Malt vinegar is a staple in the United Kingdom and is the preferred condiment for UK-style fish and chips. While it is widely available, there are a few reasons for you to seek out an alternative. One such reason is that malt does contain gluten, which means that the vinegar may not be suitable for people with celiac disease. If you need a malt vinegar substitute for that or any other reason, here are some good options.
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Your best bet: Apple cider vinegar
At first glance, apple cider vinegar might not seem to be the best malt vinegar substitute. For one thing, it is made from a fruit while malt vinegar is made from a grain (malted barley). However, the two do have a lot in common.
For one thing, they both have roughly the same amount of acidity. Both apple cider and malt vinegars are in the 4 to 5 percent acidity range. This level of acidity makes them perfect for salad dressings, marinades and similar applications but not acidic enough to be used for pickling and canning.
The 4 to 5 percent acidity range is the lowest level of acidity allowed for vinegar. If the acidity is below this, vinegar makers are not allowed to call their product vinegar. While apple cider vinegar is not quite as dark as malt vinegar, many versions come close. As a result, it is one of the most visually similar substitutes.
Apple cider vinegar does have a fruity note that differs somewhat from the toasty, nutty flavor of malt vinegar, but it should still work in the same applications. If you are in the United States, apple cider vinegar will be vastly more popular and therefore much easier to find. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar also has a reputation for health benefits that malt vinegar does not have.
A decent second choice: Rice vinegar
Like malt vinegar, rice vinegar is made from grain rather than fruit. It is made from fermented rice wine and is also sometimes called rice wine vinegar. Commonly used in Asian dipping sauces, it has a similarly low level of acidity to that of malt vinegar. In fact, it is widely considered to be one of the least acidic vinegars on the market.
Most rice wine vinegars are in the same acidity range as malt vinegar but fall closer to the lower end of that range. The low acidity means that they can be used in many of the same applications that require malt vinegar.
While it should be available in most well-stocked grocery stores, rice wine vinegar might not be as easy to find as other substitutes on this list. Rice wine vinegar will also lack the full toasted flavor of malt vinegar, but its mild sweetness should still work in the recipes that require malt vinegar.
In a pinch: Balsamic vinegar
Widely regarded as one of the sweeter vinegars, balsamic vinegar can stand in for malt vinegar in some instances. It differs from malt vinegar and other vinegars by not being made from alcohol.
Instead, it is made with pressed and reduced grape juice, which accounts for its thicker consistency. Its color is a bit darker than malt vinegar, but it should still work in the same kinds of recipes. Use it as a condiment for fish and chips and in vinaigrettes.
White wine vinegar is made by fermenting white wine as its name suggests. While it is not as dark as malt vinegar and lacks the nutty quality, its fruitiness is subtle enough that it shouldn’t be a problem replacing malt vinegar in most recipes.