Vinegar Acidity 101: The Essential Breakdown

Different types of vinegar

Last Updated on March 15, 2024 by Chris Whitehair

Acidity of Vinegars: Your Questions, Answered.

A salad dressing, a pickling agent, and a weed killer all in one handy fluid. Yes, I am talking about vinegar – the condiment that does literally everything.

From marinating, to floor cleaning, vinegar really is a household wonder.

Obviously (hopefully!) we focus on vinegar in the culinary sense here at Flower City Flavor Company, but with so many types of vinegars and variations, you might be wondering which vinegar is best in any given circumstance.

How can we avoid cleaning with an expensive dressing or pickling our cucumbers with an industrial-strength cleaner? 

In this blog, I’ll cover:

  • A brief overview of what vinegar is.
  • Commercial vinegar and non-culinary uses.
  • Types of edible vinegar and their acidity levels.
  • High acidity level vinegars and their uses.

By the end, you’ll be a vinegar acidity expert! And you’ll know what types of vinegars to use in any type of situation.

Let’s take a look!

What is Vinegar? What Are the Ingredients in Vinegar?

Vinegar is the product of fermentation.

Like wine and alcohol, sugar mixed with starch gets left to ferment with natural bacteria in the air.

This results in the sour, acidic tasting condiment that we know as vinegar.

Vinegar flavor comes from the liquid used in its construction and the type of bacteria added in the fermentation process.

This can result in a wide variety of finishes that work well in various situations.

The trick is to know the acidity levels in different types and how they work well with specific flavors.

Is Vinegar an Acid?

Yes, vinegar is an acid.

pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. The pH value runs on a scale of 1 to 14, with 7 being the neutral value.

Anything below 7 is acidic, with one being extremely acidic, and anything above 7 is alkaline. 

To get an overview, water is neutral being a 7 on the pH scale.

Household white vinegar, the type you may choose to use in cleaning, is a 2.5 on the pH scale.

You can test the acidity of vinegar using readily available pH strips.

Commercially Available Vinegar

Most commercial vinegars you can buy at the grocery store will have a percentage rating somewhere on the packaging that denotes the acidity level.

Typically, a vinegar for salad dressing will be around 4-5%.

Wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar will be in the 6-7% range.

Important to know: The percentage rating on a vinegar does not always correlate to its pH value.

Manufacturers can dilute products to make them fit for the market and as such, you may get two types of the same vinegar that have differing ratings due to their brand.

Can I Clean With Vinegar?

Yes, you can clean with vinegar, though you can only use certain types.

Don’t try to shine your windows with balsamic vinegar or you are in for a tough time.

White vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaner as it does not contain colorants, and will not stain or damage furniture.

If you do not like the smell of vinegar when cleaning, your best bet is to use apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar has a slightly sweeter, less powerful smell and will not have the intensity, though will retain the same pH level.

As it is darker in color, you may want to dilute it before use.

Is Vinegar Safe to Clean With?

Vinegar is a great alternative to chemical-based cleaners.

They do not have a strong smell and are safe for pets and children.

On top of this, they are environmentally friendly and do not damage your skin.

What Vinegar Should I Use When Pickling?

Use vinegar with a percentage of 5% or more in acidity.

Malt and white vinegar are ideal for most pickling processes.

There are many ways to prepare pickles. Adding vinegar at differing stages of the process.

They are too vast to list here but plenty of articles exist online to help with this.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Devilishly sour yet with heavenly sweetness, apple cider vinegar should have a place in every pantry.

It is ideal for salads of all types, used to spice up sweet foods, and even has hidden health benefits. 

Many people believe that apple cider vinegar can help regulate your blood sugar.

By tipping one tablespoon into a small glass of water and drinking before a meal, experts also believe it can aid digestion.

This is due to the high amount of probiotics inherent in it.

Probiotics are yeast and bacteria that are good for your gut.

They are often advertised in yogurts and similar dairy drinks.

Any apple cider vinegar that advertises itself with the word ‘mother’ in it will contain an extraordinary mass of healthy bacteria.

An apple cider vinegar will typically be around 4-5% in acidity.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar hails from Italy and is extremely unique.

Its name derives from the word ‘balm’ which is a health aiding ointment.

The production of balsamic vinegar is extremely strict and anything bearing the term ‘balsamic’ can only come from either the Modena or Reggio Emilia region of Italy.

This vinegar gets its characteristic color and texture from the cooking down of local grape varieties, which are then aged in barrels over a period of years.

It does bear similarities to the production of both wine and spirits. In fact, the word “vinegar” comes from the French term vin agre which means sour wine.

After a while, the dark condiment is ready.

The long process means that high quality ‘tradizionale’ vinegar is expensive.

It is perfection on salads, as a marinade or eaten with fresh bread dipped into it and you can try our delicious own brand here.

You can find more information about how to use Balsamic vinegar here. It will typically have an acidity level of 6-7%.

Wine Vinegar

Wine vinegar is separated into the two camps of its respective wine counterparts: red and white.

Made in exactly the same way, both types use varieties of grapes to dictate the color and variations between brands. 

Red wine vinegar is extremely popular. It has a depth of flavor behind its sourness that is hard to find in other vinegar.

This can be a marinade, dressing, or used to replace salt in adding some spark to a dull meal. 

A typical wine vinegar will have around a 6-7% level in acidity. 

Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is very similar in its maturation method to wine vinegar.

It is matured in heavy casks that absorb the flavor and characteristics of the tannins in the wood, just like sherry.

This gives it a rich, deep coloration and a balanced flavor.

It often has more of a bite than other typical vinegar. A sherry vinegar will come in at around 7-8%.

Malt Vinegar

Most countries produce vinegar that associate with the staple of their country.

For example, Mediterranean wine-producing countries produce wine vinegar.

Southeast Asian countries produce rice vinegar, and beer-producing countries produce malt vinegar. 

Malt vinegar is extremely strong tasting and would not commonly be used on salads.

However, anyone who has had traditional British fish and chips should drown them in malt vinegar and salt to get the full experience.

Colored with caramel, brown malt vinegar is available which is slightly darker and sweeter than malt.

This type of vinegar is ideal for pickling. It can be distilled for preserving and is often used in chutneys. It would typically have a level of 4-5%.

I have my own Bourbon Barrel Malt Vinegar available!

Rice Vinegar

Made from fermented rice wines, this vinegar is fundamental in South East Asian cuisine. It is both salty and sweet.

There are regional variations with the Japanese type being a little less sharp than other strains.

It is often bottled and flavored with many variations of herbs, spices, and sauces.

A Chinese version is available known as black vinegar which is fermented from millet instead of rice. 

Rice vinegar can have a vast variation in acidity levels ranging from 4-7%.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is strong and can be used as a household cleaner, as well as being a good pickling vinegar.

It is acidic but fairly flavorless.

If used as a salad dressing, it is often mixed with lemon, lime, salt, and pepper but will often need diluting due to its strength.

That does not mean it does not have a place in the pantry.

White vinegar is excellent for holding together poached eggs and adding strength and glaze when baking.

It is also a great remedy for bringing down swelling in some bites and insect stings. 

White vinegar typically has a strength of 5-7% acidity.

Vinegar Acidity in Higher Levels

At a 10% acidity level, vinegar becomes strong enough to dilute and still be an effective preservative.

At 15%, vinegar will become quite dangerous and should only be used with a glove and eye protection. It is not easily available to the general public.

Also at 15%, vinegar becomes an effective, natural weed killer. It is strong enough that you most definitely need protection and should wash any skin that comes into contact with it. 

A 20-25%, vinegar is only sold as a weed killer. These kinds of vinegars should be poured only in well-ventilated areas. They can be used for cooking in extremely small amounts, though it is not advised and other less dangerous vinegar can have the same outcome. 

30% and above
30% and above is the upper limit of vinegar strength. It is white vinegar made in a frozen distillation process. It is used only as a strong weed killer and in commercial cleaning.

Delicious Dressings

Of course, the most likely use for vinegar are those delicious salad dressings and marinades.

A vinegar can lift the blandest vegetables or brighten up a slab of lackluster meat.

Are you looking to add some tasty vinegar to your cupboard?

We have an outstanding selection ready for quick delivery so you can get cooking with them as soon as possible.

Check out our exceptional variety of dark balsamic and flavored vinegar with a range of vinegar acidity on our site today!

3 thoughts on “Vinegar Acidity 101: The Essential Breakdown

  1. Maurita says:

    Hi we had finally found a reasonably price, less tart balsamic on the market, but a las the company closed. We prefer a less tart balsamic and read somewhere it had to do with the acid level. I cannot recall unfortunately which level. Can you clarify what level/and or brand would be less tart!! TU

    • Chris Whitehair says:

      Great question Linda! When it comes to white vinegar, 5% is the standard, and this is probably the level you’ll find at the grocery store amongst the major brands. I don’t personally make cheese, so I can’t attest to the end flavor result in your recipe, but this is what I would use.

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