If you need a balsamic vinegar substitute that is just as complex in flavor with a sweet and tart aroma, there are some options to explore.
What Is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is a type of vinegar that originated in Italy and is made from grape juice. The grapes are cooked down to create a concentrated grape “must,” which is then aged in wooden barrels for several years.
The result is a thick, syrupy liquid with a complex flavor that is both sweet and acidic.
What Does Balsamic Vinegar Taste Like?
Balsamic vinegar has a unique flavor profile that is sweet, tangy, and slightly acidic. It has a complex aroma that is frequently described as woody or nutty, with hints of caramel and fruit.
The woody and smoky notes often are due to the wooden barrels the vinegar has aged in. Balsamic vinegar is unique due to its sweetness.
Why You Might Need a Balsamic Vinegar Substitute
- Availability – Balsamic vinegar may not be readily available in some regions or countries, or you simply might have run out of it.
- Cost – Balsamic vinegar can be expensive, and you may need a substitute that is more budget-friendly.
- Flavor preferences – Some people may not enjoy the flavor of balsamic vinegar or may prefer a different type of vinegar in their recipes.
- Allergies – although it is rare, some people have an allergy or sensitivity to vinegar due to acetic acid, sulfites, and histamines often found in kinds of vinegar.
Common Uses for Balsamic Vinegar
- Salad dressings – you can use balsamic vinegar as is or mixed with olive oil to make the base for a salad dressing
- Marinades for meats, poultry, fish, and tofu – used as is or as part of a marinade blend
- Glazes for roasted vegetables and meats
- Dipping sauce for bread or vegetables – use it as a dipping condiment on a charcuterie board or similar snack platters.
- Reductions or bases for sauces – balsamic vinegar works very well with any tomato-based sauce
- Desserts such as fruit salads and ice cream – some prefer reducing balsamic vinegar to a thick syrup to lightly drizzle over ice cream or fruit salad
- Sodas and cocktails – some cocktails or soda recipes call for a little bit of balsamic vinegar as an ingredient.
10 Balsamic Vinegar Substitute Ingredients
1. Soy Sauce Blends
Soy sauce has a rich and deep flavor but won’t work well on its own if you need the sweetness and acidity that balsamic vinegar can offer, hence it’s recommended you mix it with an acidic ingredient and a sweetener like in The Kitchn’s honey-lime sauce.
2. Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar, and Grape Jelly
Blending these three ingredients together will ensure a tasty and complex flavor profile that is ideal to use as a marinade or a glaze. The New York Times used these three ingredients to glaze some baby back ribs for a delicious roast meal.
3. Red Wine Vinegar & Maple Syrup
Red wine vinegar is a vinegar that is a bit more complex than other kinds of vinegar but not as complex as balsamic vinegar. When mixed with some maple syrup, you can make a delicious salad vinaigrette.
Just add some olive oil and mustard to emulsify it all together, as shown by The Rising Spoon.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar and Sugar
You can make this recipe by Crave the Good with sugar, honey, or maple syrup to achieve the same results. Apple cider vinegar is a refreshing and tangy vinegar that should work well with most recipes where complexity isn’t too big of a factor.
5. Sherry Vinegar
Sherry vinegar is similar to balsamic vinegar since it is also slightly sweet and tangy at the same time. Bon Appetit has a great overview of how to use this vinegar if you have some to use.
6. Balsamic Glaze
If you only have a balsamic glaze, you can use it as is in your recipe, but beware that it is much thicker and sweeter than balsamic vinegar. You can thin it out with some water, or if you want some acidity, lemon juice. Aroma Balsamico explains the difference between the two.
7. Balsamic Vinaigrette
If you happen to have a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette standing around, chances are you can use it in your dish. Check the label to see whether the ingredients would work in your recipe, but chances are there are only balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some spices in the mix.
Lively Table’s balsamic grilled vegetables recipe contains most of the ingredients you would find in a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette.
8. White Wine Vinegar and Sugar
White wine vinegar has a complex yet delicate flavor, which is ideal to use as a dressing over fish, poultry, or veggies when mixed with sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Varvello explains the common uses of white wine vinegar in detail.
9. Worcestershire Sauce
Worcestershire sauce is a rich and flavorful sauce that can easily be mixed with an acidic ingredient and a bit of sweetener to create a glaze, marinade, or dressing for meats, veggies, and even fish.
Rachel Ray mixes Worcestershire sauce, honey, and grapefruit juice for a tangy sauce to use on almost any dish.
10. Molasses and Lemon Juice
Molasses mixed with any vinegar or lemon juice can create a deep, rich sauce that is best used for sticky glazes and to give color to roast meats. Kitchen Diva used molasses, lemon juice, and a bit of soy sauce to glaze chicken thighs.
Tips for Balsamic Vinegar Substitution
- Flavor – if you need to use balsamic vinegar for its complex flavor, it is best to use ingredients that are complex too, such as white or red wine vinegar, as opposed to lemon juice when choosing an acidic ingredient
- Combine ingredients – other than sherry vinegar, no standalone ingredient will achieve the same results as balsamic vinegar, so mix together your favorite sweet, tangy, and acidic ingredients to your taste for the best results.
- Color – often, balsamic vinegar is not just used for its complex flavors but also its rich color, use dark molasses or soy to mimic the color of balsamic vinegar.
- Uses – consider the use of the balsamic vinegar before choosing a substitute – if you are using it on fish, use an alternative that is known to work well with the same dish, such as white wine vinegar.
- Allergies or dietary restrictions- if you are using a substitute for balsamic vinegar, such as Worcestershire sauce or other ready-made sauces, ensure you are aware of the ingredients – Worcestershire sauce has anchovies as an ingredient which not everyone may be aware of.