White vinegar and white wine vinegar have similar enough names, tastes, and appearances to be confused for each other. Are they the same? Are they entirely interchangeable? Let’s take a closer look at them in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.
How does white vinegar differ from white wine vinegar?
White vinegar and white wine vinegar come from different sources. White vinegar comes from ethanol that can be sourced from corn, wheat, or molasses. The ethanol is fermented with bacteria. White wine vinegar comes exclusively from white wine, which is made from grapes. The traditional way to make white wine vinegar is with the Orleans Process, which involved adding bacteria to white wine in wooden casks.
White vinegar and white wine vinegar also have different flavors. Both are relatively mildly flavored to begin with, so the differences are minor, but they do exist. White vinegar is primarily acidic with no other flavor notes. It is the cleanest-tasting vinegar and provides only acidity to food. White wine vinegar is also primarily acidic, but its flavor profile has notes of fruitiness remaining from the white wine that was fermented to make it and the grapes used to make that wine.
Appearance is another area where these two vinegars differ. White vinegar is completely clear, like water. White wine vinegar is a pale yellow similar to white wine itself.
White vinegar and white wine vinegar are sold at different prices. White vinegar is typically the cheapest vinegar available. White wine vinegar is also generally affordable but is a little more upmarket and usually sells for a higher price.
While both white vinegar and white wine vinegar are both widely available these days, you will find white vinegar in virtually every grocery store on the planet. While the ethanol may come from different local sources, the white vinegar that it makes is a truly global product. White wine vinegar is not quite as broadly available.
Can you use white vinegar as a substitute for white wine vinegar and vice versa?
Because of its relatively simple flavor profile, white vinegar is a decent substitute for white wine vinegar as it is for just about every other kind of vinegar. If you need the subtle wine notes, you can simply add a small amount of white wine to make it taste a little more like white wine vinegar.
You can use plain white vinegar as a 1:1 replacement in most recipes, and it won’t cause discoloration because it is clear. Similarly, white wine vinegar will work in most recipes that require white vinegar. The flavor profile will be similar because of white wine vinegar’s mildness. The mild fruity element it adds won’t be an issue in most dishes.
When should you use white vinegar, and when should you white wine vinegar?
What makes white vinegar such a vital ingredient to always have on hand is its versatility, it can be used in most dishes that require vinegar, but many consider it essential for pickling. Its colorless appearance means that it won’t affect the coloration of any pickled vegetable.
It also works when you only need acidity from your vinegar and nothing else. Use it in marinades, as a meat tenderizer and for helping to get rid of undesirable flavors.
Use white wine vinegar when you need its fruity notes. It can work well in a light vinaigrette and for making mayonnaise.