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The 3 Must-Have Vinegars

  • l

Ok, I live in NYC and have a *tiny* kitchen. I'm always trying to pare down my condiments, but then keep coming across recipes that use very specific kinds of vinegar. I honestly end up avoiding the recipe as not to have to buy another bottle that will sit unused after one recipe.

Right now I have a white balsamic vinegar which I love for salad dressings and a chinese rice wine vinegar I use all the time in Asian marinades and dressings. Are there any other vinegars that have good multi-purpose use? I'm not a huge of regular balsamic, fyi. I've been curious about wine and cider vinegars, but the prices seem to range so much, and I have so little knowledge, I've never bought one.


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  1. I wouldn't be without red wine vinegar.

    1. Good old Heinz cider vinegar I find is a pantry must have staple. Cheap white vinegar is useful for more than cooking and is a good cleaning agent. I buy the "O" brands of wine vinegars, sherry, zin or cab and champange at TJ Maxx. They are in very slender bottles that do not take up much room.

      1. You need the different vinegars for different purposes. The three most basic and called for in recipes:

        1. Cider vinegar (Bragg unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar is my preferred brand) -- is usually used in baking and savory preparations where a fruitier note is required. I also like in salad dressings and all sorts of other preparations.

        2. Red wine vinegar (Spectrum Naturals garners the foodie raves) -- is usually used in salad dressings and marinades for a winey note. But I often prefer fresh citrus juice instead (or in addition).

        3. White vinegar -- if you want to do any kind of pickling, it is essential. Also irreplaceable for all sorts of household tasks.

        Balsamic vinegar is something I once used with abandon and now hardly use. (I rather use vincotto.)

        Rice vinegar is nice to have, but again not essential unless you are cooking Asian cuisine. And Asian cuisines have myriad other vinegars, too....

        1 Reply
        1. re: Karl S

          What is vincotto? I get that it means "cooked wine", but what is it exactly and how is it used?

        2. I personally LOVE champagne vinegar, but if I had to choose only one other to have it would be red wine vinegar. It is used in alot of recipes, and has a neutral enough flavor that you can sub it in when a recipe calls for something obscure (you won't get the flavor, but you'll get the acid). My other two must-haves are the ones you currently have stashed.

          1. Mine would be white, cider and rice. I wouldn't be able to cook without them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              same here--rice, white, and cider. i'm surprised to see that many posters consider red wine vinegar a must-have, just because i haven't used it in years--somehow never had a recipe that calls for it!

            2. I always keep balsamic, red wine and apple cider vinegars.
              Apple cider is the all time best vinegar if you only had one vinegar it should be this. There have been books written strictly about apple cider vinegar - it's household and medicianal uses in addition to food uses.
              You can use it for any vinagrette recipe, you can substitute it for lemon juice in a recipe - even a dessert recipe, you can use it as an astringent or disinfectatant or household cleaner.
              Never be without a bottle of apple cider vinegar.
              In old American kitchens it was the only vinegar you would have found.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Niki Rothman

                Yes, those three are my standards, though my boyfriend keeps rice and doesn't use cider. I also use white for pickling, but that means I don't need it most of the year.

                Link: http://seasonalcook.blogspot.com

                1. re: curiousbaker

                  I agree with you. After I posted I realized I would also really want rice vinegar as a fourth. For Asian cooking and when you want the mildest vinegar - it's #1.

                2. re: Niki Rothman

                  When I was young, cider vinegar was what we thought of as "vinegar". Maybe because we're in an apple-producing region, maybe because it was the vinegar of Appalachian foodways.

                  At some point in the 1970s, everyone seemed to switch to red wine vinegar as the default. I was startled to learn that in Eat Your Books indexing, red and white wine vinegars are "store cupboard ingredients", i.e. not listed unless a cup or more is used, while cider vinegar is special/specific enough that it's always listed when called for, even in amounts as small as a spoonful.

                3. Mine would be rice wine ,champagne, sherry and also balsamic vinegar.

                  1. 1. Baoning Vinegar (preferred) or Chinkiang if preferred is unavailable.

                    2. Rice wine vinegar.

                    3. Red wine or balsamic.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: sel

                      My 3 too. I've been subbing the 1st for (ordinary) balsamic.

                      1. re: sel

                        Which stores have you found Baoning vinegar at?

                        1. re: emily

                          >>>Which stores have you found Baoning vinegar at?<<<

                          FWIW, I do not think sel has posted here in many years. Just mentioning that in case you are waiting for a response, emily.

                      2. I have balsamic (for salad dressing, and oddly enough a jerk chicken recipe I make frequently, and many other uses), rice wine vinegar (I do lots of Asian cooking), and red wine, plus either cider vinegar or white. I tried sherry vinegar, because my brother raves about it, but I must have bought the wrong brand, because I didn't see what the fuss was about. And at the price, I guess I wasn't willing to experiment (altho I would take advice if anyone offered it, and also on brands of champagne vinegar, which I have never tried).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Anne H

                          Champagne vinegar can be really hit or miss...I LOVE "Vilux." It's French, and sometimes hard to find, but if you can, it's fabulous and not expensive.

                        2. I'm not a big fan of regular balsamic either. Usually end up reducing it on the stovetop for more syrupy applications as an accent. I guess I was just overdosed on it for daily use.

                          the 3 I couldn't do without are red wine, apple cider (like Karl S., Bragg with the goopy mother on the bottom), and white (a neutral base with potential for herbal and fruit infusions).

                          1. My list would be:
                            Red wine vinegar aged not diluted
                            Balsamic vinegar your white balsamic sounds yummy.
                            Sherry wine vinegar

                            Those are the three I use all the time.

                            1. I couldn't live with only 3 vinegars.

                              I find I use sherry the most (almost every night for salad dressings). It's strong, very tasty, and a little goes a long way. I have Vinagre de Jerez Reserva "muy vieja". I got it at the Spanish Table in Berkeley.

                              I also need red wine vinegar and every once in a while, white wine vinegar especially for poulet au vinaigre, one of my favorite dishes.

                              I also have balsamic - a not really pricy kind but it's good. Don't know the brand as I put it in a "decorative" bottle. Used it tonight with chopped green onions and evoo and a sprinkle of Greek oregano (the kind that comes dried in branches - I'm a sucker for those) over some steamed broccolini I got in my last organic veggie box.

                              Lastly, I need rice wine vinegar. I had a bottle of lovely organic cider vinegar but strange sediments built up in the bottle after it'd sat in the cabinet for too long, and I ended up throwing it out.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: oakjoan

                                I'm with Oakjoan-
                                I use Sherry vin (vilux), Red wine (Colivata), Rice Wine ("Marakata" I think- just bought a new one).

                                I know I can't go a month without using Cider vinegar for dressings, Balsamic for a reduction or a braise, or white for cleaning, but I can hardly go a day withour using red wine, rice, or sherry vin.

                                I guess if I HAD to have just 3- I'd drop the Red and use more Sherry, I'd sub Champagne for white & cider, and use Rice Wine as a sub for cider in some fuit salads, dressings & braises.

                                I make sushi rice for dinner 3 times a week (hey I'm practicing!) and I just love rice wine vinegar in fruit/summer salsas- I kow it's just a "basic/boring" Vin, but that's what I use if for.

                                BTW- I could give up most other Vins as Long As I have access to all of the varius citruses- I use fruit juices in just about everything- Orange, blood orange, caracara, lime, keylime, lemon, meyer lemon, need I go on?

                                And as long as I seem incapapble of just shutting up (hahaha) I just wnat to throw out one more- I grabbed a small bottle of Alessi White balsamic with fig while cooking for my folks the other weekend- I used it in EVERY course of the meal. Then I finished to bottle and I can't find it locally :(

                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  I have to agree about the Sherry. Took me years to buy it b/c I figured, when will i use it besides one or two recipes? Ha, wrong! It gives an added and excellent dimesion to my tomato sauce and I use it for almost all pasta dishes.

                                  I also love and use daily Modenacetti silver balsamic. It's about $7 and tastes like this awesome and way pricey stuff someone brought me from Italy once. A bargain, I tell you. It's slightly sweet, makes all salads phenomenal, and is always added to my turkey meatloaf and burgers.

                                  I'd agree w/the Rice Wine. I guess I should branch out and give white balsamic or cider a go, since there seem to be many 'hounds using both. What am I missing out on!?

                                2. I have the same problem - tiny NY kitchen - and I like to have champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, regular white vinegar, rice vinegar and a red vinegar. I'm sure there's a little bottle of balsamic hiding in there somewhere, but I never use it. There's also a raspberry wine vinegar taking up space - bought by accident and should just give it away. Lastly, I have a lovely bottle of Swiss herb (herbs not described on bottle) that someone gave me from Zabars, that is sitting on the counter b/c I can't find room for it. It is tasty though. I can't stand apple cider vinegar - just don't like the taste.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    i can't stand apple cider vinegar either. my b/f bought some to stock his pantry 8 years ago and it's still in there.

                                    my go-to is brown rice vinegar, followed by citrus juice. occasional splashes of red wine vinegar and then white vinegar too.

                                    don't own and HATE balsamic.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Just curious, there seems to be a few people that do not like balsamic. Is it like cilantro, where the flavor just offends, or is it some sort of an anti-balsamic bend since it has been popularised? Or is is just poor mass-marketed balsamic? I'd challenge anyone to go to a balsamic tasting and not like the good stuff.

                                      For me, rice wine, balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, straight vinegar. If I had to pare down to three, it would be balsamic, red wine, and white wine.

                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                        i know certain people have a peculiar chemical reaction to cilantro and for them it tastes like soap, so, no, this is not that for me.

                                        first, the cheap stuff became a ubiquitous crutch for lame chefs and thus difficult to escape in many mid-priced restaurants.

                                        second, i mostly use vinegar as an acid, so don't want it to present an obtrusive flavor.

                                        third, i don't like what the color does in a dressing over vegetables or greens.

                                        lastly, for the love pf pete, please don't ruin perfect, in-season strawberries with it.

                                      2. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Interesting. I find all of them have their place -- well, save for cheapo balsamic. It certainly doesn't have to be $100/bottle, but quality is key for balsamic. I actually really love it with soy sauce and olive oil for vinaigrette.

                                        I like a dash of apple cider vinegar, too, for making blue cheese dressing, or German-style cuke salad.

                                        Red wine vinegar for Greek dressing.

                                        Rice wine vinegar for Asian marinades and sauces.

                                        Malt vinegar for fries & fried fish.

                                        I guess I love vinegar. Which is funny, b/c as a kid I loathed it, and grew up with salad dressings made with citrus.

                                    2. My favorites are champagne or cognac for a lighter flavor. Cider is distinctive and can be terrific but it isn't in a top three. Sherry or high quality red wine are more intersting than most crummy balsalmic.

                                      1. So many vinegars, so little shelf space! Instead, they surround my stove.
                                        If I were limited to only three, it would have to be: (1) Fibonacci white (2) a classic red wine vinegar (3) Villa Manodori Balsamico, which is thicker and sweeter than a true balsamic - and is excellent on grilled bitter chicories, like radicchio, endive, escarole, etc. Amazing combination.

                                        1. I second Bragg as being very versatile!

                                          1. I have more vinegar that I actually thought I have but currently, I have (and the first three I would definitely be my top 3 choices):
                                            White (use for a lot of cleaning)
                                            Red wine
                                            Rice (seasoned)
                                            White wine vinegar (I have no idea what to do with this)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: pumpkinspice

                                              I make my own white wine vinegars, and my white has a lot of the same characteristics as a good Champagne vinegar. (Sometimes a little Champagne actually makes it way to the crock.) it makes a very crisp vinaigrette done about 3:1 with peanut oil and a little Maille Dijon, brightened even more by use of grey salt on the salt. It is sort of a one trick pony, but I think it is a nice trick. I like it on avocado and tomato wedges with thinly sliced sweet onions.

                                              1. re: tim irvine

                                                Thank you! I will give it a try. I bought some from Costco not too long ago but I had no clue what to do with it!

                                            2. My top three would be:
                                              1. White
                                              2. Rice Wine
                                              3. Apple Cider

                                              Honorable mention for red wine.

                                              1. 1. a good bottle of balsamic with some age
                                                2. white wine or champagne
                                                3. sherry

                                                1. I can't imagine my kitchen without sherry vinegar.

                                                  1. My must have three are red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar and white vinegar. I love all vinegars with the exception of balsamic but these are the three I use on a regular basis.

                                                    1. I'd choose white, apple cider, and balsamic. Simply because I can make red/white wine vinegars and other fruit vinegars. But then, I have the luxury of a 1100 sq ft apartment. Sometimes, I'll purchase a special vinegar, and unless I'm about to make the same recipe again soon, will give away/share the rest of the bottle with someone else.

                                                      ETA, white vinegar because of it's additional non-culinary uses. such as descaling of the coffee maker, and fabric softener for towels.

                                                        1. 1. Balsamic
                                                          2. Rice wine
                                                          3. Apple cider

                                                          I'd add basic inexpensive white vinegar too. I buy it in gallon jugs and use for cleaning. A dollop in your rinse water makes your wine glasses sparkle.

                                                          1. I'm not one for paring down the vinegars! But, if I had to, I'd say:
                                                            white balsamic
                                                            rice vinegar (unseasoned)
                                                            cider vinegar
                                                            champagne vinegar
                                                            white vinegar

                                                            I also have banyul's on hand.

                                                            1. I have a zillion vinegars but the ones I go to on the regular are red wine, rice and champagne. It's been some time since I've enjoyed balsamic vinegar, for whatever reason. I much prefer the red wine.

                                                              There is a Pinot Grigio from Lucini's that cost me about 8 bucks which I love, too. But that's a "special" vinegar.

                                                              1. I always have a gallon jug each of white and apple cider, so I guess I use those the most. Though the white gets used for cleaning, too.

                                                                Third place would probably be red wine or balsamic. I can sip a good balsamic by the spoonful. There are about 10 kinds of vinegar in my pantry, though.

                                                                1. If had to pick only three vinegars to have it would be: balsamic, cider and white.

                                                                  1. Red wine, rice wine and white balsamic

                                                                    1. Top Brand found at your local Greek Grocer

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                        One I always have going is a jar of hot pepper vinegar. It's hard to find in the store north of South Carolina. As I use it up, I keep adding whatever vinegar is handy. I prefer it to any pepper sauce for beans, soups, collards, etc.

                                                                      2. I have a hard time keeping it to 3.

                                                                        I typically keep:

                                                                        red wine (must have)
                                                                        balsamic (not necessary if you don't like)
                                                                        white (you can get away with white or cider if you want)
                                                                        rice (not necessary if you never make Asian food at home)

                                                                        Sometimes I also have:
                                                                        white wine

                                                                        Right now I also have 1-2 fancy flavored ones that were given as gifts. You can definitely make lots of substitutions.

                                                                        As for brands/prices etc. the balsamic is the only one I feel is necessary to use something higher quality.

                                                                        1. As with too many other thing l collect l have a crapload of vinegars. If forced to limit to three, l could do. Here goes :
                                                                          Martin Pouret white vinegar- Only French Orleans method still produced where grapes are made into wine then to vinegar just before bottling.
                                                                          Corti's homemade red wine vinegar- Been buying for many years, nothing l have ever had or even made compares.
                                                                          High level Balsamic- Not the zillion $ ones, but taste a few and you will know what you like.
                                                                          As a bonus a half gallon of good cider for cooking or pickling and that should do you just fine.

                                                                          1. Apple cider, red wine and distilled white vinegar are the 3 staples.

                                                                            I also have balsamic, malt, rice wine and white wine vinegar.

                                                                            1. Distilled white vinegar for restoring old rusty cast iron. Or for cleaning a stubborn stainless steel pan/pot with stuck-on food.