Which Vinegar to Use When Pickling

Filed in Canning and Preserving by on August 15, 2015 12 Comments

What is the best kind of vinegar to use when making pickles?

different types of vinegar

Here is a question I am often asked; “What vinegar should I use to make pickles?”


The answer? You can use any kind of vinegar, as long as it is at least 5% acid.

Each vinegar adds it’s own personality to your pickling project of course, but they are all inter-changeable, as long as they have 5% acidity.


Don’t assume that the vinegar you want will be at that 5% acid level. Although most commercially available vinegars are 5% acid, some are not. The rice wine vinegar in the photo above is only 4.2% acid, and would not be safe for canning homemade pickles.

If you really, really wanted to use the rice wine vinegar, you could either freeze the resulting pickles, or keep them in the refrigerator.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is made from corn, and adds practically no taste of it’s own – other than the acid taste. Many pickling recipes call for white vinegar.

Apple Cider Vinegar

As its name implies, apple cider vinegar is made from apples. The flavor of apple cider vinegar is less sharp than that of white vinegar, yielding a pickle that is softer on the palate. Apple cider vinegar is the vinegar I use most when pickling, despite the fact that it does color the pickles somewhat. However, I prefer the mellow flavor it imparts.

Balsamic Vinegar

Although balsamic vinegar can be used to pickle, its flavor may overpower your cucumbers, carrots, etc. Balsamic vinegar is made from wine grapes and it has a sweet taste. Its dark color will also affect pickles. In addition, balsamic vinegar is rather expensive if you are making more than a jar or two of pickles. If you really must have balsamic vinegar pickles, you can save money by using half the amount of balsamic vinegar and replacing the remaining half with white vinegar. Just be sure to use as much total vinegar as the recipe requires!

Balsamic vinegar may or may not hit the 5% acidity mark too. The bottle pictured above is 6%, but another brand on my shelf didn’t state its acid level.

Flavored Vinegars

I have several bottles of blueberry vinegar, raspberry vinegar, etc. on my shelf (I am a bit of a vinegar aficionado). Either they don’t hit the 5% acid thresh hold or they don’t list their acid level. Good for salad dressing or roasting veggies, not safe for home canned pickles.

Other Vinegars

Occasionally you may find a pickling recipe that calls for sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar or some other specialty vinegar. These milder tasting vinegars can make wonderful pickles, but the cost is often prohibitive. Save these recipes to make one or two jars, or as  a gift for someone really special!

Homemade Vinegar

As mentioned above, I love vinegar. I make my own fermented red wine, white wine, malt, and peach vinegars each year. But I never use them for home canned pickles. Why? Because I have no way to test the acid level. Do they hit the 5% acid level? Probably. But I don’t know for sure, so I don’t use my homemade vinegars unless making refrigerator pickles.

In Conclusion

So, to wrap up –  when making home canned pickles:

  • You can use any kind of vinegar, as long as it is at least 5% acid.
  • Some vinegars will add another layer of flavor to your pickles.
  • Some vinegars will add color to your pickles, this may or may not be desirable.
  • 5% acid vinegars are all interchangeable in pickle recipes; you can use white instead of apple cider, sherry instead of white, etc.


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About the Author ()

Renee Pottle, an freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at SeedToPantry.com. Find her professional food writing info at PenandProvisions.com.

Comments (12)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Maybe you could use an acidity tester like they use for garden soil to test the acidity of your homage vinegars??

  2. Keith says:

    I’ve seen a lot of recipes that mix equal parts vinegar (Apple cider or white distilled) with water. Doesn’t that affect acidity levels?
    Also, I’ve been told that cutting the ends off of cucumbers keeps them crisp…is that true?

    • admin says:

      Keith, as long as the water amount is less than the vinegar amount the recipe should be safe. And yes, removing the blossom end of cukes will help keep them from getting too soft. You may still need to use something else, like purchased Pickle Crisp, if you prefer your pickles very crisp.

  3. Joey says:

    Im in a fantastic part of the world in Australia where i catch lots of Squid. Ive decided to begin pickling Squid and wondering if you’ve ever thought of mixing your vinegars to create a more unique flavor of such…. ??

    • admin says:

      Joey, as long as the vinegars are at least 5% acidity it should work fine. I have never combined them intentionally, but have used a mixture of cider vinegar and white vinegar when one or the other has run out! As for pickling squid, make sure you use an approved recipe.

  4. Rob says:

    If you wish to use the rice vinegar for pickling just boil 1/4 of it away. this will increase the acidity by 1/4 taking you over the 5% mark.

    • admin says:

      Rob, while this may be true in theory – it’s not always true in practice. I tend to err on the side of safety, so I can’t recommend it. But it is possible that some manufacturer out there makes a 5% rice vinegar and I haven’t found it yet!

      • Kristi says:

        Hmmm, if a pickling recipe calls for 50% (5%) vinegar and 50% water – the pH of the solution would only be 2.5%. So using **only** straight 4% Rice vinegar alone would be fine for that recipe….because it would be **more** acidic than the 5% vinegar-water mixture :::thumbs up:::

        • admin says:

          Kristi, the thing is – recipes are approved using 5% vinegar; even if it also includes an equal amount (or less) of water. I get what you are saying, but can’t advocate for something that hasn’t been proven safe. I personally would love to have a testing lab in my kitchen! That would make these types of situations easier. 🙂

    • Meghan says:

      As stated below, this *may* be true… but the boiling point of acetic acid is fairly close to that of water, so you will be boiling off both to some degree – as you probably know, in distillation, it is not true that the lowest boiling material is boiled off cleanly; it will boil off at some percentage mixed with the higher boiling materials. Thus, it will be very difficult to estimate how much needs to be removed to reach that 5% acidity. Why play around with potential botulism poisoning, since that can kill you and anyone you feed your canned goods to, when there are so many other options for using the right concentration of vinegar??

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