The Zesty Ingredient Swap You Can Make For Vinegar

Vinegar is a crucial, but not starring, ingredient in many of your favorite dishes: Classic fried honey-walnut shrimp, whole-roasted Peruvian-style chicken, and sweet and sticky sesame chicken, to name a few. As a pantry staple, it's easy to forget about vinegar when putting together your ingredients. But if you begin cooking only to realize your bottle is empty, it could be a make-or-break moment for your recipe's flavor profile. Luckily, you can easily substitute it for a citrus juice like lemon, lime, or orange in a pinch.

Why do these work so well? In savory cooking recipes, vinegar's primary role is to add acidity and tang. Not only can this help balance out richer, creamier elements of a dish (such as the mayo in honey-walnut shrimp), but it can also help brighten the flavors of all the other ingredients, without adding more salt. If you're making a meat dish, vinegar can be especially important in breaking down the muscle proteins, thereby making the meat more tender. An acidic citrus juice substitute will accomplish these same goals, so you'll end up with a succulent meat.

How to use citrus in place of vinegar

Luckily, swapping citrus juice for vinegar couldn't be easier when cooking. If you're using lemon, lime, or orange juice, you can replace your vinegar at a 1:1 ratio, and you can typically dump your citrus into the recipe during the same step as you would with the vinegar. Keep in mind that there may be slight flavor variations, depending on which type of juice you use. Orange juice, for instance, generally has more sugar than vinegar and may make your sauce or dish sweeter. If you find that the flavor changes too much, see where else you can remove sweetness in your dish — in the case of the honey-walnut shrimp, you could scale back a little on the brown sugar or honey.

And while citrus juice can effectively replace vinegar in almost all cooking recipes, some varieties will work better for some types of vinegar than others. The apple cider kind, for instance, already has a slightly fruity flavor and tastes a little sweeter than most, so it works well when swapped with orange juice. White or malt vinegar, on the other hand, which are full of sourness but can still brighten up other ingredients, work well when subbed out for equal amounts of lemon or lime juice. But when you're in a hurry, it's a safe bet to substitute vinegar for whichever citrus juice you have in the fridge.