Black vinegar is a unique product, and you can’t simply substitute any other vinegar for it.
Luckily, there are a few kitchen items that can serve as appropriate Chinese black vinegar substitutes such as balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar and red wine vinegar.
What Is Black Vinegar Made Of?
Before we dive into substitutes, it helps to understand what black vinegar is. It’s unique from other types of vinegar due to its rich flavor. It isn’t just acidic. A great bottle will have notes of malt and licorice, making for an earthy base that counterbalances the acidic sharpness.
Like all kinds of vinegar, the product uses a two-step fermentation process. In step one, combining sugar-laden fruit or grain with yeast creates an alcoholic substance, making an ethanol byproduct. In step two, bacteria take the ethanol and transform it into acetic acid.
So, what sets black vinegar apart? First, its production process uses grains, usually rice. The grain adds the hints of malt noted above. Further, it’s aged from half a year to three-plus years. This is how it gains its signature rich color. Finally, traditionally, black vinegar would be fermented in clay pots.
Black vinegar is popular in Chinese cooking, combined with everything from soy sauce to sweet-and-sour sauce. It’s thus sometimes referred to as Chinese black vinegar. In fact, in China, there are four main regional types of black vinegar.
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Recommended Chinese Black Vinegar Substitute
1. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is an obvious first choice when it comes to Chinese black vinegar substitutes. It’s similar in terms of color and consistency. It’s likewise versatile. You can use it for everything from sauces to dressings, glazes, and more.
In terms of taste, balsamic isn’t a perfect match. The substance tends to have a sweeter flavor than black vinegar. It’s also a bit more syrupy. However, it’s likewise aged for an extended period—anywhere from 12 to 25 years—so it maintains the rich flavor of black vinegar.
Due to its thick consistency, balsamic vinegar is an especially great swap if you’re making a thick sauce or glaze. You won’t have to worry about thickening the sauce as much as you would with traditional black vinegar.
Since balsamic is significantly sweeter than black vinegar, it’s also ideal for any sweet recipe, like a sweet-and-sour sauce. Note that you’ll likely have to use less of the balsamic vinegar than you would the black vinegar in your recipe.
2. Rice Vinegar
As mentioned, black vinegar is set apart from some other types of vinegar—which are made with fermented fruit—because it’s made with grains, usually rice. Given that fact, rice vinegar is an obvious alternative for black vinegar, as they share the same base.
The main difference is that there’s no added malt with rice vinegar. Further, note that rice vinegar comes in many formats. The original rice vinegar is plain. However, some variations have flavor enhancements, like ginger or orange peel.
Ideally, you will swap out your black vinegar with plain rice vinegar. Since rice vinegar generally ferments longer than black vinegar, it may have a more intense and robust flavor. You thus may need less than what the original recipe calls for in terms of black vinegar.
So, what would you use rice vinegar for? It’s great in marinades, dressings, and pickling mixtures. You can also try it in black vinegar recipes that call for tofu or stir-fry. A plain rice vinegar without flavor enhancers should work well for any of these dishes.
3. Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar offers a few benefits as a Chinese black vinegar substitute. First, it has a similar sweet yet tangy flavor. Further, it has a darker hue, so you can be sure the presentation of your meal will be the same.
That said, red wine vinegar isn’t a perfect dupe. It doesn’t contain the same levels of acidity as black vinegar. The taste further lacks the earthy undertones of black vinegar. You also won’t find any of the malt-like hints you can expect from Chinese black vinegar.
For this reason, red wine vinegar is a preferable swap for recipes that don’t rely heavily on black vinegar. You might use it in a salad or stir fry, for example, where other ingredients are taking center stage.
Note that the recipe ratio will need to be adjusted accordingly. For every two tablespoons of black vinegar, you will want to use one tablespoon of red wine vinegar. This ensures that you still get the necessary acidity for the dish.
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4. Sherry Vinegar
Some people refer to sherry vinegar as the “cool cousin” of balsamic. Originally hailing from Spain, this product is the southern European country’s answer to Italy’s balsamico. (Technically, balsamic vinegar can only be labeled as such if it comes from Reggio Emilia or Modena.)
Sherry vinegar is significantly more affordable than balsamico while still maintaining a similar flavor profile. It’s made from pressed grape juice, which is then fermented, colored, and sweetened. Caramel is one common sweetener added.
Although sherry vinegar is aged longer than black vinegar, it has an uncannily similar taste. It’s likewise quite acidic and offers some of the same sweetness, thanks to the caramel addition. This also makes for a nutty aftertaste, which nicely balances the sour notes.
One noteworthy difference is that you won’t get the same dark hue of black vinegar. If you’re worried about visual presentation, this can be a con. However, otherwise, you can expect sherry vinegar to make a great swap in terms of flavor.
5. Date Vinegar
Finally, if you want a great sweet alternative to black vinegar, you might be surprised that dates are the answer. Although black vinegar is made of grain (rice) and date vinegar has a fruit base (made of fermented date), the two share some flavor profile similarities.
Date vinegar is the oldest recorded type of vinegar of all the variations available. It doesn’t just include dates but also has spices and herbs added to optimize the flavor. This gives it a great sweetness that counteracts the tart acidity of regular vinegar.
When using date vinegar, you can use the same ratios or amounts as black rice vinegar. You’ll even find that the colors of the two solutions are pretty similar. You will thus benefit from a similar appearance as well as a very similar taste.
Since it’s so similar to black vinegar, you can use date vinegar for all kinds of recipes. It will do well for dressings, marinades, glazes, and sauces. It’s also suitable for a stir fry. Make sure to taste test as you go along to ensure you don’t overpower your recipe with a sweet flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
The list above covers some of the most serviceable and common substitutes for black vinegar. However, you may still have some questions about the topic. The below frequently asked questions have you covered.
Black vinegar gains its unique color from the fermentation process it goes through. It’s usually made with grain and fermented in clay pots instead of wooden barrels.
In general, vinegar is a good source of health-boosting antioxidants. This especially applies to darker vinegar, which tends to be richer and less refined.
While balsamic and black vinegar are both types of vinegar, they have distinct flavors, consistencies, and tastes. Black vinegar tends to be less tart and often has an earthy smokey flavor.
There are many different types and brands of black vinegar. You can usually find good-quality black vinegar in Asian supermarkets. Popular brands include Soeos Chinkiang Zhenjiang Vinegar, Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar, and Koon Chun Black Vinegar.
Black vinegar has a unique aroma and flavor thanks to its one-of-a-kind production process. It’s thus not advisable to try to use white or apple cider vinegar as a swap. Instead, look to substitutes like red wine or date vinegar.
Black vinegar is unique from other types of vinegar thanks to its earthy and malt-like undertones, which cut through the solution’s natural acidity. This flavor comes from vinegar, is made with grains—usually rice—and undergoes a unique fermentation process.
Due to its unique nature, you cannot swap black vinegar out with any vinegar like white or apple cider. However, there are many serviceable Chinese black vinegar substitutes available, from date vinegar to balsamic. The above list covers the best options.