There are many different types of vinegar: White, Malt, Apple Cider, Balsamic, Rice, etc, etc.
Does the type of vinegar chosen REALLY make a significant difference in the taste of the recipe? Or is vinegar basically just vinegar?
I agree, but with that being said, you can definitely substitute one vinegar for another in recipes.
I keep 4 or 5 vinegars at hand, and feel I'm not missing anything in any given recipe.
Substituting vinegars will change a final dish, and you can't substitute all willy-nilly. Like using balsamic in a coleslaw, or white vinegar in a pasta dish, blech.
But I'll use 1/2 red wine vinegar when I've run out of balsamic, and it just adds a different type of tang and flavor which is welcome in a salad dressing (for instance).
The type of vinegar does make a difference.
The level of acidity can vary in vinegars. You need a vinegar with a 5% level of acidity to prevent growth of bacteria when pickling. White distilled vinegar and some apple cider vinegars are most often used.
Vinegar flavors range from sharp and tangy to fruity to sweet rich syrupy. The base fruit and the age create a wide variety of flavors.
It is easy to test - simply slice some cucumbers and divide them into several bowls. Marinate each in a different vinegar - white, rice, apple cider are all easily/inexpensively available and will make the point.
re: iL Divo
Your use of the expression, "called for" goes directly to the point I was trying to make when I initiated this discussion.
Who is the authority who makes the "call"? And is this "call" chiselled in granite and immutable? What's so wrong about experimentation with various alternative choices? What if my taste buds prefer rice vinegar for example, and yours prefer balsamic? Is the difference in one type of vinegar really that much different than any other? Again I ask, is the difference really that significant and does it make such a huge difference?
This brings me to another related pet peeve of mine, namely the related practice of "recommended wine parings".
Just because a supposed wine "expert" recommends a certain wine to accompany a certain meat, fish, or pasta dish for example, am being a heretic if I prefer another wine? Must red wine always accompany red meat? Must white wine always accompany fish?
I think all these fancy descriptions of wines and the subtle differences in taste, flavors, aromas, etc. are mostly snobbish affectations made by so-called experts in order to make you feel so indequate that you hesitate to trust your own tastes.
The difference between rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar is no snobbish affectation. The two are a study in contrasts: one is sharp and tangy, the other is prized for its sweet, woody flavor.
There are vinegars that can sub for one another -- I regularly switch out black vinegar for balsamic -- and wine vinegars can be interchanged to suit your palate, but there are other flavors besides sour that make each type of vinegar distinct.
"I" make the call, my taste buds make the call, my lifelong experience & knowledge of cooking make the call.
there's nothing wrong with subbing out one for another-if you wanna do that do that. I've never met the vinegar police.
but if you're going for the flavor you want in a legit recipe that calls for say white wine vinegar-you'd get a different maybe adverse or disappointing result using the typical black balsamic.
Only you know if you can taste enough of a difference to warrant having a variety of vinegars.
A recipe is simply instructions and ingredients. You can view it as gospel or simply a suggestion. "Classic" combinations become so when enough of a population feels that it is the perfect mix. If you want to change it up no one will be the least bit concerned...
I think that there are two scales for vinegar which you have to consider: the strength of the vinegar and the sweetness of the vinegar. Admittedly, most vinegars have a 5% acid level, but they do not all necessarily taste that way. In order of perceived strength of acidity (the most acid first), I would rate them as follows:
In order of sweetness (sweetest being first), I would rate them as follows:
Red wine is my "go to" vinegar for most uses. I would rate it somewhere in the middle of both lists.
Since I'm an improvisational cook, I associate different vinegars with different cuisines, rather than specific recipes. I'm also familiar with the taste of the different ones that I have, and can picture how the finished dish will taste.
Some of my choices:
Spanish sherry - my favorite for salads, especially if Spanish in style, but also Italian.
Balsamic - currently I have an inexpensive one (large bottle from TJ), so I use it where the sherry flavor would be swamped. Distinctive color. (Balsamic glaze is at the table for use as diners want).
White balsamic - where I don't want color.
Rice - mild, not much distinctive flavor. Most often I use it with salt and sugar to give a Japanese flavor to my salad (e.g. with shredded carrots and daikon).
Cider - kind of generic flavor, maybe a bit sweet.
Chinese red/black - distinctive small and flavor; I use it with care.
white - for cleaning/utility purposes; but also if called for pickling
flavored vinegars - I have a couple of French flavored ones, one with plums, the other tomato. For salad.