Red wine vinegar vs balsamic vinegar: Is there even a big difference between these two kitchen staples? As it turns out, there is, and they aren’t readily interchangeable…
When you’re out of an ingredient that a recipe calls for, it’s easy to ask if an item you do have is similar enough to act as a substitute. After all, chicken stock can’t be that different from chicken broth… right? Or what about baking soda and baking powder? Well, if you didn’t already know, you usually can’t substitute chicken broth for chicken stock, and baking soda and baking powder are never interchangeable: red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar are another example of two slightly similar, but ultimately very different products.
What Is Red Wine Vinegar?
Red wine vinegar is a grape-based vinegar that’s made through the fermentation of red wine. Now you might be thinking, isn’t wine already a product of fermentation? While this is true, fermenting red grapes until they become red wine then fermenting that red wine for even longer (usually another year or two) is how red wine vinegar is made.
What Is Balsamic Vinegar?
Like red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar is also a grape-based vinegar, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Unlike red wine vinegar, the grapes that eventually become balsamic vinegar are never wine: this is because traditional balsamic vinegar is made by boiling, then fermenting and acidifying grape must (crushed up grapes, grape skins, grape seeds, and grape stems) in barrels for at least 12 years.
This traditional Italian balsamic vinegar comes in two forms: Aceto Balsamico Tradizional de Moderna DOP and Aceto Balsamico Tradizional di Reggio-Emilia DOP, both of which are named for their town of origin. These traditional balsamic kinds of vinegar aren’t just very expensive, but they’re also not meant to be cooked with since they’re so much more flavorful. Instead, a fancy Italian dish might have some poured directly on top of it like a sauce.
So you might be wondering, that can’t be the same thing they sell at the local grocery store for $6, right? That is correct: the balsamic vinegar you buy at your average grocery store is able to be produced much more quickly and for a lot less money because it’s actually a mix of balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar!
Red Wine Vinegar vs Balsamic Vinegar: Uses
Outside of just the production process, one of the key differences between red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar is their flavor. Red wine vinegar is much more acidic and tastes much stronger than balsamic vinegar, while balsamic vinegar is softer, sweeter, and fruitier. The consistency of the two types of vinegar is also different, as red wine vinegar is thin and watery while balsamic vinegar is thicker and stickier.
Since red wine vinegar still tastes a bit like red wine, it often pairs well with foods you’d drink red wine with (red meat, Italian food, etc.). While everyone knows that balsamic vinegar is great for salads, many marinades, sauce, and pasta recipes also call for red wine vinegar’s sweeter counterpart.
While red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar aren’t the same things, you actually can substitute one for the other in a pinch if you put in a little extra effort.
If you need red wine vinegar but only have balsamic vinegar, you’ll need to make the balsamic less sweet in some way. Try removing excess sugar from the recipe in any way you can to even out the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, but if you can’t do this, simply using less vinegar than the recipe calls for can help.
Some other substitutes for red wine vinegar are sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar. white wine vinegar, or a tannic red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. Balsamic vinegar on the other hand doesn’t have many good substitutes, though a balsamic vinaigrette can work in a pinch.
Now that the red wine vinegar vs balsamic vinegar crash course has come to an end, you might end up needing potential substitutes for other common ingredients, like sage or saffron, in the future. If this ever happens, come right back here to the Public Goods Blog, where we cover more than just ingredient substitutions: Public Goods is actually your number one source for information about everything home and lifestyle, so long as it’s natural, healthy, and sustainable, that is.
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