How does one select a good vinegar?

I searched threads in the last year, and couldn’t find a vinegar thread, aside from “what’s the difference between white and balsamic?” I know what certain vinegars should be used for various things (red or balsamic for salad dressing, white for cleaning, rice for asian dishes, etc) but I don’t know how to distinguish a good vinegar from a poor vinegar.

I was going through a cookbook recently, and in the “how to stock your pantry” section, the author stated that most vinegars aren’t really made of what they say they are, that most are just colored and flavored innacurately. But there wern’t any examples or ways of making distinctions provided.

(So that you know what I have access to/shop, I have a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, a local natural/organic grocery store, and a nicer chain grocery store at my disposal.

Do you have a favorite brand, and if so why? What should I be looking for? Any suggestions are welcome.

You can buy this used for $3, or just read it here.

I like to keep Heinz apple cider vinegar on hand, it’s good on fried fish and for souring milk to make buttermilk bread when I don’t have any buttermilk. I buy balsalmic at Williams-Sonoma.

Look at the ingredient panel, if ‘distilled vinegar’ or ‘acetic acid’ appear as the main ingredient, and it says something like ‘natural flavoring’ run away screaming.

As an example, you can buy apple cider vinegar, where apple cider is the main ingredient, and apple cider flavored vinegar, where distilled vinegar is the main ingredient … you want the first, not the second.

That is the other thing, if it says <blank> flavored vinegar, it is crap.

I recommend just as a variety if you want a good range:
a decent inexpensive balsamic vinegar - nothing fancy, grocery store type for a marinade or anything that uses balsamic while cooking

red wine vinegar
white wine or champagne vinegar
real cider vinegar
japanese rice wine vinegar

that will cover pretty much everything. Only if you really want to buy one of those bottles of 25 year old balsamic that costs an arm and a leg for doing stuff like little drizzles on strawberries, or on manchego cheese, when you want a bit of luxury.

Sigmagirl, I’m looking it up at the library, and then will buy if it’s not there. Thanks so much. Why Williams-Sonoma, out of curiosity? (I have a store nearby, but have never set foot in it).

Ahh, ignorance fought aruvqan. Thanks so much, tonight I’ll be investigating. I suspect my balsamic is okay, and the rest are crap. I have always noticed that I liked the taste of vinegars in restaurants more than ones employed at my own home, but chalked it up to their cooking techniques :smack:

As for 25 year old balsamic…perhaps after I’m out of school, once and for all.

They’re all made of what they say they are; you just have to pay attention to what they say. Always assume that food manufacturers are doing the cheapest thing possible consistent with what they claim.

As another example, I was once looking at oils in the grocery store, and saw something claiming to be the “perfect blend” of olive and canola oils. Of course, looking at the ingredients list, canola oil came first, meaning that it was at least 50%. And given the price difference between olive and canola, it was probably about 95% canola, so they were selling canola oil at olive oil prices.

Okay, so upon inspecting my vinegars, my apple cider vinegar says “naturally made from apples. no added coloring or flavoring”. That’s all it says in the way of ingredients, and on the front it says 5% acidity.

As for my red wine vinegar, the ingredients say “red wine vinegar (diluted with water to 5% acidity”.

Will “real” vinegars just say “apple cider” and “red wine” as their first ingredient?

No, that should be right. The fake apple cider vinegars will say Apple Cider Flavored Distilled Vinegar or something of the sort and have distilled vinegar on their ingredient list along with the apple flavoring. Heinz also has a real apple cider vinegar that comes in a bottle like this. Notice the different wording in the labeling. I don’t have a bottle handy, but the ingredient list on this one says something like “apple cider vinegar diluted to 5% acidity” on it, rather than the ingredients of distilled vinegar and apple flavoring.

Mainly convenience, and the fact that I loaded up at a sale once. :slight_smile: I still have plenty of good quality stuff left. Next time I need good quality vinegar, I might go the Zingermans route, but probably not till we happen to be going through Ann Arbor so I can get my fix on cheese and all the other stuff they sell.

I hear the word “sale” and I’m like white on rice Sigmagirl. I’ll have to at least check it out this weekend.

Thanks to everyone, I certainly learned a bit and will be trying out some new balsamic in short order.