Red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar are similar products that can play the same role in a wide range of dishes, sauces and condiments. Despite having many of the same properties, they are not always interchangeable. In the SPICEography Showdown below, we compare them to help you decide which is better for your application.
How is red wine vinegar different from white wine vinegar?
The most obvious difference between red and white vinegar is right there in their names. These two vinegars have different colors because they are made from wines with different colors. Red wine vinegar is most commonly a translucent ruby red but can vary to a deep and murky purple similar to that of red wine itself. White wine vinegar is a very pale yellow similar to the color of white wine.
Red and white wine vinegars can often differ in terms of flavor but the difference is usually not significant. The overall flavor profiles do sometimes vary based on the types of wine used to make the vinegar and how the vinegar was stored during aging.
When there is a noticeable difference, red wine vinegar is usually the more flavorful of the two and offers more complexity to go with its acidity. White wine vinegar can have a more acidic edge, which means it may taste harsher than the red wine variety to some people.
Can you use red wine vinegar as a substitute for white wine vinegar and vice versa?
Red wine vinegar is one of the best substitutes for white wine vinegar simply because both are made from wine. Most of the flavor notes and nuances will be the same. Most of the compounds that provide those flavors and that are responsible for the respective nutritional values will also be the same.
However, that all falls apart when it comes to color and dishes where color is important. Red wine vinegar will give an undesirable pinkish hue to traditionally pale French sauces and may be unattractive in brines when pickling some vegetables.
Similarly, white wine vinegar will usually be great as a red wine vinegar substitute if the only thing that matters to you is flavor. It will usually provide the acidity that you want along with many of the same non-acidic flavor notes that are common to both wine vinegars.
Where it falls down is its color. If your dish relies on red wine vinegar to give it a particular color, you won’t be able to get that effect from white wine vinegar alone.
When should you use red wine vinegar and when should you use white wine vinegar?
Use red wine vinegar in dishes where its color will enhance the ingredients. For example, it works well in the braising liquid for stews as well as in some soups and darker sauces. It is also a good option when making a marinade for red meat.
White wine vinegar will work for many of the same purposes only it is almost colorless so it won’t discolor pale dishes. As a result, it is a better option for making mayonnaise and beurre blanc. It will also make a more pleasant-looking pickle brine, especially if you’re pickling green vegetables. The red color of red wine vinegar might not be visually appealing with bright-green vegetables since it might appear grayish or murky.