How to Cook With Vinegar Instead of Oil

There is much debate over what oil should be used when cooking. Do you go with the traditional olive oil? Is coconut oil better for the medium-chain triglycerides? Maybe you should opt for flaxseed oil instead because it has a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids?

What do I choose? None. I don’t cook with oil. Cooking with oil adds excess fat without adding meaningful amounts of nutrients or flavor. What do I cook with instead?


You might turn up your nose or be surprised that I use vinegar instead of oil. Vinegar is so sour. Vinegar has too strong of a taste. Vinegar is gross. No. No it’s not and no it doesn’t.

Through further use and experimentation of cooking with vinegar, I’ve learned how to use vinegars for different types of dishes and flavors. Yes, some vinegars are extremely pungent and are sour. But other vinegars provide sweetness to dishes. Each type of vinegar provides a unique flavor profile to work with. You don’t need to have a ton of different vinegars, though two — a sweet and a neutral one — is a good start for those who want to start cooking with vinegar.

I use vinegar for a variety of meals. I actually like the taste of vinegar, so sometimes I do add vinegar for a slight vinegary taste. Other times I use vinegar as an acid in baking to activate sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Vinegar can be used to enhance other flavors, such as mustard. I sometimes use it to impart a sweet flavor to a dish without adding extra bulk to a recipe. I also use vinegar to deglaze a fry pan after caramelizing onions in a nonstick pan. There are even more ways that I use vinegar in my cooking and baking, but those are the main methods.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is the standard vinegar. It doesn’t have much depth because it’s plain vinegar. White vinegar can be used to deglaze a pan without adding too many other flavors to food. Use this vinegar when you need a liquid to deglaze a pan, as an alternative to water. It can be used to enhance the flavor of mustard if you’re making a mustard-flavored dish, like Sunny Mustard Cabbage Curry. This vinegar is extremely cheap so it’s the vinegar I use the most; I go through a lot of white vinegar.

White Wine Vinegar

I like to use white wine vinegar when I’m looking for a slightly sweeter taste with a bit of extra depth. However, white wine vinegar is still quite neutral and won’t overwhelm any dish you put it in as long as you don’t use outrageous amounts. I choose white wine vinegar in my Potato Salad as my dressing. It gives the dish moisture and flavor without overwhelming the other delicate flavors like the potato and parsley.

Homemade Fruit Vinegar

I like to use my homemade fruit vinegar for dishes where I really want to infuse more sweetness. Fruit vinegar adds quite the dynamic to a recipe as it gives both a sour (the original vinegar flavor) and sweet taste. One great thing about this vinegar is that it can be used in both cooked and raw dishes like the white wine vinegar. I have used it to alter the flavor of refried beans to a sweeter taste and to dress Pine and Apple Salad. Another fantastic thing about this vinegar is that it’s basically free! All you need are water, inedible fruit parts and sugar along with around a month’s worth of patience. The full recipes for my homemade fruit vinegar and Pine and Apple Salad are included in Everyday Fruit.

Apple Cider Vinegar

While I haven’t used apple cider vinegar much with food, it has a similar taste as homemade fruit vinegar because it’s both sour and sweet. The sweetness is less intense in apple cider vinegar than my homemade fruit vinegar. It’s easily found in most grocery stores and is an ingredient in my Simply Sweet Festive Rice and Chocolate Sourdough Pancakes.

Everday Fruit

Still think vinegar is sour? Think again. In my book, Everday Fruit, I show you how to incorporate vinegar into sweet tasting meals and also explain how to make your very own homemade vinegar.

Other vinegars that I would like to try include balsamic, red wine, champagne and rice vinegar. What vinegar is your favorite?

Cooking with Vinegar. Learn how to cook with vinegar instead of oil. Vinegar is calorie free and comes in a variety of flavors. Switch to vinegar for a punch of low fat flavor. Even learn how to make your own vinegar.
  • Updated a couple of years ago
Sara Binde

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.