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Vinegar 101 Series: What is vinegar and why do we use it in cooking?

What is vinegar?

Vinegar is a liquid consisting of 5-20% acetic acid. It's made from any food that contains sugar, including starchy grains, fruits, and alcohol. Very simply, bacteria are added to the liquid in a controlled environment, and through the process of fermentation convert the sugar to acetic acid. This acidity is a prominent feature of any vinegar, and the level of acidity will vary along different types of vinegars.

Vinegar can be made quickly under commercial conditions, or very slowly over several years, as with traditional Balsamic vinegar. The quality of vinegar can vary greatly, and it is important to know what ingredients are in your vinegar. At New Canaan Olive Oil, we only carry vinegars of the highest quality. They do not contain any added coloring or sweeteners.

Stored properly (usually in a cool, dark place and with the bottle closed) vinegar will last many years. Because it is highly acidic, vinegar is naturally resistant to bacterial growth and spoilage.

Vinegar at New Canaan Olive Oil

Why do we use vinegar when cooking?

  • The acidic nature of vinegar lends a sour or tart flavor to foods, which is desirable when balancing flavors.
  • Vinegar is often used to balance creamy or fatty flavors as with mayonnaise and other salad dressings. The tartness helps brighten the flavors and prevents dishes from tasting or feeling too heavy.
  • Vinegar is often added to marinades not only for its flavor but also because the acid helps tenderize the meat by breaking down its fibers.


See our selection of recipes with vinegar for ideas and inspiration.

Next up in our Vinegar101 Series: Different Types of Vinegar (and how to use them)

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