It probably happens more times than you care to say. You are working through a recipe, happily adding ingredients to a pan, when you realize that you do not have something that is required.
In this case, it is Chinese black vinegar.
While it might cause you to panic and wonder whether you can find this speciality ingredient within the next 5 minutes at your local grocery store (doubt it), there are alternatives – phew.
While Chinese black vinegar, or just black vinegar for short, does have a unique aroma and flavor thanks to its wonderfully unique fermentation process, you can substitute it using other ingredients.
So, if you are in desperate need of black vinegar but do not have any in your kitchen, then read on! We have got you covered.
1. Malt Vinegar
Malt vinegar is a dark colored condiment that is made from ale. It has a complex flavor that is sweet and mildly tangy which makes it common in the UK where they have it splashed upon their fish and chips.
It is made using germinated barley grains which are dried and left to produce a wonderful rich and nutty flavor.
While it is on the milder side compared to something like white vinegar, it does the job of being a great substitute to black vinegar.
All you need to add is a couple or so drops to benefit from the aromatic and acidic flavor of this vinegar.
It can be put with noodles and salads, among other things – which includes common Asian dishes.
2. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is often the most common substitute when it comes to black vinegar.
Not only do they look very similar when it comes to their dark color, and the consistency is also near enough the same, but balsamic vinegar is so easy to get a hold of.
In fact, it is very likely that you have some in your cupboard right now.
Balsamic vinegar is known for having a sweet, rich, and acidic flavor. However, you will want to get the real stuff, and not the cheaper kind that imitates balsamic vinegar. How do you know it is quality vinegar?
Look for these sentences: Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.
You may find that it costs a bit more and has a much stronger flavor, but you will be consuming the real thing that has gone through a lengthy fermentation process which is similar to black vinegar.
Fortunately, both of these vinegars are very versatile, so you will not be wasting your money.
3. Worcestershire Sauce
Another British staple: worcestershire sauce. Having been founded in England, it has become a globally loved sauce that is both dark in color and strong in flavor – very similar to that of Chinese black vinegar.
While not a true substitute for black vinegar (and instead similar to soy sauce), it can add that saltiness and intense flavor to a dish, whether as a subtle hint or as the main ingredient.
Even so, you can use the worcestershire sauce (see also ‘6 Worcestershire Sauce Substitutes‘) in place of the black vinegar in soups, chicken dishes, sauces, and so on.
Any dish that needs that added saltiness, sweetness, and overall umami flavor with a touch of acidity.
4. Rice Vinegar
The reason rice vinegar is in this list is because Chinese black vinegar has fermented rice as its base with none of the malt added.
You will find that the original rice vinegar does not contain anything that changes its taste, however, you can buy variations that do include ingredients which will enhance the flavor such as ginger and orange peel.
Often rice vinegar also has added sugar to give it a more sweet and complex flavor overall.
While you might be wondering if it is the same as rice wine, then you will not be alone in feeling confused about the two.
They are not the same. It is all down to the process which happens during fermentation.
For example, when it comes to rice vinegar, it is fermented for a much longer time compared to rice wine.
Rice vinegar is great to use in salads and as a sauce or marinade. Just like Chinese black vinegar, it is versatile and can be used for a number of different dishes and snacks to bring out an acidic yet sweet flavor.
5. Soy Sauce With Rice Vinegar
If you feel that rice vinegar is not enough on its own, especially if you are cooking an Asian dish, then adding some soy sauce will add a savory and umami flavor, combined with a subtly sweet undertone.
Because soy sauce is known for its umami flavor, it will work well mixed with rice vinegar.
This is because the soy sauce will help to dilute some of that acidity from the black vinegar, which will work better with noodle-based dishes, veggies, stir-fries, and meat.
To create a tablespoon worth of this homemade condiment, you will need to add a teaspoon of soy sauce into a small bowl with two teaspoons of rice vinegar.
You can also add more of whichever to create a condiment which suits your tastes.
Adding more vinegar will give it more acidity, while adding more soy sauce will boost the umami flavor.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
While often used for both health and skincare purposes, and to flavor meals, apple cider vinegar (see also ‘9 Apple Cider Vinegar Substitutes‘) is super easy to get a hold of.
One of the reasons it makes a great substitute for black vinegar is because of how easy it is to use and its overall versatility.
It is not so strong that it will overpower a dish, and while it does offer a slight acidity and sweetness, along with a mild tartness, it is easy to use.
In fact, while it can be added as a general salad dressing, it is great to be used as a marinade, or in meat dishes.
It is lighter in flavor compared to black vinegar, but this will not affect the overall flavor of your dish.
7. White Wine Vinegar
If you are not too concerned about the complex nature of the flavor, then white wine vinegar is a great option when it comes to a black vinegar substitute.
This is because white wine vinegar has a lighter acidic flavor that has only a subtle hint of fruit. It is also lighter in color too, compared to a black vinegar.
If you find that the white wine vinegar just is not working for you, then you can add some dark soy sauce for color and depth, also it will add some umami flavor.
Another option is to use red wine vinegar instead, but we shall discuss that further up the list.
8. Sherry Vinegar
While you might not have sherry wine (see also ‘Dry Sherry Substitutes‘) in your pantry, it does exist and makes a decent substitute to Chinese black vinegar.
The reason it works is because it has a dark appearance which usually indicates that it has been fermented for a long time.
Also it works because it has a sweet undertone along with an acidic crispy base. It often has caramel added to the ingredients too to create a nuttier taste.
It has a much more complex flavor the darker the vinegar is, however it also means it is much more expensive too as the process took a lot longer to produce the vinegar.
9. Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar is a last-minute substitute for black vinegar such as when you just do not have anything else to hand. While it cannot produce the same kind of flavor, it will have a darker color and is sweet.
However, it does have subtle acidic notes and will take on the black vinegar characteristics if needed. However, you will want to use much less.
For every two tablespoons of Chinese black vinegar, use only a tablespoon of red wine in its place.
10. Lemon Juice And Honey
If you do not have any wines or vinegars to hand, there is another solution: lemon juice and honey. You can also use lime juice (see also ‘7 Substitutes For Lime Juice‘) as well.
While not a common substitute for Chinese black vinegar, it can give you the acidic and sweet taste that you need in a dish.
To create, add the juice from one lemon into a small bowl and mix in a tablespoon or more of honey. You can adjust it to find the flavor that you require.
If honey is not something you have, then you can use sugar. This will make around one tablespoon worth of black vinegar in a recipe.
11. Apple Juice
Again, apple juice is not exactly a common substitute for Chinese black vinegar, however it can replace the flavor elements needed in a recipe.
Apples are acidic and sweet, hence the reason it makes a decent black vinegar substitute. If you need it to be sweeter, then add either sugar or honey – but do not overdo it. Apple juice is quite sweet anyway!
To make sure you are using enough apple juice in a recipe, three whole tablespoons makes around one tablespoon worth of black vinegar.
When it comes to using apple juice (or another fruit juice) you may not want to use this kind of substitute as a condiment. It may appear too runny.
12. Date Vinegar
While date vinegar is a tricky one to find (hence it is at the bottom of the list) you may have some hidden away in your pantry. It makes a great substitute for a sweeter black vinegar, and is in fact the sweetest one on this list.
It comes from dates, so may have a high sugar content too. Having said all this, it does provide an acidity too, and often other flavors are added such as herbs and spices to give it an extra kick.
You may be surprised to learn that it is the highest concentration of all vinegars on this list too. So yes, it will be very acidic. Keep this in mind when you are deciding what to use this vinegar for.
While not having any Chinese black vinegar might cause you to have a mini meltdown in the kitchen, it does not have to ruin your dish. In fact, it is rather common not to have any black vinegar in your cupboard.
While you could run to your local Asian store – if you have one – there are other alternatives to try. Why not substitute black vinegar for something like red wine vinegar, or even worcestershire sauce?
Even though black vinegar does have a completely unique flavor and aroma thanks to the fermentation process, it does not mean that your dish is doomed.
Hopefully the above list will help you to create the tasty meal that you had planned in the first place.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Black Vinegar Become Black In Color?
Black vinegar gets its dark color from the process that happens during fermentation. It is put into pots made from clay rather than wood, and this helps the vinegar to be black in color.
It is also made using whole steamed grains too, and is left for a round 3 to 4 weeks to ferment, if not even longer.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Black Vinegar?
While vinegar is not often thought of as healthy due to its tanginess and acidity, black vinegar does have some antioxidants which are beneficial for the immune system and overall health.
The darker the vinegar, the more antioxidants present. This is because the vinegar is more likely to be refined compared to lighter vinegar.
How Is Black Vinegar Different From Regular Vinegar?
Black vinegar has an aroma and flavor that is unique due to how it is produced, however, that does not mean you cannot use other vinegar in its place if you do not have any to hand.
You can try the likes of red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar to create a similar flavor. While you will not match the exact notes of black vinegar, you will be able to save your dish.