Pickles are a beloved snack, and pickling foods can preserve them and give them a slightly sour flavor. Vinegar is used to pickle foods, but what types of vinegar are the best for pickling?
The types of vinegar that can be used in pickling are distilled white vinegar, malt vinegar, cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and rice vinegar. Each one adds a unique flavor to the food, but distilled white vinegar is considered the best because it doesn’t add much flavor or leach color from the food.
The type of vinegar and the level of acidity matter when you pickle food. Included below is more information about the types of vinegar to use in pickling and the acidity level that they need to be. So keep reading to learn more!
Best Vinegars to Use When Pickling
Although almost any type of vinegar can be used to pickle foods, the best ones add flavor and color to the foods. The best kinds of vinegar to use in pickling are:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Malt vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- Cider vinegar (any type)
- Wine vinegar (red or white)
Using Distilled White Vinegar in Pickling
Distilled white vinegar is mild and doesn’t add much flavor to the foods it is used to pickle, which is why many people like using it! It doesn’t add much flavor, doesn’t change the flavor of the food, and doesn’t leach color out of food, so it is considered the best vinegar to use in pickling. Distilled white vinegar leaves pickled foods crips and tasty. (Source)
Distilled white vinegar is extremely cheap and can be found in large containers at most grocery stores, which is yet another reason why it is the most popular pickling vinegar.
Pros and Cons of Malt Vinegar in Pickling
Malt vinegar is often used to pickle onions and adds a tart flavor to pickled foods. However, it makes the pickled food slightly brown, which is unappealing to many.
Should You Use Cider Vinegar when Pickling?
Cider vinegar changes the flavor of pickled foods massively, so it isn’t often used in pickling. Apple cider vinegar, the most common type of cider vinegar, adds a slight apple flavor to pickled foods. However, it turns food dark brown, which isn’t visually appealing and makes the food look spoiled, especially if you are pickling cucumbers. Cider vinegar is also more expensive than distilled white vinegar.
However, cider vinegar has more health benefits than distilled white vinegar. Cider vinegar helps digestion and is considered a natural diuretic.
Using Wine Vinegar in Pickling
Wine vinegar is wine that has gone bad, and you can use it in pickling. If you use wine vinegar, it will add flavor and acidity to the food items. Red wine typically adds dryness to pickled foods. If you have a favorite wine flavor, let it go bad and use it to pickle your favorite foods. It will add the flavor of the wine to the food. If you use red wine vinegar while pickling, the food will have a red tint.
Is Rice Vinegar Good for Pickling?
Rice vinegar has a slightly sweet flavor, but it won’t add much flavor to pickled foods. It just might make them slightly sweeter, which is great if you don’t like sour pickled items. Rice vinegar doesn’t remove or add color to foods, so it is slightly similar to white distilled vinegar. However, it is difficult to find rice vinegar in large containers and is more expensive than distilled white vinegar.
Purpose of Vinegar in Pickling
Vinegar is used to pickle food because it increases the amount of acidity and preserves the food. It also adds a slightly tangy or sour flavor to food that people find appealing. (Source)
All foods have microbes and microorganisms that cause food to spoil. The acetic acid that is found in vinegar increases the acidity of foods that are being pickled. That acidity kills the microbes and microorganisms, so pickled foods last longer than they would if they hadn’t been pickled. (Source)
However, if your pickling mixture has too much salt content, the lactic acid bacteria that cause foods to pickle can’t survive and thrive, so you are just letting food sit in salty water or vinegar. Also, if you add a salt-resistant yeast to your pickling mixture and add too much salt, microbes that spoil food can spread faster, as the yeast will eat the lactic acid. (Source)
Best Vinegar Acidity Level for Pickling
The best acidity level to use when pickling food is 5%. Anything less than 5% will not cause the food to pickle. In fact, it won’t really do anything. It is best to use vinegar with a 5% acidity level because it will preserve and add flavor to food. (Source)
Never use vinegar that has less than a 5% acidity level to pickle foods.
Avoiding Botulism in Pickled Foods
Pickled items are preserved when the pH level is reduced, and if you want to avoid botulism, an illness caused by bacteria sometimes found in food, the pH level has to be below 4.6. Vinegar with a 5% acidity level prevents the pH from rising, so you don’t get sick when you eat pickled foods. (Source)
You can find the acidity level of vinegar on the label. Often it will be on the front, but sometimes you whave to hunt for it. Sometimes, the acidity level is labeled as the grain. Vinegar with a 5% acid level will say “50 grain” if the acidity level is labeled as grain amount. (Source)
You can use kinds of vinegar that have an acid level higher than 5% to add more flavor and sourness to your pickled foods, but it isn’t necessary. 5% acidity is considered the standard and best acidity level for pickling. White vinegar has a high acidity level, but white vinegar is slightly different than distilled white vinegar.
Overall, distilled white vinegar is the best pickling vinegar. It has the right acidity level, doesn’t remove color, and only adds a small amount of flavor to pickled foods. Distilled white vinegar makes pickled foods crisp and tangy. Other types of vinegar change the flavor of foods, so it is sometimes hard to anticipate what foods will taste like after they have been pickled.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy these articles about pickling. 🙂
- Pickling Vs. Fermenting | Are Pickles and Ferments the Same?
- Are Pickles Vegetables?
- What are the Best Cucumbers for Pickling?
- What is Pickle Crisp, and How Can You Use It?
- What is the Pickling Process?
- What are the Different Types of Pickles?
Recommended Resources for Pickling and Fermenting
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you strive to stock your pantry with delicious pickled and fermented food! Here are some tools that I use that I’m hoping you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. Please know that these are the tools that I actually use and recommend and believe in 100%!
DIY Pickling: Step-By-Step Recipes for Fermented, Fresh, and Quick Pickles (on Amazon). This is the first pickling and fermenting book that I purchased. I love that it has great photos and very clear instructions. If you want to learn about both quick pickles AND ferments in a single book, this is the one I recommend.
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (on Amazon). One of my good friends grew up on a farm and has been fermenting food since he was a young boy. This is the one book that he says is an absolute must if you want to learn how to ferment food.
Stainless Steel Fermenting Kits (on True Leaf Market) I love using stainless steel products because they stand the test of time. Though they are a bit more expensive than other options, in the long run they save money because they last pretty much forever. I also love products that work with mason jars, and these certainly fit the bill.
Fermenting and Pickling Kits (on Cultures for Health) are the best way to start with fermenting if you want everything you need to (except the food!) to start fermenting. If you’re hit with the intimidation factor when it comes to pickling or fermenting, consider starting with a kit.