What is the Best Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar?

by Charlie
Published: Last Updated on
Best Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar

Chinese black vinegar has become a regular in many kitchens. With its strong taste and earthy flavor, this ingredient works in many recipes. 

Despite its versatility, there are times when Chinese black vinegar might not get the job done and you need something new. 

So, what is the best substitute for Chinese black vinegar? Balsamic vinegar is the top substitute for Chinese black vinegar, with its similar flavor and taste. In fact, balsamic vinegar is so similar to Chinese black vinegar that some people even tend to confuse them. 

An Overview of Chinese Black Vinegar 

We all know what vinegar is – an acid made by mixing water and other chemicals and additives. With its acetic acid content, vinegar comes with a sour taste and pungent smell. 

Chinese black vinegar is no different. Dark and mild, it is made from a combination of malt and glutinous rice. Additional ingredients include peas, sorghum, chaff, and barley. All of these give Chinese black vinegar a strong, smoky flavor that tends to be prominent in most recipes. 

As its name suggests, Chinese black vinegar is a regular in Chinese recipes. It works in different types of dishes, with its smoky and earthy umami flavor being especially prominent. 

With a complex pair of flavors, Chinese black vinegar is incredibly versatile. You can pair it with different dishes, and you can even use it as a compliment for soy sauce and chili. 

Why Replace Chinese Black Vinegar? 

Although incredibly versatile, Chinese black vinegar isn’t perfect. Here are some reasons why you might want to swap it out in your recipes: 

  • Taste differences: Sometimes, the taste of Chinese black vinegar just doesn’t do it for you. It’s understandable – just get a substitute
  • Non-availability: If you can’t get a hold of Chinese black vinegar and you need something to step in, try a substitute.
  • Trying something new: Everyone tries something new in their recipes from time to time. Thankfully, Chinese black vinegar has many substitutes. 

Options for Chinese Black Vinegar Substitutes 

Best Overall Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar: Balsamic Vinegar

If you’ve been cooking for a while or are an expert chef, you’d know that balsamic vinegar is perhaps the most obvious Chinese black vinegar substitute out there. The two are similar in many ways – including taste, consistency, and versatility. It’s almost like they’re siblings or something. 

To be fair, you should know that balsamic vinegar doesn’t have the exact same taste as Chinese black vinegar. It is a bit sweeter, and you also get more of a syrupy tone. Of course, this just means that balsamic vinegar will also be able to work for sweet and savory dishes. 

Interestingly, you can make balsamic vinegar a bit sourer. When aged, its sour flavor comes out a bit more. 

Thanks to its thick consistency, balsamic vinegar works perfectly in glazes or sauces. Even better, it works better when thickening – some even believe it to be better than Chinese black vinegar. 

However, you should note that balsamic vinegar might not necessarily be a one-for-one substitute for Chinese black vinegar. You will most likely need less of it, but you could always switch your recipe based on your taste. 

We also recommend that you be careful when using balsamic vinegar as a substitute. Chinese black vinegar works well in spicy and salty dishes thanks to its faintly sweet flavor. But, balsamic vinegar might not be the best choice here. 

Best Substitute with the Same Base: Rice Vinegar

One of the many factors that set Chinese black vinegar apart from other vinegar options is the fact that it is made with grains. Well, if you’re looking for something with that same base, rice vinegar is your choice.

Also made from rice (obviously), rice vinegar is similar to Chinese black vinegar in taste. However, there’s a major difference – rice vinegar doesn’t have any added malt, so you get to miss that. 

You should also know that rice vinegar comes in different forms. The original version is plain, although there have been different flavor options – including orange and even ginger. 

When substituting for Chinese black vinegar, we recommend that you go with the original, plain rice vinegar. It has a stronger and broader flavor, so you will most likely need less of it in terms of quantity.

Rice vinegar is ideal in dressings, marinades, and other mixtures. It also does a pretty good job of bringing stir-fry dishes and salads together. If you’d like to improve its taste, a pinch of sugar or a dab of honey will be more than just fine. 

Best Flavor-Based Substitute: Red Wine Vinegar 

Moving on, we’ve got red wine vinegar – an awesome substitute that mirrors the taste of Chinese black vinegar?

There are a lot of benefits you get from red wine vinegar. As explained, the first is its flavor. Red wine vinegar has the same mixture of sweetness and tanginess, and its dark color also mirrors that of Chinese black vinegar – so it is an interesting aesthetic piece as well. 

While all of this is nice, there are also some considerations with red wine vinegar. For one, it doesn’t have Chinese black vinegar’s sharp taste. Also, those earthy aftertastes that you get with Chinese black vinegar aren’t present here. So, you might just have to make do with what you have. 

With all these considerations, we recommend using red wine vinegar only if the recipe doesn’t rely too much on Chinese black vinegar. If you need the intensity and texture of your vinegar to really show out, then one of the two options above will work better. 

Also, red wine vinegar isn’t a one-for-one substitute for Chinese black vinegar. Swap out two black vinegar spoons for one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and you should be fine. 

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