Chinese black vinegar is a favourite ingredient of many Asian cooks, as it adds a sweetish sour note to the dish. If you want to learn how to make your version from scratch, you're in the right place.
We've thoroughly researched and tested many recipes out there. So, here's our definitive guide on how to use this Chinese staple ingredient, as well as our favourite dipping sauce recipe with it!
What is in Chinese black vinegar?
Chinese black vinegar has two primary ingredients: glutinous rice and malt vinegar.
Another version of it sold on the market has added sugar and ginger. Many cooks use this version primarily for braised pork dishes. However, you should note that many Asian cooks do not replace one with the other.
The sauce is black due to a special chemical reaction between the two main ingredients. Carbohydrates react with amino acids, resulting in the source colour.
How is Chinese black vinegar made?
Chinese black vinegar is made from black sticky rice or regular glutinous rice. The manufacturers choose whole steamed grains for their creation. Then, they steep the grains in vinegar and leave them to sit in clay pots for at least a year.
But, dips from different regions may have some variations. For instance, the Taiwanese use sticky rice to create their dip version.
In addition, the producers also add vegetables such as carrots, onions, mushrooms, and even chilli to the mix before letting it ferment. Then, manufacturers add liquorice and caramel to the mix. The final taste is fruitier and crispier compared to other Asian versions.
The Chinese version usually is bolder and more flavourful, with a funkier aroma. Outside China, Japan and Korea use brown rice as the base starch. So, their versions have a nuttier taste.
Since there are differences in the process, the taste might vary by region. It is good to know how manufacturers have created the dip so you can choose the right condiment for your dishes.
It also differs depending on which manufacturer created the dip. So, how do you determine which brand is suitable for your meal?
You can infer from the region where the vinegar comes from and the area's dishes.
The condiment is used in Taiwan as the taste is often fruitier than in other regions. In China, soy sauce is also usually added to the final product.
Difference between Red, White, Black and Red Chinese Vinegar
What is the difference between red, white, black and red Chinese vinegar? It is the colour and their whole grains.
Red vinegar combines red yeast rice or sometimes barley and sorghum. You will usually see it in Chinese seafood dishes and dipping sauces. It has a 6-7% of acidity level.
White rice vinegar is almost yellowish and results from fermented rice wine. It looks almost like a regular Western white version.
But the taste is much sweeter without fruity undertones. It has an acidity level of 4%, and the Japanese often use it for sushi.
Lastly, there is also the black rice type which has a more intense flavour. Its created from black glutinous rice and other grains like wheat, millet, and sorghum.
It has an acidity level of 5.5% and is poured chiefly over Chinese stir-fries or taken alone.
The key difference between Chinese black vinegar versus balsamic vinegar is that balsamic is from fermented grape juice. Therefore, its taste is much sweeter and slightly overpowering.
Red Chinese Vinegar
Lastly, there is a variation known as Red Chinese Vinegar, hailing from Fujian in Eastern China. People in Fujian infuse their Chinese black vinegar with a unique fungus that gives the final product a dark red hue.
Chinese Black Vinegar should be a staple condiment in every healthy kitchen. Here are some of its health benefits.
If you regularly consume it, you might feel less tired.
It fights fatigue as it has amino acids. Amino acids reduce the build-up of lactic acid in the blood. When lactic acid builds up in your muscles, you can feel tired quickly.
You can use this condiment to keep your body healthy. Moreover, it can help maintain pH levels of your body which keeps you healthy. It is also supposed to regulate hormonal imbalance in the long run.
If you need to keep a strict diet, heed this advice.
According to some studies, Chinese black vinegar aids weight loss. The condiment increases a feeling of fullness and reduces your appetite. You tend to eat less with a reduced appetite, gradually losing weight over time.
Some studies also suggest that consuming small amounts of it regularly can lower cholesterol. Over time, having this condiment can reduce your risk of heart problems.
Many people with diabetes find that adding this condiment to their meals can reduce sugar spikes.
Consuming it as a salad dressing may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar more effectively.
However, it is best to seek your doctor's advice before using it as a health remedy.
Chinese black vinegar is a popular condiment in Chinese cooking because of its umami flavour. A very versatile dip, a little bit adds a lot of tang to your dishes. These are some popular uses for it:
- All types of cold appetisers. Adding some slices of ginger makes it even better.
- Use it with braised meats and fish, such as Chinese Braised Fish.
- Use it with noodles and a touch of soy sauce, along with slices of meat, onions, or wood ear mushrooms.
- This beautiful combination with some chilli oil works as a dipping condiment for dumplings! Some cooks also add caramelised onions and soy sauce to the mix.
- To marinate grilled meats, such as pork chop. The added dip layer lightens grilled meat's slightly bitter, charred taste.
- As a light tossing dip for a chicken salad, it enhances the freshness of the vegetables in the salad!
Where to buy
It's easier to buy the condiment to save yourself some time. You can find many Chinese black vinegar brands in most Asian supermarkets and online platforms like Amazon.
Some popular brands include Zhenjiang, also known as Chinkiang vinegar. Its dark and full-bodied flavour makes it a top choice for most Asian cooks.
Zhenjiang / Chinkiang Vinegar
Gold Plum is also another popular choice. Although it is slightly pricier, many recommend it as a great dip that mixes well with chilli oil. There are also other brands like Hengshun and Kong Yen.
When trying various condiments, you might notice one is sweeter or less fruity than you prefer. It's good to shop around and find the perfect dressing for yourself.
Chinese black vinegar substitutes
If you need a Chinese black vinegar substitute, you can try white rice or rice wine vinegar. These are usually more available in regular supermarkets.
Balsamic vinegar is another substitute. Most cooks do not recommend it because the taste is different, but a slight pinch to sweeten the dish as an alternative dip works.
How to Store
To store your bottle of Chinese black vinegar, keep it away from direct sunlight. You should store it in a cool, dark place like your pantry or kitchen cabinet.
Once you open it, put the lid or cap back on immediately after using it.
Chinese Black Vinegar Dipping Sauce
- 2 tbsps Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tbsps oyster sauce
- 2 tbsps sweet soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chilli oil
- 1 clove garlic
- Mince the garlic finely.
- In a small bowl, add all ingredients together. Whisk them.
- Store an airtight bottle in a cool place for a few days until you need to use it.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
If you like ginger and prefer less chilli in your dipping sauce, you can also try this variant recipe as shown by Wei Lun on Youtube! With just using the black vinegar, light soy sauce, sugar, water and sliced ginger, you can create a quick dumpling dipping sauce!
You will see this condiment commonly provided when you buy Chinese take-out. Fans of Chinese black vinegar claim it transforms the dish, not just enhances it! We think it is an excellent choice as a light dip to store in the kitchen for any occasion.
If you've tried creating your own, why not tag us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks? We would love to see how you enjoyed it!
Looking to learn how to make other Chinese sauces? We recommend checking our Cantonese sauce recipe, which is another quintessential sauce in Chinese cuisine!