Cupboard Essentials: Everything You Need To Know About Vinegar

Posted in: blog, on 17 Jul 2016

Nick Wyke
by Nick Wyke

In a nutshell:

In Britain, vinegar has been elevated from its humble days of lubricating a bag of greasy chips to a vital ingredient in both salad dressings and cooked foods. It would be stretching the truth to say "vinegar is the new wine", but there are now a wealth of shades and bottle shapes on the shelves of any self-respecting delicatessen.

What's more, we're actually drinking the stuff. The benefits of drinking Apple Cider Vinegar have been flagged up by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow as an ultra healthy, system cleansing tonic. As a fermented product, it's said to aid digestion and introduce friendly bacteria into the gut.

And like wine, you get what you pay for. Balsamic, of course, has been shorthand for vinegar among aspiring foodies for years now. Since our passion for all things Italian gained traction in the 1990s, the market has been flooded with bottom-of-the-barrel balsamic vinegars made using caramel dyes and cheap plonk.

The real stuff — Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena — is distilled from the cooked must (unfermented grape juice) of Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, and must be aged for at least 12 years in wooden barrels to attain the prestigious Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) status on its label.

Single-varietal vinegars are made from finished wine to which a bacteria known as a "mother" is introduced. Unlike astringent "window-cleaner" vinegars they tend to be better balanced and more distinctive with hints of their grape varieties.


Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its distinct tart taste. The tangy taste often reduces the need for salt, especially in soups, sauces and bean dishes. Like citrus it can perk up your taste buds and enliven other ingredients in a dish. It can also cut the fat in a recipe because it balances flavours without requiring so much cream, butter, or oil. A balsamic vinegar aged for 12 years or more has the dark consistency of high-grade motor oil and a rich, complex taste with a port-like sweetness.

Kitchen inspiration

It's easy to overlook the importance of acidity — and a splash of vinegar can often fill the gap in otherwise listless home cooking. Try it in marinades (to tenderise the meat), glazes and sauces for duck, pork and on vegetables. Balsamic vinegar provides a thick syrupy coat for roasted figs and plums, while wine vinegar lures out the sweetness of fruit, melon, and berries and adds a tang to fresh salsa

Garnish bowls of vanilla ice cream or cubes of parmesan with droplets of top-notch balsamic vinegar or use sparingly in celebration salads. Italians sip their very best balsamic vinegars like pudding wines. As an everyday banker, Apple Cider Vinegar is ideal for salads, dressings and condiments.

Try something different

Drinking vinegars, or shrubs as they are known, are all the rage in California and are now cropping up at bars in London. Yum Yum Tonics in San Francisco infuse seasonal fruits and roots, such as fig and rosemary and hibiscus and rose, in unpasteurised apple cider vinegar to make "colonial-era drink mixers" for cocktails. Shrubs make excellent aperitifs, since the piquant vinegar causes the mouth to water and whets the appetite.

Well, I never...

Overripe and excess fruit has been stored in vinegar for centuries and in an age before refrigeration provided a valuable way to keep some fruit for barren winter months.

Cover image by John Mayer

Nick Wyke

Nick Wyke

Food Expert

Nick Wyke is a Times journalist and food writer responsible for developing a range of creative and interactive content from commissioning food and wine video series, building communities through social media, and organising live cookery hangouts. His work at Times Food across digital platforms has been shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers New Media Award. He is passionate about colourful seasonal food cooked simply, inspired by Britain's booming food start-up scene and likes his G&T with lots of lime.

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