Vinegar 101

The low-down on this tangy cooking (and cleaning!) staple.

Martha Stewart Living Television

A Background on Vinegar

Vinegar, which is essentially any alcoholic liquid that has had too much exposure to air, was almost certainly an accidental discovery that must have been a shock to the palate of the person who found that his or her wine or beer had gone bad. The wine or beer may have been "ruined," but the liquid into which it was transformed has played an important role in cuisines around the world. All vinegars have a sour flavor, but depending on what liquid the vinegar was fermented from, there are a number of subtle differences between them.


Any liquid containing sugar or starch can become vinegar (the name means "sour wine" in French); it has been fermented using dates, sugar cane, raspberries, blueberries, and a large variety of other fruits. The most popular of these is probably cider vinegar, made from fermented apple cider. The Japanese make frequent use of a lightly flavored rice-wine vinegar in their cooking; our recipe for a refreshing cucumber salad includes this type of vinegar.


Delicious Recipes That Use Vinegar


The British are known for their mild malt vinegars, derived from a hop-free beer, and one specialty of the Italians is the pungent balsamic vinegar, made from crushed grapes that ferment in wooden casks for decades or even centuries.


Two commonly used vinegars are red- and white-wine vinegar. White-wine vinegar is perfect for mild salad dressings or as a base for flavored vinegar, made by adding fruit or fresh herbs. Vinegar made from red wine has a more robust flavor than the white, and is often used as a marinade ingredient or in vinaigrette.


Vinegar should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It will usually maintain its flavor for six months, but should be discarded at the first sign of mold.


Uses for Vinegar

Vinegar is most often used in cooking, as the acidic solution adds a kick to just about any tye of recipe, from soups and stews to meats and vegetables. It's also a go-to ingredient for dressing salads. 


Vinegar is also used by many for cleaning purposes, as it's natural and doesn't contain the toxins that many store-bought cleaners contain. Vinegar is effective at treating mold and is a natural antiseptic and fungicide. Just put it in a spray bottle and go -- the smell will dissipate within a few hours.


Types of Vinegar

There are many types of vinegar, each with their own distinct flavor. Rice vinegar is great for braising. Apple cider vinegar can brighten up a sweet-and-sour dish (and is a cleaning favorite). Distilled white vinegar is fantastic for pickling and for cleaning. Red wine vinegar is great in salads. and the strong taste of balsamic vinegar works well when a dish needs a tangy kick. Balsamic vinegar is also well-suited to vinaigrettes.


2 Delicious Recipes That Are Enhanced By Vinegar


Maple-Dijon-Marinated Pork Chops

This recipe includes a vinegar-based maple-dijon marinade. It's important not to poke holes in the meat while marinating, as this allows juice to seep out during cooking. Once marinade has been in contact with raw meat, either don't use it, or boil it before using to kill bacteria.

Sweet-and-Sour Green Cabbage with Bacon

Bacon adds a rich, salty flavor to this vinegar-infused dish (apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar are best to use). Make it in a Dutch oven or some other heavy pot, and cook until the cabbage is crisp and tender. To store, let cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container, up to 1 week.


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