Vinegar’s popularity is skyrocketing thanks to its popularized health benefits, clean labels and countless flavor options—qualities eagerly embraced by consumers. For example, Google searches on “the health benefits of apple cider vinegar” topped the charts two years running in their annual Food Trends report, and U.S. vinegar sales had a mind-boggling 11.7% increase* over the course of 52 weeks ending in November 2016. The two driving forces within those numbers? Organic balsamic vinegars and balsamic glazes. But what else is going on with vinegar?
Reviewing trends from the previous two years and connecting them to vinegar’s rise on the menu, here are three hot spots worth exploring:
Between America’s growing health consciousness and the FDA’s menu labeling regulation recently delayed until 2018, chefs are looking in some interesting directions to reduce sodium without sacrificing flavor. Specifically, acidic ingredients like vinegar and citrus deliver a crisp, sharp flavor that reduces bitter flavor compounds—pushing them aside and enlivening the remaining ones on the palate. Instead of reaching for the salt, try a dash of vinegar.
Vinegar powders also pack a flavor punch without sacrificing texture. They are available on the market, or you could make your own.
Global Cuisine: Philippines
Vinegar-forward Filipino cuisine has made a slow climb over the past two years, and is finally receiving mainstream notice. A funky fusion of Asian and Latin with a smattering of Americana, the sweet, salty and sour flavor combos make it bold, complex and approachable. At the apex of this diversity, where humble vinegar preservation methods and local ingredients meet, sits adobo. While there are nearly as many variations as islands, traditional Philippine adobo is a method of braising meat, vegetables and seafood, in a sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves. Served with piles of rice, of course.
A lesser-known (in the U.S.) dish is kinilaw, the fearless Filipino take on ceviche. No surprise it relies on vinegar for the acid and brings in ginger, chiles and shallot for an appetizer that’s refreshingly sharp with a no-nonsense heat. Combine it with any fruit, vegetables and proteins available—usually seafood, but goat, beef and venison are other variants from the Ilocano people of North Luzon.
Sugar cane, coconut and palm vinegars are traditional, but any distilled white vinegar will do. Apple cider vinegar works like a charm with pork, too! Or experiment with non-traditional sherry or rice vinegars for a signature twist.
Shrub Cocktails & Mocktails
Flavored drinking vinegars are on the rise at retail, and nearly every craft cocktail menu in the country lists a shrub and a mocktail. The combination of the two is a logical next step. Shrubs have a lot of operational benefits: alternative to labor-intensive citrus juices, shelf stable and long-storing, a good carrier for chile peppers, and touted to stimulate the appetite!
What is a shrub? Simply vinegar, fruit and sugar. The method dates back to Colonial farmers preserving their unsold fruit in barrels covered with cane sugar and vinegar. The result was a refreshing drink consumed during the harvest.
In the end, all you need is some sparkling water or ice to cut a shrub into a mocktail—try a 2-to-1 ratio and adjust as needed.
Much like the rise of sour and lambic craft beers, tart flavors tickle the palates of adventurous diners. Carolina-style pork barbecues, Italian seafood or pollo agrodolce, and even crafting your own barrel-aged vinegars are all flavor avenues worth exploring.
*according to Nielsen data