Cooking is not an exact science. Even home cooks often make substitutions in a pinch or amplify flavors with additional spices. But when it comes to salad dressings and marinades, can you substitute white wine vinegar for red wine vinegar, or vice versa?
Turns out the two types of vinegar are not as different as you might think. The most obvious difference, of course, is the color and the base ingredient. Red wine vinegar is made from red wine and white is made from white wine.
They are both made through the same oxidation process used for wine. However, the taste is where the biggest difference comes into play.
If you are a wine lover, you already know that red is slightly more potent than white. It has a more robust grape flavor that is generally a bit heavier as well, as does red wine vinegar.
Although it has a fruit-based flavor, it is stronger than its white wine counterpart, making it ideal for use in heavier foods, such as marinades for red meat or spicy vinaigrettes for salads with meat.
White wine vinegar tastes much lighter. It has the same fruit flavor behind the tang, but the pinch is softer. It can’t compete enough with heavy ingredients to add the flavor that red wine vinegar does.
However, this is exactly what makes it perfect for light salad dressings, buttery sauces or marinating lighter meats, such as chicken.
Yet, while their flavors to be otherwise, you can still mix red or white wine vinegar in a pinch. The only caveat is that if you replace red with white, use less of it because it has a stronger flavor. Likewise, if you’re using white instead of red, you may want to add a little more.
So the next time you start making your own salad dressing and find you’ve run out of white wine vinegar, reach for the red—just measure out a little less than usual.