Balsamic vinegar is one of the most popular specialty vinegars, and its popularity has made Italy into the world’s vinegar capital. However, quality balsamic vinegar can be hard to find and expensive. If you need an emergency balsamic vinegar substitute, here are some options:
Your best bet: Make your own balsamic vinegar alternative
When you are replacing balsamic vinegar, what you need in its place is a fruity flavor with a little sweetness along with the strong acidity that you expect from a vinegar. The easy way to get all of those flavors is to combine red wine or cider vinegar or with a little sugar. The red wine or cider vinegar will give you the fruitiness and the acidity.
Some experts recommend using brown sugar for added depth along with the sweetness. A good formula is to use half as much sugar as vinegar so you would use one tablespoon of sugar for every two tablespoons of red wine or cider vinegar.
Another DIY option is to mix lemon juice for fruitiness along with a little brown sugar and a little soy sauce. The soy sauce gives a slight fermented edge and darkens the mixture to make it look a little more like real balsamic vinegar. Use a 3:2:1 ratio for the ingredients.
A decent second choice: Chinese black vinegar
Also called brown rice vinegar, Chinese black vinegar is usually made from glutinous rice that has been fermented though it can also be made with sorghum or millet. It is a popular ingredient in foods from the northern and eastern parts of China.
Like balsamic vinegar, Chinese black vinegar is often aged with higher quality versions being aged for a long time. It is commonly used to make dipping sauces for dumplings and its complex flavor pairs well with both chile peppers and soy sauce. Chinese black vinegar is less expensive than balsamic vinegar and can be found in most groceries that sell Asian foods.
It has similar darkness and thickness to that of balsamic vinegar even though black vinegar is not quite as sweet. Like balsamic vinegar, it has a mellow flavor profile and its acidity is on the mild side.
You can use black vinegar as a balsamic vinegar substitute in salad dressings, reductions, and marinades.
In a pinch: Red verjus
The juice of unripe grapes, verjus has a sweetness that mimics that of balsamic vinegar. The grapes used to make it are cut from the vine to give the other grapes room to grow. Verjus is commonly used to enhance the flavor of various sauces and is one of the ingredients in classic Dijon mustard recipes.
As with wine, different brands and grape varieties make for a range of flavor profiles. Most red verjus will have a sweet, rich flavor profile with floral elements that does a good job of standing in for the intense depth of balsamic vinegar.
You can use red verjus as a balsamic vinegar substitute in salad dressings as well as to make glazes, marinades, and sauces.
Unlike balsamic vinegar, verjus is not fermented so you won’t get the fermented tang from it; however, you may be able to simulate it by adding a little red wine or red wine vinegar.
Sherry vinegar is aged in barrels just like balsamic vinegar, which gives it a similar depth of flavor. It is not quite as sweet as balsamic vinegar but you can sweeten it with wine or honey and use it in many of the same ways.