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