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Add a Splash of Flavor with Vinegar

White Bean and Spinach SaladAlthough I’ve never tested its validity, I’m guessing that the old adage “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is true. However, if I had to choose one of the two to have in my kitchen, vinegar would win hands down. A staple for flavoring and preserving foods for over 6000 years, vinegar is as essential as spices and herbs — even salt and pepper — in bringing life to a dish.

Vinegar is named for the soured fermentation, which it is made from, vin aigre, literally “soured wine” in French. Harmless bacteria in wine, beer or cider metabolize the alcohol sugars in these liquids, which produces the acetic acid that gives vinegar its distinctive sour taste. It is this sour note that is prized in the kitchen for bringing the finishing touch to foods, balancing flavors, adding complexity and opening up the palate to an array of tastes. Health Starts Here

While all vinegars have a welcomed sour flavor, there is as much variation among vinegars as there are alcohol liquids to make the vinegars from. My pantry’s shelves are continually stocked with several of my favorite vinegars, each one bringing a distinct flavor and aroma to any particular dish. Many vinegars come from wine and retain the multifaceted aromas and characteristics of that beloved beverage.

I use tart, full-bodied red wine vinegar with the earthy flavors of whole grains and beans, such as in Salmon Watercress and Barley Salad and Health Starts Here Texas Caviar. (It’s also perfect in my grandmother’s recipe for the southern classic Red Beans and Rice.) Sherry vinegar, made from sherry wine, adds a touch of sweetness and high notes when it brings acid to a dish. I like it best with greens as in Butternut Squash and Kale Salad and in Chard with Sherry Vinegar and Walnuts.

Butternut Squash and Kale Salad Chard with Sherry Vinegar with Walnuts

One of the most prized vinegars, Balsamic vinegar, is also made from wine. Traditionally aged in wood barrels for anywhere from 3 to 100 years, Balsamic vinegars are much darker, more syrupy and have more complex flavors than most other vinegars – making them quite sought after. With such depth of flavor, its uses are many, adding dimension to desserts, dressings, grains, greens, salads, vegetables, meats and cheese, and even fruit.

You can dress a green salad simply with straight balsamic vinegar, or you can whip up a batch of No-Oil Balsamic Dressing. Add Balsamic to greens and salads in Celery Citrus Salad with Balsamic and Feta and in Cherry Arugula Salad with Almonds and Tarragon; or pair with earthy roasted mushrooms and quinoa, in Quinoa with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms.

No-oil Balsamic Dressing Celery Citrus Salad with Balsamic and Feta

Cherry Arugula Salad with Almonds and Tarragon Quinoa with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms

Apple cider vinegar is a common favorite. Made from hard (fermented) cider, it still retains some of the sweet, fruity characteristic of apples. This makes it a perfect complement to any dishes where apples work well, such as warm or cold salads, grain dishes and slaws. I really like to use it with slightly pungent cruciferous vegetables such as in Broccoli Salad with Walnuts and Currants, Brussels Sprouts with Apple and Shallots, or Cabbage Slaw with Gala Apples and Walnuts. Or try these dishes to see how much apple cider vinegar can lend to a dish: Curried Apple Chutney, White Bean and Spinach Salad, Chestnut and Wheatberry Salad. Broccoli Salad with Walnuts and Currants Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Shallots

Cabbage Slaw with Gala Apples and Walnuts Curried Apples Chutney

Food with an Asian flair also benefits greatly from a little acid. In my kitchen, the mildest of vinegars, rice vinegar, is probably also the most used. I use it in dressings, stir-fries, noodles and salads. If you are looking for some ways to use it, try these recipes: warming Miso Ginger Wild Rice with Carrots and Cabbage, creamy and comforting Sesame Peanut Noodles, light and refreshing Thai Shrimp and Carrot Salad, savory Pork Stir Fry with Asparagus, Peppers, and Green Onions, or the versatile Orange Peanut Dressing.

Miso Ginger Wild Rice with Carrots and Cabbage Sesame Peanut Noodles

Another favorite vinegar that works wonderfully in Asian dishes as well as other cuisines is Ume Vinegar, also called Umeboshi Vinegar. This salty vinegar is made from fermented umeboshi plums and is my daughter’s favorite addition to cooked greens. A different way to use it is with beans, as in Black Bean Hummus.

How do you like to like to use vinegar in your kitchen?

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Char Nolan says …

I love vinegar and use it in all cooking. My new favorite is to make a balsamic reduction, and then drizzle it on my Asian dishes instead of soy or tamari. It lends itself the same colors that you see from soy, but barely any added sodium. Often time, if a recipe calls for lemon or lime, I will use vinegar. I also like to make my own "flavored" vinegars by adding, say, figs, and letting them integrate, then, after about a week, sraining them.

futonmaster says …

I very much enjoy gobbling up a Chinese chicken salad with a beautiful vinegar dressing and some crunchy noodles! I am a sucker for green beans in a Umeboshi Vinegar as it adds quite some depth to the flavor of the beans. mmmmm....yummy!

SusieBeeOnMaui (Eat Little, Eat Big) says …

I also use alot if rice vinegar. It is great, for example, in marinades: http://eatlittleeatbig.blogspot.com/2011/02/recipe-for-asian-marinated-pork.html Also adds the right kick to peanut sauce: http://eatlittleeatbig.blogspot.com/2010/11/recipe-for-grilled-asian-peanut-pork.html

Debi says …

I was just looking for a delicious recipe for the broccoli that I bought at WF's Saturday, and here it is. Thanks

Stacy says …

Do any of the stores carry Dr. Fuhrman's flavored vinegars? They sound good and I seem to think I read somewhere that we would. I haven't seen them at my store.

Bepkom says …

@Stacy: Our product selection varies from store to store so please check in with your store directly. Thanks!

jon jambor says …

I grilled some sweetbreads last night. the recipe called for parboiling them in water with white vinegar. I've seen vinegar called for when soaking marrow bones prior to making stock. What is the purpose of the vinegar in these two cases?

Bepkom says …

@Jon: I'm not quite sure. Let me look into it and i'll get back to you with an answer!

Bepkom says …

@Jon: Due to the acidic quality of vinegar, using it as a marinade will soften and tenderize meat, poultry and shellfish. Also, because of their very different chemical compositions, when bones are placed in a bath of vinegar, they become rubbery. The acetic acid of the vinegar will dissolve the calcium carbonate in the bones. For this reason, a small amount of vinegar can be used to extract tougher meat clinging to bones when making meat stocks or broth. The more meat and marrow extracted from the bones, the more flavorful the stock or broth will be. Thanks for the question!

Pamela Kitslaar says …

Can you speak more to the nutritional/caloric content or health benefits of vinegar? These recipes sound especially good. I have been trying to lose a few pounds and duh! had'nt thought too much about the use of vinegar especially as a substitute for other high calorie and due to the oil dressings. What vinegars are carried at WF? Thank you

Bepkom says …

@Pamela: Vinegars are a great way to add flavor to your food without piling on the calories. There are many different kinds of vinegar to choose from; experiment with multiple varieties to see which ones you like the best. Most vinegars have less than 3 calories per tablespoon and no fat. Seasoned vinegars may contain more calories due to the added ingredients. Check the label of your favorite vinegar product to determine the nutrition information for that product. As for selection, it varies from store to store and the best thing to do is just give them a call to ask. However most of our stores carry a wide variety. Thanks for your question!

Amy Butcher says …

"One of the most prized vinegars, Balsamic vinegar, is also made from wine." Actually, this is incorrect. Balsamic vinegar is made from pressings of Trebbiano grapes which have been boiled down into what is know as grape must. It is never allowed to ferment into wine. Amy M. Butcher The Olive Tap, Medina, OH An Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Emporium