Out of coconut vinegar and don’t have time to shop? Coconut vinegar is a staple ingredient in Asian cuisines, primarily in Southeast Asia and some parts of India. It’s made from the fermented sap of coconut flower nectar, whose natural sugars eventually turn into vinegar.
Here are the best coconut vinegar substitutes to turn to when you’re looking to avoid or replace this ingredient.
What is Coconut Vinegar?
Vinegar is an ingredient that can be used for a variety of purposes. Not just for cooking and as a household cleaner, vinegar is also naturally complex in flavor, antibacterial, and helpful for weight loss. It’s produced by adding bacteria to any sort of alcohol – wine, hard cider, beer – or carbohydrate, the combination of which is then fermented and converted into acetic acid.
The pantry staple aptly derives its name from the French term vin aigre, or “sour wine.” However, there are now many varieties of vinegar, each made from a different raw material. Depending on the ingredients used, different kinds of vinegar ferment differently, resulting in a different flavor and function when used in cooking.
Coconut vinegar in particular is made from the sap of the flowers of coconut trees, just like coconut sugar is, and then fermented for 8-12 months. It has a cloudy, white appearance, and a slightly sweeter and much milder taste compared to the prominent sour notes in apple cider vinegar.
This nutrient-rich vinegar is a healthier alternative to white vinegar and comparable to apple cider vinegar. According to studies, the health benefits of coconut vinegar are similar to those of apple cider vinegar. It is said to help lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar levels, and fight diabetes, though people with these issues should always consult with their healthcare provider before incorporating vinegar into their diet.
For those with access to coconut palm trees, there are several ways to make coconut vinegar at home. The traditional method is to ferment coconut sap nectar in open clay jars under the sun, making use of the natural yeast found in the air. The other method is to add yeast to the nectar to jump-start the fermentation process and control the temperature over time.
Homemade coconut vinegar can also be made by starting fermentation by combining yeast with natural sugars and coconut juice. It will take several months to produce excellent flavor, but it will be worth the wait. Alternatively, you could buy some or use one of the coconut vinegar substitutes below.
How to Use Coconut Vinegar
Like most vinegar, coconut vinegar lends brightness to a variety of dishes and helps to harmonize overly rich foods. It adds a touch of sweetness and acidity to salad dressings, and marinades, and as a pickling agent, in sauces, soups, stews, and sweet and sour dishes. You can even infuse it with fresh herbs to make a well-balanced flavored vinegar.
In pre-colonial Philippines, coconut vinegar was used to preserve food and as an ingredient in basic dishes like boiled soup. One of the earliest known Filipino dishes is called kinilaw, a ceviche-like fish dish cooked in the acidic juices of vinegar.
There are many ways to use coconut vinegar in your cooking. Not only does it balance out a stir-fry, but it provides a sour tang to any dipping sauce. It has undeniable health benefits, and can be used in the following recipes:
- Pickled vegetables (try them with the vegetables mentioned, or our personal favorite: pickled red onions. These go great on a Reuben sandwich, carnitas tacos, or Wagyu beef burgers).
- Coconut Vinaigrette for a bright kale & dried cranberry salad
- A Filipino chicken adobo using coconut vinegar
- Roasted Porchetta
- Coconut barbecue marinade
- Chicken Pad Thai
- Thai Coconut Caramelised Prawns
- Thai cold chicken salad
- Tatemado de Colima (braised pork) with a cup of chilled tuba
6 Best Coconut Vinegar Substitutes
Many common varieties of vinegar, such as dark balsamic or tangy apple cider vinegar, are suitable substitutes for coconut vinegar. Just take caution at the start by adding half of the called-for amount of the substitute and then tasting it before adding some more.
Champagne vinegar is made from fermented dry white wine from the Champagne region of France. It particularly complements salad dressing with its light, tart, sweet flavor and lower acidity.
This makes the best substitute for coconut vinegar because it is the closest match in taste. Both have a mild vinegar flavor. Use at a 1:1 ratio in dishes. However, it may be difficult to procure champagne vinegar as it is not commonly used in many kitchens.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Rice wine vinegar, also known as rice vinegar, is a commonly used Asian vinegar crafted from fermented white, brown, or black rice. It is made by fermenting the sugars and starches in the rice into alcohol and then into acid, which gives it the typical vinegar flavor and aroma.
The delicate flavors are similar to coconut vinegar, with a slightly milkier and sweet taste. This makes it an excellent swap at a 1:1 ratio in your recipe.
White Wine Vinegar
When wine is soured, its natural sugars turn into acetic acid. It’s then strained and bottled as white wine vinegar.
Light-tasting wine vinegars are a great substitute for mild-tasting coconut vinegar. It offers a mellow, tangy, and zingy vinegar flavor that may be used in sauces, dressings, and as a pickling agent. For every tablespoon of coconut vinegar that you were supposed to use in your recipe, you can use an equal amount of white wine vinegar.
White Vinegar + Sweetener
We’re including white vinegar here because it’s commonly available in stores, and likely in many cupboards. Traditional white vinegar, also called ‘spirit vinegar,’ is made from fermented potatoes, molasses, beets, or sugar cane while contemporary ones are made from ethanol or grain alcohol. Most white vinegars are 93-96% water with 4-7% acetic acid concentration.
They are typically odorless with a prominent sour flavor. Containing a higher percentage of the pure acid, white vinegar is an ideal household cleaning agent and may also have positive health benefits. White vinegar’s strong flavor can be used as an alternative to coconut vinegar in a 1:2 ratio by adding water & a pinch of sugar, to offer more sweetness to the dish.
Apple Cider Vinegar + Honey
Apple cider vinegar is another popular vinegar, thanks to its health benefits. Crushed apples, yeast, and sugar are used to make this type of fruit vinegar. Over several weeks, the yeast digests the sugars in the apple juice, fermenting it into alcohol before it breaks down into acetic acid.
Given the strong flavor of apple cider vinegar, we substitute a mixture of one cup of apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of honey for each cup of coconut vinegar. If your recipe calls for sugar, use a 1:2 ratio without sweetener instead, starting with small increments and then tasting the dish before adding the rest of your apple cider vinegar.
Lemon juice and vinegar have a lot in common; they both have acidic properties that may be required to add tartness in your recipe. They do, however, serve different purposes and have distinct flavors. When using lemon to replace coconut vinegar in a recipe, use a 2:1 ratio, substituting the rest of the liquid with water.
You can also directly substitute lemon juice for coconut vinegar in your recipe, depending on what you’re making; this works best in small amounts. Consider the overall change in the flavor of your recipe because of the lemon’s milder taste, and then proceed with half at first.