Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why I use balsamic vinegar in Chinese food

A short while ago a reader asked why I didn't use Chinese vinegar, and my answer was that it tasted musty, plus I worried about its safety.

It appears that my trepidation was on the money -- for once! -- as a recent Wired Magazine report on food safety in China is terrifying. About that vinegar it says, "Two weeks ago, an official of the association that oversees vinegar production in Shanxi province claimed that 95 percent of its highly regarded “aged” vinegar is dosed with industrial acid in order to cut fermentation time and turn out batches faster."

And in another event among the Uigyur minority occurred when they were breaking their Ramadan fast, "11 people have died and anywhere from 120 to 140 were sickened by contaminated vinegar."  

What could cause this? The answer gives me the willies: "The poisoning appears to be due to ethylene glycol; the vinegar had been stored in barrels that previously contained antifreeze. According to the AP, investigators haven’t yet been able to say whether the vinegar was put in the barrels out of ignorance, making it a problem of accidental contamination, or deliberately by an unscrupulous producer seeking to cut corners."

So go toss your Chinese vinegar down the drain, buy new vinegar from reputable sources (see Updates below), and only use the best. It will taste better, and you'll live longer.

However, if you are REALLY a tightwad at heart like me, go ahead and turn that vinegar into a bowl trap for fruit flies. Just pour an inch into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and poke some holes in the top with a skewer or paring knife. The flies will be attracted to the vinegar, crawl in, and then find themselves unable to get out. 

At least this way the poisonous stuff is killing the flies instead of people.


I've started using half balsamic and half apple cider vinegar for many recipes, and the flavor is remarkably similar to good quality Chinese vinegar. As a dipping sauce with finely julienned ginger, this might be a bit strong, so dilute it with a bit of filtered water.

I love Bragg's unfiltered apple cider vinegar, fwiw. Don't have a particular brand of balsamic vinegar to recommend, as there has been some problems with them too, and the news keeps changing. So, do your research.

Keep an eye out for food news from China to protect yourself from inadvertent poisoning. Do Google searches every once in a while to keep yourself informed, and I'll do my best to either Tweet about it or discuss it on this blog.


  1. Thank you for this valuable tid-bit ... yet another reason why I love to check into your blog, Carolyn. I had to catch up on my blog watching!

  2. Wonderful for you to say so. Thanks so much!