Which vinegar is right for recipes?

Burning Questions


Frequently, especially in old recipe books, a recipe will call for just "vinegar." Which kind is it referring to -- cider or white vinegar?

The name vinegar is from the French vin aigre, or bad (sour) wine, but, in fact, vinegar can be made from any fruit or grain. It is the product of a two-step method. In the first step, yeasts turn the grapes (or apples or barley or rice) into alcohol, resulting in wine (or cider, ale or rice wine). In the second step, bacteria acts upon the alcohol to turn it into acid, and you wind up with wine vinegar or cider vinegar or malt vinegar or rice vinegar.

Distillation -- the process of heating a liquid and recapturing the vapors to create a solution free of any organic impurities -- can be performed on any type of vinegar. The result is a solution of water and acetic acid that is devoid of nutrients or flavors.

Distilled vinegar has been around for centuries, but entered commercial production in the United States only in the 1870s. The H.J. Heinz Co. began producing distilled vinegar for use in its manufacture of ketchup and other products, and in 1876, the company began selling Heinz Distilled White Vinegar.

So, if your recipe dates to the Civil War, its author probably envisioned using cider vinegar. Any recipe written after 1876 might refer to either cider or white vinegar. A recipe originating in France or Italy, historic wine-producing countries, probably wants wine vinegar.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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