Chinese Black Vinegar: What Is It And How To Use It

Chinese Black Vinegar: What Is It And How To Use It

One of our favorite ingredients we love to add to many dishes from China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea is black vinegar. It really transforms a dish and adds an added dimension of flavor which is both acidic and malty. It also is packed with umami. Yet, this unique vinegar is underused by many home cooks and is a mystery to more than a few.

What Exactly is Black Vinegar?

Black vinegar is a dark-colored vinegar that originated in China and is also made in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. It has also been adopted and is used in countries like Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia where there are a lot of Chinese immigrants.

Black vinegar is the general name for dark vinegar that is made from grains. It differs from balsamic vinegar which is made from grapes. Also, while balsamic vinegar is made by fermenting grape juice (commonly referred to as liquid-state fermentation), black vinegar is made by fermenting whole grains that have been cooked, primarily via steaming. They also taste vastly different.

The reason for the dark color that characterizes black vinegar is that it is generally aged for months, traditionally in clay pots. The longer the vinegar is fermented and aged, the more nuanced and complex the flavors become.

Black vinegar takes advantage of the maillard reaction, a complex chemical process that consists of a reaction involving amino acids and sugar. This produces both the dark color and induces deep flavor. And because grains are used as the main ingredient, the finished product has a malty flavor.

The by-product of the fermentation process produces acetic acid, which is why vinegar tastes sour. Chinese black vinegar generally has an acidity level of about 5.5%. It can also be slightly sweet, but nowhere as sweet as balsamic vinegar. Black vinegar also imparts a wonderful umami, the fifth main taste (besides sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness) we experience.

Where Is Black Vinegar Made?

The history of vinegar in China dates back to about 480 B.C. in the city of Jinyang, now formally called Taiyuan. It was consumed both for its flavor and medicinal properties. Head vinegar brewers were highly valued by the royal courts of the time.

There are four main regions in China that are known for black vinegar production:

Shanxi, China

The Shanxi province is located in east-central China and its capital is Taiyuan. Vinegar production here dates back more than 2500 years. Shanxi vinegar is lesser-known outside of China and can be difficult to find, though not impossible.

Despite its obscurity overseas, Shanxi vinegar is famous and sought after in China. The main grains used to make Shanxi vinegar are sorghum, barley, bran, wheat, and peas. Unlike in many other regions, no rice is used. It is aged anywhere from one to five years.

Sichuan, China

Sichuan province is located in western China and its capital is the ancient city of Chengdu. It is known for its spicy cuisine and produces its own style of black vinegar which dates back to around the year 1618.

Wheat bran is the main grain used in Sichuan to produce their vinegar, often called Sichuan Baoning Vinegar. Although small amounts of other grains are sometimes used, wheat bran predominates here.

The vinegar produced in Sichuan is often steeped in traditional medicinal Chinese herbs which give it a unique flavor. It is generally aged between 3 months to one year.

Zhenjiang, China

This province produces the most famous and well-known vinegar outside of China. It is commonly called Chinkiang vinegar. The history of vinegar production here dates back about 1400 years and is often used in Chinese restaurants and sold in Asian markets overseas.

The vinegar produced in Zhenjiang is made using steamed rice, barley, peas, and wheat. Vinegar producers often alter the color and flavor of the vinegar by adding water that is passed through rice that has been cooked until it turns black. The most famous brands of Zhenjiang vinegar sold overseas are Gold Plum and Hengshun.

Fujian, China

Fujian province produces a vinegar that is actually red in color, unlike the other three Chinese regions mentioned above. The reason for the distinct color is that vinegar producers here use a red mold.

Fujian vinegar is made using rice. It is unique from the other regions because it uses a liquid-state fermentation process, much like balsamic vinegar (although it does not taste like balsamic).

During fermentation, it is combined multiple times with already-aged vinegar, and the step is repeated. The finished product is three years old.


Korea has been producing vinegar for over 1000 years and was influenced by Chinese culture and cooking. Vinegar here was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

The black vinegar produced in Korea is traditionally produced from rice, barley, persimmons, and peaches.


Japanese black vinegar is also referred to as Kurozu vinegar. The most famous area of production is Kagoshima. The vinegar produced here is aged in black ceramic pots. The specific mold used to facilitate the fermentation process is called koji-jin which is also used to produce sake, miso, and soy sauce.

Kagoshima vinegar is generally aged for at least six months.



Taiwanese black vinegar is probably the most unique and its production is somewhat similar to that of worcestershire sauce in that it is steeped with other ingredients. While worcestershire production often includes steeping molasses, garlic, tamarind, and anchovies, the production of Taiwanese black vinegar is frequently infused with ingredients like onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, licorice, caramel, etc.

Taiwanese black vinegar is generally aged less than Chinese black vinegar. As a result, this style of vinegar tastes fruitier and cleaner. This is a lot like drinking a young wine versus one that has been aged for years.

Black Vinegar Substitutes

If you cannot find black vinegar, the closest substitute solutions we recommend are:

  1. Combine 1 part rice wine vinegar and 1 part malt vinegar
  2. Combine 1 part white vinegar, 1 part red wine vinegar, and a pinch of sugar
  3. Combine 1 ½ parts rice wine vinegar and ½ part of balsamic vinegar

How to Use Black Vinegar

There are so many ways one can use black vinegar, and it is just as versatile as regular vinegar. Here are just a few suggestions, but we suggest using your culinary creativity and imagination:

  1. You can combine it with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil and drizzle it over noodles.
  2. Use it in salad dressings.
  3. Use it as a marinade for vegetables.
  4. Add some soy sauce, shredded ginger or garlic and chili oil to use as a dipping sauce for dumplings.
  5. Reduce it with some sugar and soy sauce to make a glaze for vegetables or tofu.
  6. Add it to soups at the end to provide a lively tang.
  7. Add it to braising liquids.

Our Favorite Vegan Asian Recipes That Use Black Vinegar

Okra salad with black vinegar

Spicy eggplant with black vinegar sauce

Smacked zucchini salad with chile oil and black vinegar

Black vinegar peanut dipping sauce

Black vinegar mushroom stir fry

Wood ear mushroom salad

Korean-style tofu and noodle stir fry

Shiitake jiaozi with black vinegar dipping sauce

Mushroom gyoza with black vinegar dipping sauce

Taiwanese soy sauce noodles

Back to blog