The Alchemy of Oil and Vinegar: Combining the Two

Oil and balsamic

Few could argue that oil and vinegar is a perfect match. The combination is widely used for salads, for dipping bread or for marinades. Usually it’s just a regular balsamic vinegar and olive oil. But have you ever tried searching for something more interesting, such as walnut oil or raspberry vinegar, and then combining the two?

As much as I knew about the varieties of vinegar as well as about different types of oil that exist out there, I never had a chance to play an alchemist and see (or I should say – taste) what happens when pairing different oils with different vinegars. Until the opportunity came when visiting Cardiff. While having a stroll along the beautiful arcades of the city, I stumbled upon a shop called Vom Fass. It had jugs filled up with vinegars and oils that can be poured into a bottle of your choice. At first I thought I’d have a look out of curiosity only, but when I walked into the shop I saw some small bowls with oil and vinegar in them and pieces of bread for dipping and tasting. Raspberry vinegar and hazelnut oil mix made my tastebuds dance and opened up the whole new dimension to this classic oil and vinegar combination.

Oil and vinegar tasting

I have experimented with oils in the past: tried infusing them with herbs, chilly and garlic and mixing different ones (such as olive oil and toasted sesame oil) together in search for a perfect balance in terms of flavour. Vinegars were the least explored department for me, so after trying a few interesting sounding flavours in Vom Fass shop, such as fig or pomegranate that I had no idea they existed, I decided to do some research and find out what are the variations available and how they can be paired with different oils.

What are vinegars?

Vinegar is obtained by fermentation process turning sugars into acetic acid. It can be made from fruit or any material containing sugar. The most popular vinegars are apple cider, red or white wine, fruit, balsamic, white distilled, rice vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar is a reduction made from grapes and has sweet flavour and syrupy texture. It is traditionally produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy, using a must of Trebbiano grapes. The top of the range vinegar is aged for 12 to 25 years and is marked with DOC sign, that means protected designation of origin. The less pricey version – aceto balsamico – is made of concentrated grape juice, strong vinegar, sweeteners and colouring. Balsamic vinegar is used for salads, sauces or dippings.

Fruit vinegar is a product of fruit juice fermentation, usually without any other additional flavouring. You can find strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, fig or even date vinegars out there. The varieties in combinations with oil are perfect for dipping bread or for salad dressings.

Wine vinegar can be made from red or white wine and may vary in quality just like wines do. Top of the range wine vinegar is aged in wood barrels or made from individual varieties of wine, such as champagne or sherry. Wine vinegar is good for dressings or marinades.

What are oils?

Edible oils are usually extracted from fruit, nut or seeds using mechanical pressure. Some oils can be made applying heat for better extraction, but cold-pressed oil is of higher quality because it lets to preserve all valuable properties. Cold pressed oils are suitable for dipping and salads.

Olive oil is one of the most popular oils when it comes to salad and dipping, but have you tried some nut oils, such as pistachio, hazelnut or walnut or seed oils, such as sesame or pumpkin? If not, getting some would broaden up the field of your kitchen experiments.

Oil and vinegar jugs

Perfect combinations

There are no strict rules on how to pair oils and vinegars, but the general principle here is just like in food pairing – try to think of some well known food combinations: honey and lemon, chocolate and oranges, walnuts and apples, chilly and pineapple and so on.

Many resources are available online with extensive lists of oil and vinegar pairings. Here are just a few possible combinations I made some remarks on, that could inspire some culinary creations.

Toasted almond oil and raspberry balsamic vinegar make a perfect vinaigrette for salads.

Toasted almond oil and pear balsamic vinegar can be drizzled over salads, fruit or ice cream.

Roasted walnut oil and red apple balsamic vinegar would make a perfect vinaigrette for a salad with almonds and slices of apple.

Roasted sesame oil and honey balsamic vinegar makes a vinaigrette with Asian twist. Use it as a marinade or when making stir-fry.

Basil infused olive oil and strawberry balsamic vinegar makes a great dressing for spinach or fruit salad. You can easily use plain olive oil and fresh basil as an addition to your salad.

Garlic infused olive oil with pomegranate balsamic vinegar can be used for drizzling over roasted duck.

Lemon infused olive oil and honey balsamic vinegar is good for salads or can be used as a marinade for chicken.

Orange infused olive oil goes well with dark chocolate balsamic vinegar. Use for desserts and ice cream.

Oregano olive oil with lemon balsamic vinegar is great for marinades.

Harissa infused olive oil and pineapple balsamic vinegar can be used as a sweet and spicy marinade for pork.

Suggested oil and vinegar ratios

Bread dipper: 2 parts oil, 1 part vinegar.
Mild salad dressing & vinaigrette:  2-3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar.
Bold salad dressing & marinade: 1 part oil, 1 part vinegar.



Featured photo credits: Leon Brocard

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