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Ultimate Guide to Vinegar

By: Gayle A. Alleman

Uses for Vinegar in the Kitchen

In both Great Britain and Japan, vinegar is often used to bring out the flavor in fish.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Vinegar's acidity makes it a natural wonder in your kitchen. Besides the burst of flavor vinegar lends to whatever it touches, it serves other purposes, too:

  • Meat tenderizer: Vinegar's acid helps break down muscle fibers in tough meats. Make a mixture of half vinegar and half broth, and soak tough meat in this solution for up to two hours. (Because of vinegar's ability to tenderize, never leave fish in a marinade that contains vinegar for longer than 20 minutes; otherwise the fish might get mushy.)
  • Fish poacher: When poaching fish, put a tablespoon of vinegar in the poaching water to keep the fish from falling apart. Vinegar helps the protein in the fish coagulate, and mushiness isn't a problem because fish is usually poached for less than 20 minutes.
  • Egg saver: Put a tablespoon of vinegar in the water when boiling eggs. If any eggs crack while dancing in the water, their whites will coagulate and not escape from the shells.
  • Buttermilk stand-in: When a recipe calls for buttermilk and you have none, substitute plain milk and add a little vinegar. Use one tablespoon of vinegar per cup (eight ounces) of milk. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature until it thickens, then use it in your recipe as you would buttermilk. Choose mild-flavored vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar, for this purpose.
  • Candy smoother: When making homemade candy and icing, a few drops of vinegar will prevent the texture from getting grainy.
  • Potato whitener: Cover peeled potatoes with water and a tablespoon or two of vinegar to keep them from browning.
  • Food preserver: Use vinegar to make pickles or to can vegetables to preserve the freshness of your garden or local farm stand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes up-to-date information about pickling, canning, and preserving. These instructions will yield tasty pickles and home-canned products that are safe to eat. Check your local state university extension office or the USDA Web site for tips about pickling.

Vinegar to the Rescue!

Let vinegar solve some common, frustrating household problems:


  • Pour about a teaspoon of vinegar into a nearly empty mayonnaise jar and swish it around to get out the last of the mayonnaise.
  • Use it to remove berry stains from your hands.
  • Soak a paper towel with vinegar and place it in a smelly lunchbox overnight to remove those hard-to-get-rid-of odors.
  • Simmer a small saucepan of water and vinegar to remove cooking smells from the kitchen.
  • Add vinegar to a piecrust recipe and the dough will be easier to roll out. (The crust may be less flaky, however.) Most recipes call for about a tablespoon of vinegar for a double crust.

Vinegar's Vim

No matter how you look at it, vinegar can add spice to your culinary life. Prowl the gourmet shops in your area and you'll find dozens of different vinegars. Select a few to bring home and put them to use with the recipes in this book. Your taste buds will definitely be pleased, but it may be your health that benefits most.


Gayle Povis Alleman, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in traditional nutrition from Western Washington University and a master's degree in alternative nutrition from Bastyr University. This varied background allows her to bring together the best of both approaches to offer research-based, holistic information about wholesome foods, nutrition, and health. As a writer, educator, and speaker, she encourages people to achieve optimum health through food, nutrients, and physical activity.

Vinegar FAQ

What is vinegar made of?
Vinegar can be made from almost any food that contains natural sugars. Yeast ferments the sugars into alcohol, and bacteria converts that alcohol a second time into a weak acetic acid known as vinegar. This flavor of the resulting acid hints at the original food, such as apples or grapes.
Which vinegar is best for cleaning?
White distilled vinegar is the most common vinegar in American households and is the best vinegar for cleaning. The acidic properties make it a great disinfecting agent for use around the house.
What is white vinegar made from?
White vinegar is made from either grain-based ethanol or laboratory-produced acetic acid that's diluted with water.
Is vinegar a strong acid?
Vinegar is a natural form of dilute acetic acid, which is a weak acid with a typical pH of 2 to 3.
What does the word vinegar mean?
The word vinegar comes from the French phrase "vin aigre," which translated to "sour wine".