Cooking isn’t an exact science. Even home chefs often make substitutions in a pinch or amp up flavors with additional spices. But when it comes to salad dressings and marinades, can you substitute red wine vinegar for white, or vice versa?
Turns out the two varieties of vinegar aren’t as different as you might think. The most obvious difference is, of course, the color and base ingredient. Red wine vinegar is made from red wine, and white is made from white wine.
They’re both created via the same oxidation process used for wine. The flavor, however, is where the major difference comes into play.
If you’re a wine lover, you already know that red packs a bit more of a punch than white. It has a more robust grape flavor that’s also generally a bit heavier, and the same is true of red wine vinegar.
While it does have a fruit-based taste, it’s stronger than its white wine counterpart, making it ideal to use in heavier foods, like marinades for red meat or tangy vinaigrettes for salads that include meat.
White wine vinegar tastes much lighter. It has that same fruit taste 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, it’s this very thing that makes it perfect for dressings for light salads, buttery pan sauces, or marinating lighter meats, like chicken.
Yet, while their flavors are different, you can still use red or white wine vinegar interchangeably in a pinch. The only caveat is, if you substitute red for white, use less of it, as it has a stronger flavor. Likewise, when using white instead of red, you might want to add a bit more.
So, next time you start making your own salad dressing only to discover you’re out of white wine vinegar, you can reach for the red—just measure out a bit less than usual.