What is a Good Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar?


Who knew that there were numerous kinds of vinegar in the world, all with unique characteristics to match certain cuisines and dishes?

One vinegar we’re interested in (and love using) is black vinegar, which isn’t only acidic but offers flavor notes of malt and licorice with an earthy base to counterbalance the tangy sharpness!

You can usually find black vinegar featured in Chinese dishes, and a staple in Chinese restaurants.

What if your local supermarket or Asian specialty store has no black vinegar, though? (*)

Don’t worry; you can always use a handy-dandy black vinegar substitute!

The best ones go out to balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and date vinegar. We told you, so many kinds of vinegar!

But wait, there are more substitutes for black vinegar to use! Read on as we share the best ones you can easily find and use.

What’s Black Vinegar?

Black vinegar is NOT plain white vinegar, as it has far more complex flavors than that. It still tastes sharp and acidic, but you can also detect other flavors like earthy, sour, tangy, and even slightly sweet with umami. It’s also aromatic, and with all those characteristics combined, it’s no wonder it tastes great with Chinese dishes!

Fun fact: There are two significant kinds of black vinegar. Chinkiang vinegar is aged rice vinegar made of sorghum or rice, having a woody, malty, and smoky flavor. The second is mature black vinegar, popular in Northern China with its smoky flavor, made from sorghum, barley, bran, chaff, and peas.

You can find black vinegar in well-stocked supermarkets or Asian specialty stores. However, some people can’t find black vinegar, while others believe it tastes a bit too harsh or overbearing.

Whatever the case may be, there are other substitutes for black vinegar you can use, such as:

The 13 Best Substitutes For Black Vinegar

1. Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar, as the best substitute for black vinegar, is a no-brainer. They both have similar color, consistency, and versatility. We often use balsamic vinegar in the kitchen, whether we’re making sauces, salad dressings, glazes, and more. (*)

Balsamic vinegar isn’t the perfect match when it comes to flavor. It has a slightly sweeter flavor and is a bit syrupier. But since producers age balsamic vinegar for 12-25 years, it will have the same richness black vinegar offers.

Because of balsamic vinegar’s thick consistency, you can use balsamic vinegar when making a thick glaze or sauce. You don’t need to worry about having to thicken sauces compared to if you used black vinegar. Moreover, you can use balsamic vinegar in slightly sweet recipes, like sweet and sour sauces.

In general, you might have to use less balsamic vinegar than what the recipe calls for, so start with about half the amount and taste test, working your way up.

2. Rice Vinegar

Black vinegar consists of grains, typically rice. Because of that, rice vinegar becomes another excellent replacement for black vinegar, as they share the same base.

However, rice vinegar has no added malt and would come in various types, either plain or with flavor enhancements like orange peel and ginger. You’ll need to take into account the difference in flavors, which may impact what your dish will taste like. Plus, producers ferment rice vinegar longer than black vinegar, giving it a more robust and intense flavor.

With all that in mind, we recommend adding half the amount of rice vinegar necessary in the recipe, adding more only as needed. Use this black vinegar substitute in dressings, marinades, pickling mixtures, or savory recipes calling for black vinegar, like stir-fries.

Pro-tip: Make homemade black vinegar by mixing one tablespoon of water, 1 ½ tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and 1 ½ tablespoon of rice vinegar! It gives you a more authentic flavor and appearance of black vinegar.

3. Malt Vinegar

Malt vinegar comes from dried and germinated barley grains, giving it a rich, nutty flavor. Producers create malt vinegar directly from ale, making it sweeter, milder, yet more complex than white vinegar.

If you’re familiar with the classic fish and chips in Great Britain, malt vinegar is its favored sauce. But malt vinegar is more than just a condiment; but a fantastic addition to salads, noodles, or Asian dishes that call for black vinegar. A few drops will go a long way, so be wary of how much malt vinegar you add.

4. Red Wine Vinegar

Red wine vinegar shares similar characteristics to black vinegar, making it a suitable replacement. For starters, red wine vinegar has a similar sweet and tangy flavor with a darker hue so that the substitution won’t impact your dish’s appearance.

However, we can’t consider red wine vinegar the perfect replacement because it doesn’t have similar acidity levels as black vinegar. Moreover, red wine vinegar isn’t as earthy, or with the malt-like hints you probably enjoy from black vinegar.

With that in mind, we recommend using red wine vinegar for recipes that won’t heavily rely on black vinegar, like salads or stir-fries. Use it in recipes with other ingredients taking center stage! Also, we only recommend using half the amount of red wine vinegar in a recipe that calls for black vinegar to give your dish the appropriate acidity. 

5. White Wine Vinegar

White wine vinegar is an acceptable black vinegar substitute if you’re not prioritizing complex flavors. White wine vinegar is lighter and brisker with more acidity and just a bit of fruitiness.

If you believe white wine vinegar tastes too plain, mix it with dark soy sauce, which gives you the fruitiness and umami flavors you’ll appreciate. It will also give you a dark hue resembling black vinegar.

White and red wine vinegar are different as the former is milder and crisper.

6. Sherry Vinegar

Think of sherry vinegar as balsamic vinegar’s “cool cousin.” It originates from Spain and is the answer to balsamico from Italy! It’s cheaper than balsamico but with a similar flavor profile, made from pressed grape juice that’s fermented, colored, then sweetened, usually with caramel.

While producers age sherry vinegar longer than black vinegar, they share a similar taste, acidity, and some sweetness because of the presence of caramel. If sweetened with caramel, sherry vinegar would have a nutty aftertaste that balances the sour flavor.

What you won’t get out of sherry vinegar is the dark hue. If you prioritize your dish’s appearance, this can be a disadvantage. But in terms of flavor, sherry vinegar is a good alternative.

7. Date Vinegar

If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter, you can always go for date vinegar. As the name suggests, this vinegar is made of fermented dates, so it has a fruit base. Both have similar flavor profiles, making date vinegar a suitable black vinegar substitute.

Fun fact: Date vinegar is the oldest vinegar type recorded among other available variations!

Date vinegar doesn’t only consist of dates but herbs and spices for an optimized flavor. As such, you can expect a great sweetness to it, counteracting regular vinegar’s tart acidity. You can use an equal 1:1 ratio when using date vinegar in just about any recipe asking for it.

8. Honey Vinegar

If you want more sweetness to your recipe, opt for honey vinegar, which you can make from scratch or purchase in stores. While it isn’t as readily available compared to other vinegar variations, if you have it, then you can try it.

We don’t recommend it for all kinds of recipes asking for black vinegar, though. It works well in salads and cocktails, but it might be too sweet for other savory recipes.

9. Herb Vinegar

Like honey vinegar, you can create herb vinegar yourself! Use red wine, rice, or apple cider vinegar with your chosen herb, namely thyme or rosemary.

Also, like honey vinegar, we don’t recommend this for all recipes. It’s more suitable in salad dressings or sauces that will truly appreciate your chosen herb’s flavor.

10. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is quite acidic and offers a bright tang that wouldn’t overpower the whole recipe compared to white vinegar. It also has a fresher flavor, and for those who prefer a fruit-based vinegar over the complex, grain-based one, apple cider vinegar is your next bet. (*)

Interestingly enough, apple cider vinegar has health benefits to offer! It’s why some people would take a shot of it in the morning, either straight up or mixed with honey and water.

Besides using apple cider vinegar in vinaigrettes or salad dressings, it also has various applications in cooking, like in slow cooker meals, meatballs, or marinades. Like black vinegar, this substitute has acidity and sweetness, though with a bit of a lighter flavor.

11. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce originates from Worcestershire, England, hence its name. Today, there are numerous variations and replicas of Worcestershire sauce. They all share the same characteristics, having a dark color, rich flavor, and a bit of a tang, but prioritizing the intensely savory taste.

Add a bit of Worcestershire sauce to your dish, or make it the focal point, depending on your recipe and tastebuds. Like soy sauce and fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce offers excellent umami even if they taste different.

You can use this black vinegar substitute when braising liquids, in soups, sauces, pot pies, chicken broth, or just about any savory recipe that will benefit from acid, sweetness, and umami in one go.

12. Lemon, Lime, or Apple Juice with Honey

This is a less popular black vinegar substitute but will work all the same if you run out of any type of vinegar. Or, if you don’t like vinegar at all, this will work!

Squeeze fresh juice from one lemon and mix it with a tablespoon of honey, and you’ve got your replacement. If you want it sweeter, you can add more honey. No honey? You can use sugar instead!

If you have no lemon juice, you can always opt for lime juice or apple juice. Note that lime juice may have a bitter taste, so you’ll need to add more honey if needed. Apple juice may also be a bit sweet so that you can use it on its own.

For every tablespoon of black vinegar required in a recipe, use two tablespoons of your juice mix.

13. Soy Sauce (Non-Vinegar Substitute)

Alright, who the heck put soy sauce on this list and why?

Well, you’ll be surprised with how well soy sauce works, especially if you aren’t a fan of vinegar’s sour, tangy, acidic taste. If you’re more after the umami for your dishes, use soy sauce instead. Another huge plus is how it’s readily available in all supermarkets, or you probably already have it in your kitchen.

Do note that soy sauce has a thicker texture than black vinegar, and first, add half the amount needed since it’s pretty salty!

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’d like to learn more about black vinegar, check out these frequently asked (and answered) questions below:

1. How do you select the best black vinegar substitute?

There’s no “best black vinegar substitute” for everyone. It will depend on what you need and your tastebuds. Balsamic vinegar is your best bet if you want dark, complex vinegar-like black vinegar. Malt vinegar and Worcestershire sauce are your next options.

You can opt for rice vinegar or white wine vinegar for lighter and less rich alternatives for clean, bright acidity. Fruity kinds of vinegar-like date, apple cider, or sherry vinegar are great for those who want fruitier aromas with less acidity.

If you’re out of vinegar or don’t like the high acidity levels, you can always mix tangy fruit juices like lemon, lime, or apple juice with honey. Alternatively, try combining different kinds of vinegar to achieve unique combinations!

2. What’s the difference between white vs black vinegar?

Black vinegar is an Oriental condiment made from white rice, like how producers make balsamic vinegar from grapes. White vinegar goes through refining processes, while black vinegar undergoes maturation to give its unique flavor. Moreover, their main difference comes in their colors.

3. Can I use white vinegar as a black vinegar substitute?

We do not recommend using white vinegar because it has no flavor! It would only have a sour taste and maybe just a hint of sweetness. Moreover, it’s the sharpest vinegar type, compared to the unique flavor and aroma black vinegar offers.

4. Can I drink black vinegar?

Confession: We’re guilty of drinking vinegar sometimes; it tastes that good! However, we highly discourage you from drinking any type of vinegar because of its high acidity levels. It may cause heartburn, and acid reflux, erode your teeth enamel, and inflame your esophagus and stomach.

You can have vinegar with food or mixed with liquids safe to drink, but don’t overdo it! Just like any food or beverage, too much of a good thing is bad.

Fun fact: Vinegar, like liqueur, never expires when stored under the right conditions. However, it may lose its quality flavors, so we recommend using it before the best-by date on the label.

Wrapping It Up

Black vinegar isn’t that difficult to replace, with so many types of vinegar to choose from! And if you’re not a fan of vinegar, sweeter alternatives provide a slight tanginess to delight your tastebuds.

We hope our black vinegar substitute list helped you find the best replacement for whatever recipe you’re following now.

If you need alternatives for other food and drinks, we’ve got you covered here in Nomspedia!

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top