I occasionally come across recipes that call for vinegar, but don't specify which of the many varieties they mean. (A recent example is this recipe for a corn and pepper salad, which just says "2 tbsp. vinegar".)

While I recognize that sometimes this may just be that the recipe is badly written, I've encountered it often enough to wonder: is there a "standard" or implied type of vinegar that should be used when a recipe simply calls for vinegar? Or is it assumed that the chef will be familiar with the flavor profiles of the dish they are trying to make and will be able to choose an appropriate vinegar by their own knowledge and discretion?

I've been unable to find an authoritative answer to this: other forums provide conflicting answers with no documentation or reasoning for the answer put forth, or make it seem like your only options are white vinegar and cider vinegar.

5 Answers 5


I don't think there is any “standard” type of vinegar worlwide. In recipes for French dishes, an unspecified vinegar can be assumed to be a red wine vinegar. Mien seems to have a different opinion, so I'd say it's pretty much a cultural issue.

  • 6
    I'll agree here. For an American recipe, white vinegar; for French, white wine vinegar, for Greek, red wine vinegar; for British, malt vinegar.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 6:08
  • 3
    Well, see, we already don't agree on the French standard :)
    – F'x
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 11:27
  • I would never assume any one kind would be appropriate for all dishes. Each vinaiger has its own flavor profile and would bring something unique to the party. By always using one type you'd potentially be adding an offputting flavor to a dish that needed a more sour or sweet vinaiger than the one you use. Commented Apr 29, 2012 at 2:00

If a recipe asks for "vinegar", a standard type is implied, namely white vinegar. There certainly are more vinegars than just the white and the cider one (white wine or balsamic are also often used).

However, cultural differences can play a role. I've found on wikipedia that English people put malt vinegar on their fish 'n' chips. If you would see a recipe for fish 'n' chips that calls for "vinegar", my guess is that malt vinegar is meant. I'm sure there are other cultures which use other vinegars as standard. You can always ask some people in your environment. If they all agree, you can assume that's your standard vinegar.

  • You can't subsitute white for all vinegars -- they have different acidities, which is very important when you're pickling. The sweetness of some vinegars is important to the flavors, so if you replace balsamic or similar, you're going to need some sugar or honey to balance it out. See food subs for recommendations : foodsubs.com/Vinegars.html
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 2:03
  • @Joe, yes, you're right. I deleted that section.
    – Mien
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 6:15
  • Actually, at least in the US, most vinegars you purchase are standardized between 4-7% acidity no matter the type of vinegar. The only time you'll run into higher acidities is if you or someone you know produces it on their own.
    – Matthew
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 21:06

I am not a chef, so for me it comes down to personal preference. I love using vinegar, but like regular wine you really should pare it with what you are cooking. Yes it could be a regional thing, but again for me it comes down to simple choices.

  1. If you don’t want to add flavor you just want the punch or enhancing other flavors - Plain white (I use rice wine vinegar in my Pot Roast)
  2. If you want to add flavor;

    • Red, dark & heavy sauces – Red wine vinegar
    • Light & white sauces- Plain white, White wine, Sherry, Champaign etc.
    • Pasta and regular salads- Any of the above including Balsamic & Apple Cider
    • Fruit- Balsamic reduce with a little sugar added (Yummy!)

It is really important to pick a good brand for Pasta and Regular salads since they won’t cook out. If you don’t think there is a difference I challenge you to do a taste test. Start with the good one and compare to a cheap one. Also watch out for artificially flavored vinegars, the flavor does not cook down or blend at all. That is my two cents for ya.


The American Standard is White Vinegar when your recipe does not specify. That is the official word on it from a chef.

  • 2
    It's hard to be an official source when you're anonymous. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 5:25
  • White Vinegar isn't a complete answer. Perhaps you mean White Distilled Vinegar? If so, I would agree that's the default.
    – Jolenealaska
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 4:39

When I was growing up in the 70’s, mom and grandma only had one kind of vinegar they cooked with, which was red wine vinegar. That was “vinegar” back in the dark days before new flavors from around the world started easing into our pantries. My guess, if it’s a recipe out of a family cookbook in the northeastern or Midwest US, that’s what they are talking about. And not knowing better, I will try balsamic in that case.

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