Vinegar is everywhere, from our foods to our cleaning products and we probably have a spare bottle of it somewhere in the pantry. We rely on it to bring a great tanginess and flavor to most dishes, though it can easily become way too much. Not everyone loves vinegar, but everyone notices when it’s missing.
So why do we rely so much on vinegar ? Because it’s an acidic solution. Why is vinegar acidic ? And which vinegar is stronger ? How can you pick the best vinegar of the bunch ? Are lemons any good compared to vinegar ? All this and more, coming right up.
Why is vinegar acidic ?
Vinegar is acidic because it is a fermented product. Various ingredients (such as apples) are left to ferment in a controlled environment, until the bacteria produce large amounts of acetic acid. This is what you see floating in the vinegar bottle, or settled at the bottom of the bottle.
Commercially sold vinegar, the one intended for food use, is made with the aid of bacteria, and it takes a few months to mature. Vinegar that is used in items that are not eaten – like cleaning products – is made through a reaction between methanol and carbon monoxide.
So in short, vinegar is acidic because it contains acetic acid. Some vinegars are stronger and contain more acid, some are milder.
Which vinegar is stronger ?
The strongest vinegar is actually a cleaning vinegar, not intended for human consumption. It is 30% acetic acid, and it’s useful for cleaning tasks and removing very stubborn grime.
In terms of edible, cooking vinegar, the amount of acetic acid in each vinegar bottle depends on the brand. There is no specific vinegar type – like red wine or rice vinegar – that is stronger than the others.
Instead, they all range from 3 to 6 % acetic acid, though most fall around 3% concentration. There are different types of vinegar to look for, and some of them may appear milder than others simply because of flavor, not necessarily because of their acid content.
Read also: Why Are Tomatoes Acidic ?
The strongest food vinegar is white wine vinegar, or simply white vinegar. This is derived from white grapes, and it has no aroma other than vinegar. Red wine vinegar comes in second, with a slightly milder flavor.
Rice vinegar is milder then these two, because rice generally produces a milder flavor.
Apple cider vinegar is very common and may smell the strongest of green apples, even if the apples used weren’t green. Often this vinegar is sweetened and only then added to cooking.
Lemon juice is the only real substitute for vinegar
If you’re unhappy with the flavor of vinegar, and want something that doesn’t have that lingering smell, you have to opt for lemon juice. This is the only acceptable option, because any other citric acid is not going to be strong enough. The juice from a grapefruit or orange is not nearly as acidic as lemon juice.
Vinegar vs lemon juice
The main difference between vinegar and lemon juice is what gives them their acidic properties. Vinegar is acidic because of acetic acid, which is then mixed with some water and sold as vinegar.
Lemon juice is acidic due to citric acid, and it has the highest concentration out of all the citrus fruits. Vinegar is just slightly more acidic than lemon juice, so you can easily swap the two if you need to.
You can sub the vinegar in vinaigrette
If you’re not a big fan of vinegar and its flavor, you might be looking for a way to substitute it while still keeping the acidity percentage. Well, your options are balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice.
Suppose you decide to go for balsamic vinegar. We recommend you go ahead and splurge on that expensive balsamic vinegar, because it’s most likely the original imported kind, not just regular vinegar that was sweetened and colored. True balsamic vinegar is expensive, and has a deep flavor.
For vinaigrette you don’t need much vinegar, in fact you only need 1:3 vinegar to oil. So unless you’re making the biggest salad in the neighborhood, you can use just a tablespoon of balsamic. This vinaigrette will look very dark.
Another option is to use lemon juice instead of plain white vinegar. The smell is better and the acidity is the same, so your dressing will work the same. The ratio is the same, 1:3 lemon juice to oil. This vinaigrette will end up lighter in color, and very fresh in terms of flavor and smell.
Ways to add acidity to food (without vinegar)
If you’re on the lookout for something to add just a bit of acidity to your food, without using vinegar, there are plenty of ways to do so. They’re not nearly as acidic as a dash of vinegar, but this simply means you can add more until you reach the desired level. And you don’t get a vinegary taste !
So let’s look at what you can use. Some of these are better for savory meals, while others are better for sweeter meals. You can mix them or use whichever you think works best for what you’re cooking.
Fresh tomato juice (not sauce)
Fresh tomato juice is a little sweet (if the tomato is ripe) and a bit acidic, so it will mix into a vinaigrette beautifully. Actually, if you’re making a salad with tomatoes, you can swap half the vinegar for tomato juice ! The result will be a milder and sweeter vinaigrette.
Remember, this is tomato juice, not tomato sauce. The juice comes when you slice into the tomato and will eventually continue seeping as you mix the salad. The sauce is a cooked form of tomato, that’s not what we’re after.
Lemon juice is stronger than anything o this list, but we still want to include it, un case you want to use it. It’s definitely going to put a light flavor on anything you’re cooking, so keep that in mind. The upside is that it goes with absolutely everything, sweet or savory, meat or fruits.
Orange or grapefruit juice
The juice from one of these bad boys is definitely milder than lemon juice, but it’s also a bit more flavorful and sweet. You can use both in savory and sweet foods, but be careful with grapefruit. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste and may not go well with white, light meat.
Berry juice is a classic companion to many meat dishes. Think cranberry, currants, blackberries, raspberry, and so on. You get both the color and the flavor, and the result is a delicious meal.
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Pineapple is amazing at helping break down protein, which is why it’s such a good meat tenderizer. And if you add it to any meal at all, it will be slightly acidic and definitely sweet. Just like berry juice, pineapple juice goes with anything.
Again, remember, we’re talking about the juice from the actual fruits, not a concentrate not a pack of juice you get from the store. We mean the fruits juiced in a juicer, or whatever juice is left after cutting up the fruit.