Apple cider vinegar is one of the 21st century’s most important superfoods.
- You might drink ACV (and water) with meals or before bed, because of its many proven and accepted health benefits such as blood sugar control and antioxidant power.
- You might use it as a healthy and flavorful ingredient in salad dressings, marinades or other recipes, or you might use ACV to tenderize tough veggies like cabbage or kale.
- You might dilute it and use it as a topical skin treatment, or as a deodorant, or for full-body detox, or to do some household cleaning.
- You might consume it regularly, possibly combined with baking soda, to help with weight loss (although that benefit hasn’t been proven). (4)
But you can’t use apple cider vinegar for any of those purposes, if you don’t have any on hand. Maybe you’ve run out and haven’t reordered from Amazon, or you’ve encountered it for the first time in a recipe, or – in a still-painful reference – maybe you’ve been in virus lockdown and haven’t been able to restock your pantry.
What now? Don’t panic; there are a number of decent apple cider vinegar substitutes you can use. Just remember before we go any further: we said “decent,” not “perfect.”
Can You Use Other Types of Vinegar Instead?
It’s completely understandable if you’ve guessed that all types of vinegar would be acceptable substitutes for ACV in a pinch. But that’s an incorrect assumption, if you’ve chosen to use apple cider vinegar for its beneficial health effects.
Acetic acid is one of the keys to the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, and it’s produced when chopped apples or apple juice are naturally fermented with yeast, and then with added bacteria. It’s true that all fermented vinegars contain at least some acetic acid, so they do provide some health benefits – just not to the same degree as ACV.
However, many commercially-produced vinegars contain laboratory-produced acetic acid (or ethanol as a substitute) instead of the real acetic acid produced by fermentation. Vinegars that contain artificial acetic acid or ethanol provide virtually no health benefits at all.
Additionally, commercially-made, pasteurized vinegars don’t contain the “mother of vinegar” that’s a second important contributor to apple cider vinegar’s health and medicinal benefits.
So as a starting point for this discussion, the pasteurized white vinegar you grabbed at the grocery store as a cleaning product, or the pasteurized white wine vinegar sitting on your shelf, aren’t ideal substitutes for ACV since they’re not as good for you. And the distilled vinegar (made from ethanol) in your pantry is an even poorer choice; you’re best off waiting a day or two to get a new bottle of the apple cider vinegar instead.
Which vinegars can you use in place of ACV?
There are two answers to that question.
- If a vinegar contains acetic acid produced by fermentation, it will contribute some of the glucose-modulating and antioxidant properties found in apple cider vinegar, just not at the same levels. If you see on the label that the vinegar contains ethanol, that’s a non-starter.
- Any raw vinegar containing the mother will suffice, particularly fruit vinegars. Unfortunately, apple cider is the only raw vinegar commonly seen at the store or online. The ones you may occasionally see are raw blueberry or raw coconut vinegar, but even those are difficult to find.
So the honest answer is that you’ll be unlikely to replace the full health benefits of apple cider vinegar with any substitute you have hanging around the house.
But if your immediate goal is to make a vinaigrette for dinner, or to get marinated meat onto the grill, you can certainly replace ACV with another kind of vinegar. Your meal just won’t be quite as healthy.
Vinegars to Choose as ACV Substitutes
Vinegars all have different taste profiles, of course, and none will be a perfect replacement for apple cider vinegar when you’re cooking. But many will come close, depending on what you’re making.
- White wine vinegar: This may be the best choice for salad dressings because of its inherent tang that mixes well with fresh herbs. Use half the amount that the recipe calls for, though.
- Red wine vinegar: Grapes aren’t apples, but the fruity flavor of this vinegar is somewhat close to the taste of ACV, without the tang. Use a bit more than usual (e.g. 1¼ teaspoon of red wine vinegar if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of ACV).
- Malt vinegar: There’s a yeasty taste to this mild vinegar, somewhat similar to the yeast in beer since they’re both fermented from malted barley. That makes malt vinegar a poorer choice for salad dressings, but a very good substitute in recipes, marinades and sauces, and for pickling.
- Rice wine vinegar: It isn’t as acidic as ACV but its sweetness is a pretty close match, so rice vinegar works well as a one-to-one substitute in stir fry dishes or similar recipes. You can also use this vinegar in salad dressings, but add a teaspoon of lemon juice as well in order to make up for ACV’s acidic taste. Champagne vinegar fits into this same category.
- White vinegar: You can use this as a substitute for apple cider vinegar when making pickled vegetables.
Alternatives like balsamic vinegar and sherry vinegar will also work in salad dressings and marinades, but they’ll contribute slightly different flavors than ACV.
Other Acceptable Substitutes for Apple Cider Vinegar
No vinegar on the shelf at all? Here are some other ideas to help you replace ACV in a recipe.
- Lemon or lime juice: Citrus juices, naturally, contain citric acid instead of acetic acid. But their acidity and fruity taste make each of these juices decent one-to-one substitutes for apple cider vinegar.
- White wine: Most varietals are close to the sweetness of ACV, so even though their acid levels are different, their tastes are somewhat similar. Use two tablespoons of white wine vinegar to replace each tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.