The grill is on and a delicious meal of steak skewers with chimichurri awaits. But there’s just one problem...you’re missing a key ingredient for the bright and flavor-packed sauce. Good news, friends: It’s possible to get by in a pinch without a specific variety of vinegar. Here’s how to substitute for red wine vinegar using stuff you probably already have lying around the kitchen.
4 Substitutes for Red Wine Vinegar
Fortunately, there are several solid red wine vinegar swaps you can use to pull a meal together on the fly. Just be sure to pay attention to usage because some vinegars are better suited for certain recipes (a dressing is not the same as a pan sauce
1. Sherry Vinegar
Sherry is sweeter than a dry red wine, so it makes sense that the resulting vinegar is as well. Still, sherry vinegar boasts a refined flavor profile that can do much of what red wine vinegar does, just a bit more subtly. For that reason, you’ll want to adjust the amount to taste. Start off with a 1:1 substitution, but keep in mind that you may need to add more to certain dishes in order to imitate the bolder acidity of red wine vinegar.
2. White Wine Vinegar
Although white wine vinegar is slightly less astringent, brighter, and a bit mellower than its red counterpart, it is similar in terms of both its acidity level and fruit-forward palate. (In fact, the experts at Cook’s Illustrated put this swap to the test in salad dressings and the majority of tasters couldn’t tell the two apart.) Use white wine vinegar as a 1:1 substitute in any recipe that calls for red wine vinegar and doesn’t require deep color—it’s a solid flavor match and only the most discerning palate will be able to detect the difference.
3. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is a specialty product from Modena, Italy that can be used to add tang to dressings, richness to marinades and oomph to vegetables. That said, it’s considerably sweeter and milder than red wine vinegar, and the flavor profile is only similar in that they both share the acidic qualities that all vinegars have in common. But balsamic is a better stand-in than nothing and can be used as a 1:1 swap in salad dressings. For other recipes that call for red wine vinegar, start with half the quantity of balsamic, and taste for sweetness before adding more or upping the acidity with lemon juice for a brighter, more piquant dish.
4. White Vinegar and Red Wine
Did you know that you can actually make your own red wine vinegar? It’s surprisingly easy to do (continue reading below for more deets) but it takes a couple of months to see the fruits of your labor. But here’s a clever hack for anyone who doesn’t have the time to ferment and age their homemade red wine vinegar but wants to go the DIY route: Simply stir together an equal amount of red wine and regular white vinegar (i.e., not white wine vinegar) and you’ve got yourself a good knockoff. Use the 50/50 blend as an equal measure substitute for red wine vinegar in any recipe.
How to Make Your Own Red Wine Vinegar
The best substitute for red wine vinegar is simply to make the stuff yourself at home and it’s not as difficult to do as you might imagine. In fact, it only requires two ingredients: red wine and the ‘vinegar mother’. Yep, nothing can be born without a mother...but what exactly does this mean for vinegar? The mother of vinegar is a gelatinous substance that, with its composition of cellulose and acetic acid, feeds on alcohol to ferment and create the kitchen staple we call vinegar. In the case of red wine vinegar, the alcohol in question is (you guessed it) red wine. So where can we find our mother? Any live, raw vinegar—an unpasteurized, unfiltered product—will fit the bill. This apple cider vinegar from Bragg is easy to come by and highly effective for the DIY project—check out this tutorial from the guys at Preserve & Pickle for step-by-step instructions. Once you have your mother vinegar handy, all you need is a bottle of wine and this easy-to-follow recipe from New York Times Cooking. (Note: The fermentation process takes two months, so this one is definitely a cooking project and not a substitution that will see you through in a pinch.)