Black vinegar should not be mistaken for plain vinegar, as its flavor is far more complex to be described as simply acidic.
It is indeed sharp and acidic – make no mistake about it – but it is also earthy, tangy, sour, slightly sweet, and has just the right amount of umami. It is also highly aromatic, and an absolute staple in Chinese cuisine.
Many people find black vinegar to be simply too harsh and overbearing. If this is the case with you, or you simply need an adequate black vinegar substitute, keep on reading.
The best substitutes for black vinegar
While black vinegar certainly differs from all the other vinegar types you’ve tried, the manufacturing process is quite similar.
Basically, the first step to making any kind of vinegar is making alcohol by bringing yeast and grain or fruit together. After that, alcohol transforms into ethanol, which is then converted into acetic acid by the yeast bacteria.
Black vinegar is a grain-based type of vinegar, and it is also aged at least for six months, which is one of the secrets behind its powerful aroma and distinct flavor.
Also, it is during the aging process that black vinegar becomes black, similar to balsamic vinegar. The longer the aging process, the more complex the flavor and aroma the vinegar develops.
While there are many similarities between balsamic and black vinegar, the main difference is in the base ingredient, since black vinegar is grain-based and balsamic is made of grape juice.
Moreover, black vinegar is stored and aged in clay pots as opposed to barrels.
Finally, Chinese dark vinegar entails fermenting whole steamed grains, whereas, for balsamic vinegar, only the grape juice undergoes this process.
Different types of black vinegar have different grain bases, so you can come across many variations, depending on the origin.
For instance, the majority of China, Japan, and Korea use rice as the base grain for their black vinegar. Taiwan, on the other hand, uses sticky rice, sometimes with the addition of licorice, vegetables, and caramel for a simpler, cleaner taste.
There is a range of dishes you can make using black vinegar, including braised pork shoulder, eggplant with black vinegar sauce, and of course – spicy black vinegar noodles. Black vinegar is quite the unique condiment, but we’ve come up with a list of alternatives that come pretty close to its flavor.
1. Balsamic vinegar
They’re similar in color, consistency, the way they’re made, and on top of it all – balsamic vinegar is widely available, which makes it a perfect substitute for black vinegar.
This dark vinegar is acidic, yet not too overpowering, and it also has a slightly sweet, yet rich flavor, just like black vinegar. What makes it extremely versatile is its ability to reduce to a sticky glaze you can toss with meat and grilled veggies, or drizzle over fruit if you’re a fan of this combination.
Original, traditional balsamic vinegar is dark, sweet, syrupy, a bit tart, and aged for 12-25 years, which makes it a spot-on substitute for Chinese black vinegar.
This kind of black vinegar also entails a long fermentation process, which results in a rich, deep flavor, and a strong aroma many can’t handle. However, keep in mind that traditional balsamic vinegar can be rather pricey.
2. Rice vinegar
Rice vinegar is essentially the base of black vinegar, made from fermented rice, without the added malt.
While the original version of rice vinegar doesn’t contain any flavor-enhancing ingredients, some variations do include orange peel, ginger, or even sugar for a more complex, sweet flavor.
Some people confuse rice vinegar with rice wine, the difference is in the fermenting process, as rice vinegar has to be fermented longer.
There are multiple applications of rice vinegar in cooking, including salad dressings, marinades, sauces, as well as pickling mixtures. Rice vinegar is also a refreshing addition to your stir-fry, potato salad, and tofu dishes.
3. Malt vinegar
Malt vinegar is an aromatic condiment made from dried and germinated grains of barley, with a rather nutty, rich flavor.
This dark vinegar is made directly from ale, and it is far more complex, sweet, and mild than plain white vinegar, which ranks it high on our list of black vinegar substitutes.
However, malt vinegar doesn’t only need to be used as a condiment. It is also a great addition to noodles, salads, or even Asian dishes when you’re out of black vinegar. This type of vinegar can enhance the flavor of the dish with just a few drops.
4. Worcestershire sauce
Just like malt vinegar, Worcestershire sauce is also of British origin, and it was originally produced by a company in Worcestershire, England – hence the name.
However, today there are many replicas and variations of this sauce, many of which are dark, rich in flavor, a bit tang, but the focus is on the intensely savory flavor.
This sauce can be used to add just a tiny bit of salt into the dish, or it can be the main focal point, depending on the amount.
Worcestershire sauce is a close relative to soy sauce and fish sauce, not in origin, but in flavor and the amount of umami it delivers.
It is often added to braising liquids, sauces, soups, chicken broth, pot pies, and anything lacking a dose of sweetness, umami, and acid all in one.
5. Sherry vinegar
This Chinese vinegar substitute is the Spanish relative of balsamic vinegar, naturally fermented and aged for at least 6 months.
The base of this fruity vinegar is sherry wine, and the longer the aging process, the darker it gets. Keep in mind that darker vinegar means more complexity in flavor, but also a higher price.
Sherry vinegar offers a flavor quite similar to black vinegar, since it is crisp and acidic on one hand, while also being sweet and nutty due to the addition of caramel.
The combination of acidic notes on one side, and sweet and complex on the other results in a flavor that would usually take hours to develop in cooking.
6. Rice vinegar & soy sauce
Since rice vinegar is basically the essence of black vinegar, all you need to do is develop its complexity by adding a touch of umami and savory flavor with a hint of sweetness.
Soy sauce is known as the perfect source of umami, and most of its variants have that dark color and deep, yet refreshing flavor you’d expect from black vinegar. It will dilute the acidity of rice vinegar, making it more suitable for dishes such as noodles, stir-fries, and grilled meats and veggies.
To replace a tablespoon of black vinegar, you want to combine 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce.
Feel free to adjust this mixture to your liking, depending on your personal preference and the desired amount of acidity and umami.
7. Date vinegar
Date vinegar is a great alternative to sweetened black vinegar since it has a fruit base and it is sweeter than the other options we’ve mentioned. This type of vinegar is made from fermented dates, but it can also include flavor-optimizing spices and herbs.
If you’ve never heard of date vinegar, you’ll be surprised to learn that it has the oldest recorded history out of all vinegar types.
This Chinese black vinegar substitute is mostly produced in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, and it isn’t as widely available as other types of vinegar.
Also, if you opt for date vinegar, keep in mind that it is highly concentrated and usually even more acidic than white vinegar.
8. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar offers a bright tang and brisk acidity that won’t take over the entire dish, which makes it a great replacement for black rice vinegar.
Aside from its role in salad dressings and vinaigrettes, this vinegar has many different applications in cooking, including marinades, slow cooker meals, braised collard greens, and Swedish meatballs. Just like black vinegar, it is a blend of acidity and sweetness, but it does have a slightly lighter flavor.
If you’re more fond of the freshness of a fruit-based vinegar, than the complexity of a grain-based one, look no further.
9. White wine vinegar
This type of vinegar can be a great alternative to black Chinese vinegar if your focus isn’t entirely on the complexity of flavor. White wine vinegar is more on the light, brisk side, and it is predominantly acidic, with a hint of fruitiness.
If you find white wine vinegar to be too plain, you can simply combine it with dark soy sauce and seize both the fruitiness of the wine and the umami complexity of soy sauce.
Besides the obvious color difference, white wine vinegar is more crisp and mild than red wine vinegar.
10. Balsamic vinegar & rice vinegar
If you have both of these ingredients at home, you can get a combination most similar to black vinegar. Being that rice vinegar is the essence of black vinegar, it is only natural to use it as sort of a base for your mixtures.
Balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, is one of the best black vinegar substitutes, thanks to its color, and that unique sweet-savory-acidic flavor. Together, they can be blended into your own homemade black vinegar.
For a tablespoon of black vinegar, you want to combine 1 tablespoon water, 1 ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and 1 ½ tablespoon rice vinegar.
How to choose a black vinegar substitute
Let’s start with dark, more complex vinegar types and sauces that could replace Chinese dark vinegar in your kitchen if you’re searching for that full, bold flavor.
Balsamic vinegar is the best alternative, both in color and in complexity, while malt vinegar and Worcestershire sauce are close seconds.
With light alternatives, you may not get that richness, but options like rice vinegar and white wine vinegar are ideal for those of you looking for that bright, clean acidity.
Fruity kinds of vinegar, including sherry, date, and apple cider vinegar have dominant fruit aromas, and a distinctive sweetness you’ll enjoy if you don’t like overpowering acidity.
Finally, you can always take matters into your own hands and make customized combinations of your favorite flavors. Both rice vinegar & soy sauce mix and the balsamic & rice vinegar combo are convenient, easy solutions that can develop acidic, yet rich flavors very similar to black vinegar.