Because vinegar isn't just for salad dressing.

By Nina Friend
November 05, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Ed Anderson

Balsamic vinegar is great mixed with olive oil, but have you tasted it drizzled on panna cotta? Sherry vinegar makes a nice glaze for roasted chicken, but what about as a topping for an ice cream sundae? The truth is, vinegar works just as well for sweet dishes as it does savory ones, and pastry chefs all over the country are showing off creative new ways to incorporate vinegar into dessert.

The classic applications for vinegar in dessert involve pickling fruit or using a splash to keep pie crust tender and flaky, but there are other ways to layer these pops of acid. And, beyond traditional cooking vinegars like red wine vinegar and Champagne vinegar, there are all kinds of vinegar varieties that add unexpected bursts of brightness to sweet dishes. 

Here are 16 chefs on how they’re using vinegar in their desserts:

Chardonnay Vinegar

"Vinegars provide wonderful complexity and tension to otherwise one-dimensional or sugary desserts. I love how a healthy splash of chardonnay vinegar brings out the inherent candy-sweetness of poached fruit, or how a puddle of thick balsamic vinegar elevates a simple panna cotta into something mysterious, rich, and deep. I find that vinegars improve desserts on nearly every level—they boost umami and acid levels, they add a surprising, fermented dimension, and they create both balance and depth of flavor—so I add them into almost every dessert that I make.” - Natasha Pickowicz, pastry chef, Matter House

Colavita Special Balsamic White Wine Vinegar, $18.91 at amazon.com

Umeboshi Vinegar

“Late last summer, I had a dish on the menu that had a plum jam, which I finished with umeboshi vinegar. It made the jam such a beautiful color and added acid. One of the things I like most about dessert vinegar is that it's a very approachable, easy thing for a home cook to work with. I like adding fruit forward vinegars to jams and sauces as ‘finishers.’ Your sauce or jam should be cooled, and add your complementary flavored vinegar to taste. Start adding conservatively, and taste it often. It can easily overpower if you are heavy-handed and don't taste after each addition. I think a strawberry jam with a touch of strawberry vinegar over homemade vanilla ice cream sounds pretty perfect.” - Sarah Mispagel, pastry chef, Proxi and Sepia

Eden Foods Vinegar Plum Ume, $7.43 at amazon.com

Pineapple Vinegar

“I use a pineapple vinegar from Rancho Gordo, who is based out of Napa Valley. I mix it with Marshall’s Farm orange blossom honey. The inspiration came from a meal I had at Estela in NYC. I tried a panna cotta with vinegar and honey; it was so simple but so elevated. It inspired me to try a honey and vinegar dessert of my own.” - Ivan Marquez, executive pastry chef, Broken Spanish

Chungdamlife Korean Fruit Vinegar, $19.99 at amazon.com

Honey Vinegar

“For our rose dessert (which isn’t currently on the menu), we make fermented buckwheat honey, or honey vinegar, by adding water and infusing it with fragrant roses. We allow this to sit at room temperature in an airtight container for one year. To make the parfait, we infuse roses in a light sugar syrup and allow it to sit for 24 hours. It's then blended together and strained. We whip cream, pasteurized egg yolks, and fermented buckwheat honey until it's light and thick, then we fold in the rose-infused light sugar syrup. The mixture is then poured in a siphon gun charged twice with nitrous oxide and dispensed in a vacuum chamber, then frozen overnight. To plate, we garnish the aerated rose parfait with pieces of fragrant rose petals and fermented buckwheat honey (honey vinegar) and serve immediately. The texture is similar to a frozen cotton candy. It should immediately disappear in your mouth like a cloud due to aerating the parfait twice: once with the siphon gun then aerated even more with the help of the vacuum chamber.” - Dyan Ng, pastry chef, auburn

Serratoga Olive Oil Company Serrano Honey Vinegar, $21.95 at amazon.com

Concord Grape Vinegar

"Using vinegar in unexpected components on a dish rounds out the richness with some bright, acidic notes. I often use the leftover pickling liquid saved from preserves instead of wasting it. One example of a vinegar in my desserts is a dark chocolate cremeux filled with blackberry sauce, honey walnut cake, red wine, and concord grape gastrique (I made the concord grape vinegar used in the gastrique—concord grapes, sugar, and water fermented for three months prior to using)." - Angelyne Canicosa, pastry chef, Vie, Vistro and Gaijin

N8tive Concord Vinegar, $34.99 at amazon.com

Try this recipe for Berry Vinegar Tart. 

Con Poulos

Mulberry Vinegar

"Earlier this year, I noticed that mulberry trees grow all over Charleston, both wild and cultivated, so Forrest and I picked as many as we could in the spring when they're ripe. We fermented them into wine and then slowly made a delicious vinegar out of that. At the restaurant, we're planning a dessert featuring zucchini bread pain perdu with wild mulberry vinegar syrup, pine nut crumble, and strawberry pink peppercorn ice cream.” - Walter Edward and Forrest Brunton, co-chefs, Chasing Sage

Young Scent Mulberry Fruit Vinegar Drink, $16.99 at amazon.com

Raspberry Vinegar

“We use vinegar often in our desserts. In the past, we’ve made different types, including berry, coffee, cocoa-infused, and maple vinegar. I think it is a great way to add acid to the dish and it's very easy to infuse vinegars after they are made. The bar team has also gotten into making vinegars, so I have pulled a lot of inspiration from them. Currently, we have a berry dessert that we add raspberry vinegar to and it really helps to cut the creamy fattiness of the cheesecake. The vinegar is more of a surprise element. We try to make it subtle enough that you can't identify that it is vinegar.” - Laura Cronin, pastry chef, Eleven Madison Park

A L'Olivier Raspberry Fruit Vinegar, $18.91 at amazon.com

Balsamic Vinegar

“At Bas Rouge, our fine-dining establishment in downtown Easton, we use balsamic vinegar in a port and honey sauce for our goat cheese gateau. The gateau, like a very light cheesecake, is paired with a fig that we brulee and the port sauce, which cuts the richness of the locally-sourced goat cheese and the walnut crust.” - Glenn May, head pastry chef and baker, Bas Rouge

Fini Modena Balsamic Vinegar, $15.88 at amazon.com 

Try this recipe for Grilled Fruit with Honeyed Lemon Thyme Vinegar.

Rosé Vinegar

“At Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, our rosé wine is the foundation for our rosé vinegar that we make every year. A few bottles of this item go a long way, and we save it specifically for our blueberry peach panna cotta. Desserts like panna cotta need something acidic and bright to cut through the cream and sugar. A couple of tablespoons of rosé vinegar are perfect for this application.” - Ian Rynecki, executive chef, Tasting Room at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards

Due Vittorie Aceto di Vino Rosé Wine Vinegar, $19.99 at amazon.com 

Sherry Vinegar

"It's very easy to get overwhelmed with sugar/sweetness with pastry, so Tatsu is always looking for balance. For our Shroom of Doom, a rich chocolate and shiitake infused ice cream, we're using Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry vinegar to add acid and tang and an interesting pop of flavor. It also pairs well with the savory, salty fried parsnips we finish the ice cream with! We've turned it into a gel, using agar, so it doesn't run all over the place when we're plating on our ice creams. People love the combination of savory, sweet, and salty flavors that the composed ice cream has." - Liana Sinclair, pastry chef, DipDipDip Ice Cream 

O Olive Oil and Vinegar Sherry Wine Vinegar, $12.42 at amazon.com 

Hibiscus Vinegar

"Our grapefruit olive oil cake is topped with a grapefruit hibiscus glaze that is made with housemade hibiscus vinegar." - Melissa Carroll, pastry chef, Le Politique

Beet Vinegar

"We pair blue cheese with our dark chocolate pistachio bark. To incorporate some savory acidity, we add our house made beet vinegar mixed with local honey giving the dish an earthy and sweet flavor. We then top it with fresh mint leaf and house brioche bread crumbs." - Rosemary and Austin Ewald, co-owners, Spread & Co.

Coconut Vinegar

"At Sway, we use coconut vinegar in the toasted meringue on the coconut ash pavlova in our activated coconut sundae with blackberry, toasted meringue, candied pistachio, and Thai basil." - Amanda Rockman, culinary director, New Waterloo, and pastry chef, Sway and Il Brutto

Dynamic Health Coconut Vinegar, $9.92 at amazon.com

Try this recipe for Roasted Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream and Balsamic Syrup.

Fredrika Stjärne

Orange Vinegar

“We love playing with a touch of vinegar in our cold coconut and tapioca soup with fresh tropical fruit and clementine sorbet. We make our own orange vinegar which we reduce and use it to balance the richness of the coconut. It works beautifully.” - Geronimo Lopez, chef/owner, Botika

Cuisine Perel Blood Orange Vinegar, $19.95 at amazon.com

Magnolia Honey Vinegar

“We utilize a variety of local drinking vinegars from Lindera Farms. A notable application of the Magnolia Honey Vinegar can be experienced in our Cherry Cheesecake Mousse, a luscious blend of creamy cherry cheesecake, honey ice cream, and delicate olive oil sponge cake, garnished with a white chocolate honey tuile, macerated cherries, violets, and honey powder.” - Chelsea Spaulding, pastry chef, Bourbon Steak at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

Rice Wine Vinegar

“We try to replace some, if not all, of the citrus in a dessert recipe. Like in the granita where orange would be, we use red wine vinegar. Certain combinations just work, like red wine and chocolate, so we swap in red wine vinegar. Or mint, chilis, and rice wine vinegar. We always have an eye on harmonizing flavors.” - Jonathon Sawyer, chef/owner, The Greenhouse TavernNoodlecat, SeeSaw, and Sawyer's

Marukan Seasoned Rice Vinegar, $11.99 at amazon.com

What's your favorite way to add vinegar into dessert? Tell us by tagging us at @foodandwine.

Advertisement