vinegar, sauces, and pastes

Cooking in my kitchen tends to become somewhat experimental.

A dash of this, a pinch of that, it’s all a bit unconventional.

My fridge is full of little jars with all sorts of sauces and pastes. In my pantry, there is an entire shelf dedicated to all sorts of  oils and vinegar that are ready to dress up any boring dish.

Take a peak in my pantry and fridge to see what sauces, vinegar, and pastes I always have on hand.


Most varieties of vinegar are a product of a two-step fermentation process. First by fermenting carbohydrates from fruit into alcohol. And secondly, by further fermenting alcohol to acetic acid.

Basically, sugar is converted to an alcohol which is then further fermented into a vinegar.

The result is an acidic tangy flavored vinegar. It should still have hints of flavor from the original food that was fermented (ie rice vinegar, wine vinegar). It’s easy to understand why the French origin of the word vinegar translates to “sour wine.”

acid composition

As you may be able to tell from the taste – vinegar is highly acidic. The minimum strength of vinegar is usually 4%. This minimum level is just enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

There isn’t a legal upper limit for acetic acid in vinegar. However, most commercial varieties of vinegar in the United States will not reach an upper limit past ten percent. A concentration of more than ten percent of acetic acid in a vinegar may be harmful to our mucous membranes.

alcohol content

Since vinegar is fermented from alcohol there will be some residual alcohol in the vinegar. This is obviously monitored very closely by manufactures and there is usually around 0.4% ABV.

Without the presence of alcohol, a process called overoxidation can occur which allows the acetic acid bacteria to further metabolize which actually decreases the acid content in the vinegar. Without any alcohol present, the vinegar would likely be too astringent tasting.

wine vinegars

Wine vinegar is made from a two-fold fermentation process. First, the alcoholic fermentation of the grape juice occurs when the yeast changes natural sugars to alcohol. Then, in the second process of fermentation the alcholic portion is converted to acid via bacteria. Lending an acidic and tart flavor that holds the original characteristics of the grapes used. When purchasing wine vinegar look for single grape varieties to avoid a muddied flavor.

Unsurprisingly, red wine vinegar is made from red wines and white wine vinegar is made from white wine. Red wine vinegar has a sharp taste and is great in salad dressings and meat marinades. It’s well paired with bold flavors like garlic or mustard. White wine vinegar is more mellow but can sub for red wine vinegar in most recipes. My favorite use for white wine vinegar is in salad dressings when I don’t want to change the color of the leaves of vegetables. As both red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar can give any salad a dark and almost dirty looking color. If you want to get extra fancy you can always play around with Champagne vinegar – it’s my favorite base for a light vinaigrette.

malt vinegar

Malt vinegar is also made from a two-fold fermentation process that ends in a mellow, nutty, and toasted flavor.

Basically, it pairs well with fries and fish and chips. Malt vinegar is in my kitchen for that exact purpose. Plus I’m married to a Candian. They always put vinegar on their fries.

rice vinegar

Rice is fermented into a rice wine and then undergoes a second ferment to become rice vinegar. If you are picking up on a trench of twice fermented – you’de be right. The flavor of the rice vinegar depends on the variety of rice. But generally it has a sweeter taste than wine vinegar and is less harsh than distilled white vinegar. It’s a must for any sushi rolls, Asian salad dressings, and stir-frys. Rice vinegar is also a great addition to marinades. When purchasing rice vinegar made sure to avoid any seasoned varieties that might have added salt, sugar, or spices that will take away from its natural flavor profile.

balsamic vinegar

A few drops of balsamic vinegar on sun-ripened strawberries is flavor pairing heaven. Balsamic vinegar is dark brown in color and is thicker than other varieties of vinegar. It’s sweet yet tart in flavor and is pleasant to taste alone.

Traditionally balsamic vinegar is made in Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy from unfiltered, unfermented grape juice. Unlike the previously mentioned vinegar, it is not made from fermented alcohol. Trebbiano grapes are pressed and aged just like wine. There is a traditional rating system that classifies the types of balsamic vinegar by age of ferment. Tradizionale is the highest quality and has been aged from 12 to 25 years, followed by bottles marked as IGP and PGI. The older the vinegar the sweeter and more viscous it becomes. Do not heat Tradizionale balsamic vinegar because like an unrefined oil, it will lose its flavor, it is best used raw topped on cheese, fruit, and crisp salads. If you would like to apply it to a heated dish or sauce use IGO and PGI rated balsamic vinegar.

Some commercial products balsamic vinegar don’t even come close to the quality of the above varieties. These products are an imitation made by adding coloring agents to white wine. Look at the label, if the balsamic vinegar is made in Modena or has the letter IGP or PGI, you’re headed for the good stuff.

ume plum vinegar

Traditionally ume plum vinegar is made from the pickling brine of umeboshi plums with shiso leaves and sea salt. The bright ruby color comes from the shisho leaves.

Unlike most vinegar, there is a presence of salt, so remember when using this vinegar to reduce your salt content in your recipe. The flavor subtly reminds me of the sea. Ume plum vinegar is a great vegan substitute for fish sauce or infusing a seafood flavor. The plum base gives it a sour and fruity flavor. In Japan, it’s used in marinades, sauces, pickling, salad dressings, and to season soups and vegetables.

white vinegar

It might seem odd to use the same substance to wash pesticides off your produce, scrub your floors, and sprinkle on a salad.

White vinegar really does it all. Commercially white distilled vinegar is used for making pickles, ketchup, and bottled salad dressings. In my house, it’s a multipurpose necessity. White vinegar is very strong and sharp in flavor so if you do add it into a salad, use it sparingly, a little goes a long way.

apple cider vinegar

In the world of wellness it’s likely you’ve heard of apple cider vinegar. There are dozens of health claims touting its benefits all over the internet.  According to a quick google search, it will help you lose weight, make your skin sparkle, and improve all your digestive disorders. I use it for the flavor. Apple cider vinegar is a sweet, tart, welcoming addition to chopped salads.

Apple cider vinegar is made by a two-fold fermentation process. First, the apples are pressed, bacteria and yeasts are added, and the apples ferment to alcohol. The second stage of the fermentation process occurs when acetic acid bacteria converts alcohol to vinegar.

Health benefits or not, remember its still a vinegar, which is an acidic solution. Be smart, only take a little bit at a time.



Miso is a savory paste made from fermented soybeans. I wrote more about the process in depth of my guide to fermented foods. It delivers a flavor like no other seasoning in my kitchen. A teaspoon swirled into soups or stir-fry transforms everything about the flavor of this dish. You truly haven’t discovered unami until you’ve tried miso.


Tamari is a Japanese sauce made from fermented soybeans. Tamari is essentially a slightly healthier version of soy sauce. It’s usually gluten-free and tastes a little less salty. Making it a great alternative for anyone with Celiacs or a gluten sensitivity. It’s also slightly thicker than soy sauce. Basically, it can be used interchangeably in any recipe that calls for soy sauce.

Tamari, coconut aminos, and Nama shoyu are usually all found in my pantry. All of these options lend a salty umami flavor. Sometimes I use it as a salt alternative in certain recipes. However, please remember that all of these “soy sauce” substitutes still deliver a massive amount of sodium.

Use a sprinkle very sparingly.

hot sauce

It’s unusual that I have less than three different kinds of hot sauces in my cupboard. My husband has an addiction to the burning sensation. My culinary use tends to be more specific to Mexican dishes, intensifying the spiciness of soups, and gives a kick to some of my favorite salads. Use is more sparingly than Mark does. There is the potential for a gastrointestinal upset, especially with long-term use.

vegan mayo

Like regular mayo, but vegan.

Basically, shelf stable egg products freak me out. But mayonnaise is the base to many of my favorite recipes so I had to find an alternative. My favorite non-diary mayo product is made by the company “Just Mayo.”

If I am going to have aioli or mayonnaise in my fridge, it’s going to be homemade, and it won’t be shelf stable.


The little kick can completely change the flavor of a dressing or a boring dish.

Opt out of the commercial yellow goo and check some artisanal varieties. Mustards can range in flavor due to their varied ingredients. Check the back label and avoid processed products containing excessive salt or sugar.

tomato paste

Tomato paste is made by cooking tomatoes for several hours to reduce the water content. Then the seeds and skins are strained and discarded. The mixture is cooked down one last time until it’s reduced to a thick pasty red concentrate.

I always have a half used tube of it in the door of my fridge. Granted, tomato paste is not that delicious on its own. But it works wonders in thickening soups or homemade sauces. It’s also is a fairly good source of vitamin C and potassium.

tamarind paste

If you ever make homemade curry, dal, or chili, then tamarind paste should be in your pantry arsenal. The sweet, tangy, and tart taste can be added into anything from stir-fry to tomato-based stews.

Tamarind fruit grows in a pod on the tamarind tree. It is usually cooked, strained, and pressed into a block for packaging. It can be found in Asian grocery markets in jars, solid fruit blocks, and even in a liquid form. It’s an inexpensive way to add tangy flavors into a lackluster stew or stir-fry.

Tamarind is a good source of iron, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Give this mouth puckering fruit paste a try.


Tahini is made from one ingredient: sesame seeds.

The seeds are lightly roasted and are then ground into a smooth paste. It’s luscious and nutty in flavor and can be used as a base for dressings and is a key ingredient in hummus. Thus, making it a staple in my kitchen.

I also use tahini interchangeably with peanut butter making it a great substitute for anyone with a peanut allergy. Tahini can also be added into cookies dough, drizzled on oatmeal, or even used as a dip to snack with apples.

nutritional value of tahini

Tahini is a great source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The caloric is 10% protein, 14% carbohydrates, and 76% fats. One spoonful is 10 percent of your daily fiber intake and it’s packed full of copper, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin.

is your tahini rancid?

Nuts and seeds are packed full of healthy unsaturated fats. These fats are usually encased inside of the outer shell of the seed until it’s ground. Now the fats are exposed to the three factors of oxidation: heat, air and light. Tahini therefor is easily subjected to oxidation as it’s literally ground up seeds.

This is why it’s crucial to store your tahini in the fridge. It’s also possible that your store bought tahini has already gone bad before you pulled it off the shelf and put it in your cart.

If your tahini tastes bitter, acidic, or chalky is a spoiled flavorless paste. I think the best tahini is when you make it in your own kitchen. But if you’re looking to buy it online here are a few of my favorite brands. Also – if you’re lucky enough to live in the city, find a local Middle Eastern restaurant or grocery and see if you can buy some from them. This is truly the best tahini ever.

3 salad dressing to get you started

Now that I’ve told you ever sauce, vinegar, and paste I have in my pantry lets put it all together.

Here are six of my favorite dressing recipes that I use often for salads. I also made a post dedicated completely to oils so you always know which oils to cook with and which oils should stay away from heat.

Creamy Honey Dressing

  • 1/2 cup vegan mayo
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until thoroughly incorporated.
Or pop it all in a blender.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

  • 1 cup vegan mayo
  • 1/2 cup vegan milk
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chopped chives
  • 2 tsp chopped parsley

Whisk all ingredients besides fresh herbs. Fold herbs in and incorporate (adding them earlier will make dressing green). Can sub fresh herbs for dried.

Basic Balsamic Vinegarette

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 garlic clove minced
  • pinch oregano, salt/pepper

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl or blend in a blender. Make sure to really mince the garlic clove into small pieces or sub with garlic powder.