Focus Ingredient: What is Chinese Black Vinegar?

Jun 28, 2011 by     8 Comments    Posted under: Asian, Focus Ingredients
Chinese Black Vinegar used as dipping sauce, marinade, or in stir fry

Chinese Black Vinegar used as dipping sauce, marinade, or in stir fry

Chinese black vinegar is an aged vinegar which is typically made from rice, but can also be made from wheat, millet, sorghum, or a combination of any of the four. It has a deep black color, similar to that of balsamic vinegar.

Compared to balsamic vinegar, Chinese black vinegar is less sweet, less acidic, and has a strong fragrant flavor that is almost spicy in nature (as in sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.); though that spiciness can vary between manufactures and their individual batches due to different makers adding different ingredients which may or may not contain sugar, spices, and colorings.

Uses for Chinese Black Vinegar

I love black vinegar and use it all the time in my kitchen, especially when cooking Chinese dishes.

  • It’s great used as a dipping sauce all on its own, or when mixed with soy sauce.
  • It adds the final touch on many dishes when sprinkled over the top or on some accompanying rice.
  • It adds a beautiful depth when added to marinades and sauces for stir frying.
  • It’s so good you could bath in it (just kidding).

An example of how to use it is found in Orange Spinach with Garlic Scapes and Chinese Sausage.

Substitution for Chinese Black Vinegar

Black vinegar can be sourced at any local Asian market, and is very inexpensive.  However, if you can’t seem to find it, or have simply ran out and don’t want to make a rush trip to the store, here is a simple substitution recipe to use.  It does not provide the exact same flavors, but is close enough to get the job done:

  • 1 part balsamic vinegar
  • 1 part rice wine vinegar
  • 3 parts water

 

8 Comments + Add Comment

  • We use black vinegar mostly for dips, usually combined with chilli jam, sichuan spice or/and cillantro..We got run out of it recently and i substituted balsamic vinegar for it when desperately in need, just bit less. To my surprice it was not bad idea at all. Balsamico vinegar seems like good match with chinese kitchen.

    • Cool Peter. Thanks for the comment.

  • Love the comment Gwen Meehan made about reading cookbooks for hours…I too do the same and have since I was old enough to read. When people ask what I am reading and I tell them a cookbook, their reply is truly in a surprised amazement. Too funny…Glad you made the comment, Gwen, for others to see that there are more of us out there who enjoy reading the same material! (And I might add, we enjoy preparing the recipes – probably with a few tweaks – we read with as just as much enthusiasm!)

  • I started out trying to find out about brown rice wine called for in several recipes for which I have previously substituted regular white rice wine vinegar. I ended up totally confused about whether there is a difference between brown and black rice wine;you google brown and often get black. I gather there is quite a variety of ingredients in these products. Then I stumbled on a Northern Chinese black vinegar called China’s Secret. It seems that the production is as complicated to make as real 12 year old balsamic and quite expensive. Then I hit a bunch of articles saying much of this revered product is fake-big scandal. What else is new with Chinese products.
    Back to my original question what do I use when recipe calls for brown vinegar;is it the same as black? I have access to quite a few large Asian markets. Thanks. Jeff

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for the question. I don’t have any experience with brown rice vinegar, but from what little I know, it is made from brown rice, while black vinegar is made from black glutinous rice. Regular rice vinegar is made from white rice. At least that’s the theory. They are all made with different ingredients as well, including sorghum and wheat. I would recommend substituting plain old regular rice wine vinegar (yellow/clear kind) for the brown vinegar rather than using black vinegar. The black will have heavy flavor notes that the recipe likely does not intend to have. However, if you have a lot of Asian markets near you, I’d go get some brown vinegar and try it out. It might be fun to try. I’m going to do my own little hunt for it now thanks to your comment. I asked my buddy that lives in China to see what he can find out, and I’ll let you know if he comes back with anything different. Meanwhile, there’s a good blog write-up about Asian vinegars I found that you might like: http://www.thekitchn.com/rice-vinegar-ingredient-spotlight-184260

  • Thanks for the information about Chinese Black Vinegar. I’m trying a dish tonight that calls for it…with Yukon Potatoes and Eggplant, of all things (that’s what intrigues me)…and don’t want to go out to buy the Black Vinegar when a substitute might be available.

    It seemed to me that Balsamic Vinegar might work and you’ve confirmed it. But…I must admit…that I’m so excited about your description that next time I’m out shopping I’ll pick up a bottle anyway. I’m wary of sneaky, bomb-spiced items that set us on fire; we love a little adventure, but not too outrageous.

    I look forward to getting back to take a better look at what you’re doing. I’ve been a foodie all my life and have enough cookbooks and magazines to start my own store which is not unusual for people like us! Have you read/tried Yotam Ottolinghi’s books? I’ve used several recipes from “Plenty” and really appreciate his take on things. I have bought his others, but haven’t had time to sit down and read them one recipe at a time.

    People think we’re crazy to sit for hours “reading” a cookbook; they don’t realize that each recipe is an entirely new chapter with all kinds of possibilities.

    Thanks again for being excited about food and being willing to share that excitement.

    Gwen Meehan

    • Thanks for writing Gwen. Good luck with the adventure tonight! I do love cooking. As for the Chinese Black Vinegar, definitely pick some up soon. It’s mighty tasty and can turn plain ramen noodles into something delicious. Don’t use straight balsamic in your dish tonight though, as it will be too strong. Try using the substitute I recommended, or at least just water it down some. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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