What is Black Vinegar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Black vinegar is a type of vinegar which originated in China and spread across much of Asia, along with many other originally Chinese foods. It can be made with a wide assortment of ingredients, and an array of formulas produce it, so there is an immense variance in taste. Like other vinegars, black vinegar is made by fermenting something, in this case grain, and then allowing the resulting liquid to age. After aging, the vinegar is bottled for sale.

Sorghum is one of the grains that can be used to produce black vinegar.
Sorghum is one of the grains that can be used to produce black vinegar.

Many cooks compare black vinegar to balsamic vinegar, since the two foods have similar flavor profiles. Both are typically aged, leading to a more complex, rich flavor. Both are also dark in color, with the black variety ranging from reddish brown to true, inky black. However, the base ingredient is grain, not grapes, and this leads to a different end flavor. In addition, high quality balsamic vinegar is usually fairly uniform in flavor, while high-end black vinegar varies widely in taste from nation to nation and province to province.

Barley, which can be fermented to make black vinegar.
Barley, which can be fermented to make black vinegar.

Rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and barley are all fermented to make black vinegar. Many people prefer vinegar made from rice, since it has a slightly sweet flavor to compliment the familiar acidic note found in vinegar. One of the most popular varieties is Chinkiang, which is made with glutinous rice and malt, leading to a sweet and complicated flavor.

Black rice vinegar is traditionally made with black glutinous rice.
Black rice vinegar is traditionally made with black glutinous rice.

Many traditional Asian foods incorporate this vinegar, especially in certain regions of China. For this reason, many cooks keep a bottle of their favorite around as an all purpose seasoning. In Japan, a lighter version called kurozu is sold as a health tonic, since consuming small amounts of vinegar every day may be beneficial.

The seasoning can also be used in cuisine from other nations as well, of course. Black vinegar is sometimes added to marinades and bastes, as well as dressings and sauces. It can also be used straight as a dipping sauce, added to braises, or used in meat curing.

The best way to choose black vinegar is to find a version which you prefer. This may require some experimentation, since the options are so varied. To begin with, you should read labels closely, since different grains have different flavors, and some companies sell cheaper knock-offs that lack the complexity of the real thing. Some recipes may call for a specific type as well, in which case you may want to use the type specified for an authentic flavor.

Black vinegar.
Black vinegar.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Where can I buy Kurozu Black Vinegar in Singapore?


posting anonymously because I can't be bothered to register, but just found this online. doesn't look like black vinegar has weight loss properties, but definitely has antioxidant power.


Vinegar has many uses in cooking and in the kitchen.

A basic vinaigrette is one part vinegar to four parts oil, cream can also be added to this.

A dash of vinegar can be used to prevent pasta from sticking.

And if you happen to burn the food you are cooking, you can eliminate the odors by boiling a quarter cup of white vinegar with a bit of water. The steam will circulate and take care of the odor.


@poprock, You're right, vinegar has been a common folk remedy for hundreds of years.

The apple vinegar diet was popularized by Lord Byron in the 1800s. It involves taking one to three teaspoons of apple vinegar before each meal, in addition to watching what you eat, eating moderate portions, and exercising.

The most likely cause of the diet being successful is probably just the exercise and healthy eating practices though, and not the vinegar.


Kurozu is very popular in Japan. It is claimed to have many health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, reliving stress, promoting digestion, and there are quite a few more.

Kurozu drinks are sold at convenient stores. Kurozu bars are found in train stations and offer health conscious commuters an easy place to get a quick drink.

While adding vinegar to your diet in moderation will probably not hurt, just keep in mind that many of these claims are not backed by research.

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