets, and the more expensive too. Buy several different types of balsamic vinegar. Less expensive vinegars are used for marinades and salad dressings where there are lots of other ingredients. The really expensive balsamic vinegars are used to drizzle over cheese and greens as an appetizer, or as a garnish or finishing touch to many recipes.
  • Red and white wine vinegars are more 'everyday' vinegars. They are good for salad dressings and marinades. Red wine vinegar is best used with heartier flavors and foods, like beef, pork, and vegetables. White wine vinegar is best for chicken and fish dishes. Champagne vinegar and white wine vinegars are light in color, so are good for dressing lighter foods like pale greens, chicken, and fish.
  • Apple cider vinegar is mild and inexpensive; it's the one I use most often when making salad dressings. Since it is mild, it's a good choice for marinating fish or chicken. It's also good for making Flavored Vinegars. Flavored vinegars should be stored in the refrigerator, because some dangerous bacteria such as E. coli can grow in acidic environments.
  • Rice vinegar is the mildest of all, with much less acidity than other vinegars. It's often used in Asian or Chinese cooking.
  • Plain distilled vinegar is made from grain alcohol and has a very sharp, unpleasant taste. Use it in very small quantities; it's best to add a bit to milk to 'create' a buttermilk substitute, or for cleaning purposes.
  • All vinegars should be stored tightly closed in a cool, dark place. They will last for about a year after opening; after that time, the flavors will diminish. Purchase expensive vinegars in very small quantitites and be sure to use them within one year.
  • Lemon and lime juices can be substituted for red wine, white wine, apple cider, and rice wine vinegars. Don't use them in place of balsamic vinegar, because you won't get the same depth of flavor.

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