A drizzle here, a splash there. That’s all it takes for vinegar to make its presence felt in a dish. Like all things gourmet, a little goes a long way with this versatile condiment. Forget about your boring old white and dark vinegar, because it’s time to check out the world that lies beyond those two. Red wine, sherry and apple cider are just a few examples of the vinegar variants available in gourmet stores today, and more seem to be flowing in. Salad dressings, eastern-style noodles, salsa and other dishes that depend on fresh ingredients for flavour are made perfect with a dash of the right kind of vinegar. If you’re ever in the UK, don’t even think about stepping out of a fish and chips shop without drizzling some malt vinegar onto your chips! Vinegar forms an integral part of many dishes, both sweet and savoury, so try your hand at the different varieties available now to make the most of this ingredient.
What is it?
Don’t let the pungent smell throw you off, vinegar adds acidity where it is lacking. Even in marinades for meats, it can enhance the flavour without overwhelming the dish. Made from the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria, vinegar has been produced through the ages for either cooking or industrial purposes. This basically means that the base, be it fruit or grain is fermented past the alcohol stage and into the acid stage. That is what makes all vinegars sour to varying degrees. The acidic nature also protects food from spoiling, making it a great addition to pickle and meats. The Babylonians are believed to have used vinegar or “vin aigre” (meaning sour wine in French) since 5,000 B.C.
Here’s the lowdown on some of types of gourmet vinegars available today:
Red wine vinegar seems on its way to becoming one of the most widely used gourmet vinegars in Indian homes today. It can be made from a variety of red wines, so choose your option carefully. Red wine vinegar is perfect for vinaigrettes and pickles, and can even be aged for a year or two, which makes the flavour more subtle. Raspberry red wine vinegar is a great fruity version that can be tried out. It’s close and pale gold coloured relation, white wine vinegar, can be used with fruits like strawberries and melons, as well as in reductions of sauces for seafood dishes. Sherry vinegar is much more robust in flavour than the two vinegars mentioned above. Its colour too is darker, almost mahogany. It is also one of the oldest known types of vinegars. For a touch of luxury, pick up a bottle of champagne vinegar. It has a lighter and more subtle flavour than the other wine vinegars.
Balsamic vinegar is an aged Italian condiment with a dark colour and sweet, complex flavours. This comes from years of aging, between 6 – 25 years, in casks of different woods. Its high acidity is hidden behind a sweetness that goes well with fresh strawberries, peaches and melons. Different regions of Italy produce different versions of balsamic vinegar, so pick your favourite from these. Apple cider vinegar is, as its name suggests, made from apple cider. This gives the vinegar a mellow and slightly tart flavour that complements almost all dishes.
Moving east, gourmet foodies will find a number of vinegars to suit their taste. The first one is rice vinegar, made from fermented rice wine. It is commonly used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, especially in quick stir-fries and sushi rolls. It is also quite sweet in taste and combines well with sesame oil in salad dressings. The Philippines and Sri Lanka love coconut vinegar, made from fermented coconut water. It’s used in Goan cuisine as well and is quite cloudy with a sharp, yeasty taste. Use it sparingly in meat dishes. Fruit vinegars like those made with blackcurrant, tomato and raisin retain the taste of the fruit.
With over twenty different varieties, ranging from the strangely named Job’s tears (an aged Japanese vinegar made from the Job’s tears plant with a flavour similar to rice vinegar) to the one made from beer (used throughout the UK and the Netherlands; known for its malty taste), vinegar has more complexity than it is given credit for. Organic Haus, a chain of organic food stores slowly expanding throughout the country carry a range of gourmet vinegars. So go out and experiment to find your favourite one.