The world of vinegar is wide, wild, and a little aggressive. Between the health zealots touting the supposed healing properties of ACV, and the more refined flavours of fancier lads (such as sherry vinegar), plain, distilled white vinegar does not get much culinary love.
There are, however, times when white vinegar — which is basically just dilute acetic acid — is the vinegar to go with. It adds a bite the others can’t quite approach, while letting other flavours shine. Here are some of our favourite ways to use the plainest of the vinegars, and none of them involve cleaning.
Pickled things: The best pickles are the boldest pickles, and white vinegar lives boldly. It’s great for classic pickled cukes, but its unmitigated blast of acid is what makes this sweet and tart pickled corn so dang delicious.
Salt and vinegar chips: By utilising a simple acid-base reaction, you can make your very own acetic acid powder—i.e., the powerful sour powder that graces my favourite potato chip. This means DIY salt and vinegar chips, but it also means salt and vinegar popcorn, salt and vinegar croutons, salt and vinegar almonds. If you wish to reimagine your favourite snack as a side dish, try these salt and vinegar roasted potatoes from Bon Appetit, which are boiled in (dilute acetic) acid before roasting.
Shrubs: If, like me, you are truly a fan of aggressively sour beverages, I recommend making a shrub with the white stuff. This works best with particularly sweet, very ripe fruit. Just sprinkle a pound of chopped fruit with two cups of sugar, cover it and let it sit at room temperature for a day, then strain off the resulting syrup and mix with vinegar to taste. (Depending on how sweet your fruit is, this should be in the range of one to two cups.)
Also, don’t sleep on making a vinaigrette with white vinegar, especially if you want to highlight other, sweet, spicy or pungent flavours. You may need a little extra sugar to tame the sourness, but that stark contrast between sour and sweet is totally worth it.