Vinegar—The Salt Substitute

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Most people are familiar with the fact that vinegar adds sourness to a dish. Vinegar can also be used in lieu of salt when seasoning the final touches to sauces, soups, and stews. It even gives a kick to vegetables, a balsamic glaze over roasted Brussel sprouts is divine, and is excellent to use in a marinade for meats as it weakens collagen and protein. Once the proteins are broken by acid, one loose protein can bond with another and trap liquid in the meat, making it juicy and tender.

Hold the Salt

A touch of vinegar and a good stir right before serving your food adds to the complexity of its flavors, much in the same way salt does. Its sharp profile brightens and sharpens the flavor of a sauce—much in the same way a squeezed lemon wedge adds a burst of acidity to a protein such as chicken or fish.

Simply add a dash of vinegar (less than 1/8th of a teaspoon) to your dish and stir before adding any additional salt. The extra kick of vinegar will tone down any bitterness that would normally be cancelled out with salt and will add a subtle but bright complexity to the rest of the flavors in your dish.

A Heart-Healthy Substitution

Adding complexity and brightness to food is all well and good, but it’s important to note that using vinegar as a final seasoning also discourages the overuse of salt, which is especially important for folks suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Low-sodium diets are often a little lackluster; this handy flavor hack will wake those taste buds up without compromising blood pressure levels.

Rich Landau, chef and co-owner of Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia shared the following vinegar tips in an interview with CookingLight:

1. Don’t buy cheap vinegar.

“If you’re buying anything over 16 ounces that costs under $5, use it to clean your windows, not on food,” Landau says. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, either—he’s noticed diminishing returns on bottles $25 and up. Something in the mid-range is good.

2. Use it sparingly.

One way to justify spending a little more on vinegar is that a little goes a long way. “Most people overuse it, which makes a dish painfully acidic, and then have to balance that with more fat and sugar,” Landau says. He prefers to think of vinegar like salt—small amounts get big results. Even in salad dressings, his rule of thumb is four parts oil to one part vinegar.

3. Match the vinegar to the dish.

You can substitute within reason. Most of the time, using what you have on hand won’t kill a dish, but for optimal culinary impact, certain vinegars work best with certain flavors—you want to match vinegar flavors with what you are preparing. Use a basic white vinegar for pickling, rice vinegar for all Asian foods, an aged balsamic for finishing dishes, and sherry vinegar, which Chef Landau claims makes flavor pop more than any other ingredient. “It takes on an umami quality, and really fills your palate when you’re eating it.”

4. Think outside the salad bowl.

Yes, vinegar is an essential ingredient in homemade dressings, but it has a similar effect on any kind of vegetable. Chef Landau likes to douse roasted or grilled veg—anything that doesn’t have a high-water content—in a splash of vinegar while still warm, which he says infuses the flavor all the way through. Sherry vinegar is the secret ingredient in a number of the restaurant’s sauces, even for desserts, because it balances them nicely.

5. Replace your vinegars regularly.

People tend not to think of vinegar, which is aged to begin with, as having an expiration date, but like spices and dried herbs, they tend to lose their oomph after about six months. But that just gives you a chance to experiment with new varieties. Some more to check out: golden balsamic, which has a lighter, sweeter tang than the dark stuff, and black vinegar, a Hong Kong condiment that is enhanced with dried fruit and has an almost sweet and sour effect.

So, the next time you taste a dish right before serving it to friends and family and feel it’s missing that certain distinctive quality, try adding a splash of vinegar to your food before you pick up the salt shaker. You’ll use less salt, bump up the flavor, and have your friends scrambling to figure out how you managed to make food so rich in complexity! Check out the full line of Olivelle vinegars that Heart of the Desert is now carrying. There is something for every dish!

Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.