Canning 101: How to Swap Vinegars

white vinegar

When I first started canning, I used a lot of distilled white vinegar. It was cheap, readily available, and a lot of the traditional recipes used it so I figured I should too. However, I found that I didn’t always love the flavor of white vinegar.

It was unrelentingly acidic and just didn’t bring anything interesting to the jars of pickles and chutneys in which I used it. Gradually, I started shifting from white distilled to apple cider, red wine, and white wine vinegars (I’ll use champagne vinegar when I can get it, but it’s pricy).

You might think that I was doing something potentially unsafe with my vinegar switch, but I wasn’t. That’s because I was making sure to only swap other 5% acidity vinegars in for the white distilled. As long as the vinegar has the same acidic concentration, you can always pull out one vinegar and replace it with another.

Whenever you buy a jug of vinegar, it should say right on the label (like the one in the picture above) that it has either been diluted or reduced with water to 5% acidity. There are a couple of cases when your vinegar won’t be 5%. Rice vinegar is typically sold between 4% and 4.3% acidity (however, Linda Ziedrich has a formula that allows you to still use it with all your favorite recipes) and in some commercial settings, apple cider vinegar is being sold at 4%.

The moral of the story is that as long as you read the vinegar labels carefully and make sure that you’ve got a bottle containing vinegar that has a 5% acidity, you can use whichever you’d like in your pickles!

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21 responses to “Canning 101: How to Swap Vinegars”

  1. Some distilled white vinegar is also made from petroleum, believe it or not, so if you do use it, check the label to be sure yours is made of grain. If it doesn’t say what it’s made from, you can assume it’s petroleum-based.

    • Why would they use petroleum? I am trying to stay away from any products that have chemicals in them..can’t understand using ethylene glycol in toothpaste,baby shampoo and lotions as well as shampoo and lotions for adults..I guess that is why the warning came out about not letting the shampoo water run down your back while washing your hair!! but, I can’t understand their purpose..thanks for this info..

  2. Back in my lab tech days, I knew how to do these types of conversions. That’s been a…number of years though and I can’t quite recall the formula. Does anyone happen to know the conversion for 6% to 5% vinegar? The champagne vinegar I have is 6%. I just used it as is since it wouldn’t affect the safety but I’d prefer to convert the volumes and use less if I am able. I’m thinking it’ll be the same route divide 5% by 6% and then multiply the volume of vinegar by 0.83. Does that sound right? Thanks!

  3. Marisa, that’s great info, thank you very much. What about Balsamic vinegar, that are sometimes 6% acidity? Is that safe to use in place of vinegar that is only 5%?

    • You can use balsamic vinegar, but you really don’t want to make a pickle with straight balsamic. It will be way too strong.

      • I was going to ask that, too! I have white balsamic that is 5.5% (and regular balsamic that’s 6%). and I was wondering about using it (the white balsamic) in pickled mushrooms and peppers and things.

        Incidentally, the most common distilled (white) vinegar here (Germany) comes concentrated, you have to dilute it to 5% yourself (4 parts water to 1 part vinegar gives you 5%, according to the bottle). I have to look for specifically gluten-free kinds, of course (ah, “grains”, so unspecific…)

      • Do you believe it would be too strong when you pickle cherry tomatoes? So do you use a combination of balsamic and white vinegar?

        Thank You.
        Ginny

  4. Marisa,
    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog before but I’m a regular reader and just wanted to tell you how helpful your Canning 101 series has been to me.
    Thank you!

  5. Interestingly, the first time I used your Dilly Beans recipe (from here on the blog), I didn’t love them. The second time I made them, from the book, I couldn’t stop eating them! When I compared the recipes later, I figured it must’ve been the difference in the vinegars. I prefer ACV in many pickling recipes, but not my Dilly Beans apparently!

  6. Another thing to check the label for is flavoring. Some Apple Cider Vingers, if you read the label carefully, are not real cider vinegar but “apple cider flavored.”

  7. This is so a propos! Wednesday I was gifted a 1/6 hotel pan of sliced red onion! This will be transformed into a red onion marmalade and I’d like to sub some mission fig balsamic for the small amount (3 Tbs.) balsamic called for in the recipe. My bottle of balsamic doesn’t list the level of acid. It came from the local gourmet vinegar/oil shop and the clerk I called didn’t think balsamic had acetic acid in it. That doesn’t sound right to me. Do domestic (USA) balsamic vinegars need to meet a standard minimum of acetic acid? I’d love to be able to use the balsamic in the marmalade but don’t want to take a chance of spoilage. It will be preserved in 1/2 pint and 4 ounce jars in a 10-minute hot water bath. The recipe also uses 7 oz. red wine vinegar and the zest and juice of one orange. Any insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

    • To the best of my knowledge, balsamic vinegar is typically diluted to 6% acidity. However, I don’t know about your mission fig balsamic. I’d suggest that you don’t use it as your primary source of acid.

  8. I have a question about vinegar %. I live in Poland, where I haven’t been able to find 5% white vinegar (only Apple). The only white vinegar here is 10%. Can I use half less vinegar if it is 10%. I am mostly canning salsas and jalapeno peach jam. For the jam the 5% apple works great, but I would prefer to use white for the salsa and if I could use half as much it would be even better as the salsa would be less liquidy.

    • I imagine that you could easily use less. I might use a bit more than half, just to ensure that you still have safe levels of acid.

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