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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Pickling > Vinegar for Pickling

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green beans in pickling jars


Vinegar for Pickling

Marilyn Herman

Vinegar is the preservative and flavoring agent in most pickles. What kind you use depends on the color and flavor you want to have in the pickled product.

Most pickle recipes call for distilled white vinegar. This is the clear, colorless vinegar made by fermenting grains. It has a mellow aroma, tart acid flavor, and does not affect the color of the light-colored vegetables or fruits.

Apple cider vinegar, made from fermented apple juice is a good choice for many pickles. It has a mellow, fruity flavor that blends well with spices. However, it will darken most vegetables and fruits.

Apple cider-flavor distilled vinegar has the flavor and brown color of apple cider vinegar, but it is a mixture of apple cider flavoring and distilled vinegar. Use it in the same way as apple cider vinegar.

These three vinegars contain five percent acetic acid. Occasionally you will find four percent acetic acid vinegar. This is salad vinegar and not strong enough to make a good quality pickles that will be heat processed.

Do not use wine vinegars or other flavored vinegars when you make pickles, unless you are sure of their acetic acid content. Do not use homemade vinegar when you make pickles because the acetic acid content is unknown and variable.

When you make pickles, do not dilute the vinegar unless the recipe specifically directs you to add water to a 5% strength vinegar. If the flavor seems too tart, add a little sugar. Old family recipes for pickles were based on 10% strength vinegar and substituting 5% strength vinegar will lead to soft and poorly flavored pickles.

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Reviewed by Suzanne Driessen 2016

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