It takes its name from vin and aigre, meaning 'sharp wine'. Good vinegar should have a light delicate taste (no unpleasant sharpness) and be bright and clear. Many of the vinegars available are interchangeable and the only consideration is to personal preference.
Uses: In marinades, to tenderise cheaper cuts of meat as well as to flavour. To give piquancy to rich foods. To soften and dissolve the smaller bones in fish, as in soused herring. Can be used instead of lemon juice in a savoury dish or in sweet dishes such as meringue. In chutneys and relishes the acid in vinegar acts as a preserving agent.
The genuine Balsamic vinegar of Modena in northern Italy, has been produced for over 1000 years and is made from special grapes selected and harvested late in order to obtain a higher sugar content and stronger bouquet. It is a very dark brown colour and has a deep, rich flavour with hints of herbs and port.
Uses: In salad dressings and marinades or drizzled over pasta, grilled meat or fish and even over strawberries. A little goes a long way so just add a few drops at a time.
Made from the sediment of Champagne and usually sold in corked bottles, Champagne vinegar, like the wine, is available in different vintages.
Uses: In salad dressings.
This vinegar is made from matured apple juice, cider or apple pulp. It is a pale golden colour and has a subtle apple flavour. Cider vinegar is especially popular in apple growing regions in America and in Normandy in France.
Uses: For pickling fruit, especially pears or peaches, in savoury recipes containing apples, salad dressings and marinades.
This is a clear, white vinegar, also known as spirit vinegar, made by distilling ordinary malt vinegar to produce a very strong, colourless liquid high in acetic acid. It is less pungent than malt vinegar.
Uses: In home-made pickles, and especially where the colour of the food needs to be retained for example, pickled pears.
A pale version of malt vinegar, this subtly flavoured malt adds a tang to a variety of savoury dishes.
Uses: In salad dressings, sauces and marinades.
Made from malted barley, brown malted vinegar is coloured with caramel to give it its distinctive dark brown colour. It has a strong flavour.
Uses: It is the most widely used vinegar - delicious sprinkled on fish and chips and ideal for pickles and most chutneys.
This vinegar is made from matured white wine and selected herbs such as marjoram, flat leaf parsley, rosemary and thyme.
Uses: Use with herb or chilli oil to make tasty salad dressings and marinades.
A subtle pear-flavoured vinegar made from fermented pear juice (perry), this variety is similar to cider vinegar.
Uses: In salad dressings and marinades, especially in recipes featuring pears or other fruits.
Red wine vinegar
This vinegar is made from matured red wine and has a rich, full flavour
Uses: Red wine vinegar is often the best for cooking. Authentic French dressing should be made with red or white wine vinegar. It can also be used in sauces and marinades.
Popular in Japanese and Chinese cooking, rice vinegar has a mild and relatively sweet flavour and can be red, white or dark amber in colour.
Uses: Included in a variety of Oriental dishes and especially in dipping sauces and dressings.
With a rich and mellow flavour, sherry vinegar has a subtle tang and a delicious hint of sweetness.
Uses: Add to sauces and stews or use in dressings and marinades.
This vinegar is made from matured white wine, spices such as chilli, cardamom and peppercorns.
Uses: In salad dressings and marinades where a subtle spicy flavour is required.
An Italian white wine vinegar, that has the same subtle, sweet flavour as the more widely available classic dark brown balsamic vinegar. It has a light and delicate aftertaste and a pure clean colour. Acetum Condimento Balsamico Bianco is available from Waitrose.Uses: White balsamic vinegar has the advantage over the classic variety in that it can be served with lighter coloured foods without discolouring them. It can be included in salad dressings, marinades and pale-coloured sauces. Or sprinkle over fish or chicken dishes or roasted vegetables to add extra flavour.To store: Keep in a cool, dark place and consume by the best before date.
A traditional ingredient in French cuisine, white wine vinegar is a popular ingredient in many British dishes too.
Uses: The main ingredient, along with olive oil in classic French dressing. It is also used in sauces and marinades.