Whoever first said patience is a virtue must’ve been a scientist.
The art of waiting and watching has long been a favorite tactic of the scientific community—and a process that’s yielded many treasures to the world along the way, especially when it comes to food.
Time, after all, is the magic ingredient that turns a jar of wheat into beer, a cup of milk into yogurt, and nearly any fruit or grain into everybody’s second- (or third)-favorite fermented substance: Vinegar.
But thanks to a bit more modern magic, we now have more types of vinegar than ever, coming in flavors even the most patient scientist would be raring to try.
Vinegar has been around since at least 3000 BC and, as with many interesting tales, it may have all started with wine.
Though its official beginning is a bit hard to pinpoint, many researchers believe vinegar was accidentally invented when someone let a barrel of wine sit dormant for too long. (How this person was able to ignore all that wine all that time is a whole other story.)
And while we can’t be sure whether that first ancient batch was the product of red or white, it’s gone on to spawn an entire specialty market’s worth of vinegar varieties—all boasting their own strengths, smells and flavors.
All told, there are dozens of vinegars on the market today, but, from the classic to the coolest, these are some of the best:
Not to be confused with white wine vinegar, which has a milder taste more suitable for vinaigrettes and marinades, this is vinegar in its simplest form: made from nothing but pure distilled ethanol.
As such, this garden variety vinegar is best for the most basic kitchen jobs, like pickling vegetables or adding that unique tang to ketchup, though its purity also makes it one of the best types of vinegar for cleaning—handling anything from mold and mildew to fancy silverware.
Now we’re talkin’. This most delectable type of vinegar, first made in Italy, isn’t just a stand-out in the vinegar world, it’s truly unique.
The only type of vinegar not made directly from fermented alcohol, balsamic vinegar varieties (so many delicious types of balsamic vinegar, so little time) instead come from pressed grapes that get aged in oak barrels.
If that sounds a bit like the wine-making process, that’s because it basically is, with the resulting concoction a sweet and syrupy liquid that’s delicious mixed with olive oil or just on its own. Either way, balsamic vinegar is far too tasty – and usually, too expensive – to use for cleaning.
Talk about keeping the doctor away. This fermented apple juice byproduct is the new-age answer to everything from better gut health to clearer skin. A condiment that can truly do it all, apple cider vinegar has also been linked to better blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and weight loss.
Due to its slew of healthful properties, many people choose to drink it raw or cut with water, and apple cider vinegar pills are a popular item in many vitamin aisles. But it’s also a gem in the culinary world, providing a tasty and tangy counterpoint in a vinaigrette and coming in clutch for many vegan baking recipes.
Made from—as you may have guessed—fermented rice, this vinegar variety is particularly popular in Asia, where it appears in a number of recipes and remedies.
Sometimes also called rice wine vinegar, this variety is much more delicate than distilled or white vinegar, with a flavor profile that skews much more sweet and much less acidic.
That mellow mood makes it a versatile hit in the kitchen, where it’s good for everything from salad dressings, marinades and dipping sauces to its more traditional roles as a sushi rice seasoning or addition to noodles and stir-fry dishes.
A relative newcomer to the vinegar scene, this tasty type fits right in with the burgeoning artisanal movement.
The pure stuff is made with fermented maple sap that can be further flavored after aging in barrels, though an increasing number of foodies, hungry for the exotic additive, have taken to making their own type of maple vinegar out of maple syrup, vinegar, water and alcohol.
The result is an intoxicating mix of tangy and sweet that works beautifully for caramelizing vegetables, in a marinade, or simply on its own.
Similar to maple vinegar, peach vinegar is another unusual variety gaining popularity with the DIY crowd.
Commercially, peach vinegar is typically the byproduct of peaches soaked in white vinegar (or, basically, peach pickle juice), which may sound incredible or incredibly strange to you, depending on how much you like peaches – or pickles.
But purists say an even better version of the vinegar can be achieved with nothing more than peaches, sugar, water – and time.
Those who love it swear by its sweet and mellow taste, which can make for particularly inspired summer salad dressings.
Another artisanal vinegar that can be made either by pickling the fruits in white or balsamic vinegar or letting them ferment naturally with the help of a little water and sugar, this customized condiment is as sweet and tart as its namesake.
The specialty vinegar is especially good for special sauces, vinaigrettes or marinades, when the element of a raspberry surprise can really pay off.
Thanks in no small part to its appearance in the 2003 book Wild Fermentation, many point to pineapple vinegar as the start of the artisanal revolution – but with its zippy, tangy and sweet combination of qualities, it’s not hard to see why it inspired so many.
While there’s been much less official research done on this particular type of vinegar, some have claimed that the pineapple-tinged variety has many of the same health benefits as apple cider vinegar. But we’ll bet fans of this tasty concoction wouldn’t mind much either way.
And when it comes to vinegar, it doesn’t take a scientist to see that taste, like time, is a constant that can be counted on.