How To Actually Use That Trendy Bottle Of Strawberry Vinegar Sitting In Your Pantry

Chefs break down the basics.

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Courtesy of Brightland / Photo by Jill Burrow
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“The vinegar world is enjoying a boom of creative spirit and serious craft,” wrote Jane Black for the Wall Street Journal in 2021. And according to Aishwarya Iyer, founder of Brightland, customers are getting on board. “We've noticed an increased interest in craft vinegars like our signature PARASOL citrus champagne vinegar and RAPTURE blackberry balsamic vinegar,” she tells TZR in an email. Yes, vinegars of all kinds are having a moment. But if there’s one in particular to note right now, it would have to be strawberry vinegar — a unique ingredient for which demand (at least at Brightland) has been off the charts.

The pantry-staple maker launched its own version in collaboration with Oishii, called LUSH, this past July. In just five days, it sold out. “We heard from customers that LUSH became a staple in their summer salads and meals, and that they were simply blown away by the taste and flavors shining through,” said Iyer in a statement. So, Brightland brought it back once more for a limited time on Jan. 18 — though naturally, it’s not expected to stay in stock for long.

Obviously, strawberry vinegar has something special about it. Yet, if you’ve never tried it, it’s probably not clear exactly what that is. And actually using it? Well, that’s even more confounding, especially for those who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of flavor profiles and how to pair them.

To dispel the mysteries of strawberry vinegar, TZR reached out to Iyer, as well as Brightland’s Chef in Residence Noreen Wasti and Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) for their expertise. Ahead, they break down what the ingredient actually is, why it’s so popular, and how to use it the right way when cooking. Read on to find out what they had to say.

What It Is

Iyer describes Brightland’s LUSH in particular as “a raw vinegar fermented with Oishii's signature Omakase Berry.” (This is generally true for how strawberry vinegars are made, though you probably won’t often find other versions made with berries of that caliber.) Its smell, she continues, is a “luscious aroma of juicy strawberries,” and it tastes like “summer in a bottle — bright, crisp, sweet, and subtly tart.”

Why It Works

Yes, the combination of sweet strawberries and tart vinegar may sound unusual. But actually, that’s exactly why it’s so good. As Roszkowski explains, “the combination of sweet and sour, especially when combined with salt and/or fat, ignites our taste buds.” Additionally, she says, “Fruit vinegars in general are a great option when seasoning your food because they do not overwhelm by being either too sour or too sweet, while retaining a subtle fruit flavor.”

Aside from taste, strawberry vinegar is also just lovely to see and smell. The chef-instructor notes its vibrant color (which does matter, since we “eat with our eyes”), as well as its aroma. “Up to 90% of taste is smell, and strawberry vinegar wins in this category because the fermentation acts to up the strawberry volatile aroma molecules.”

Flavors To Pair It With

“LUSH leans sweet with a subtle tartness,” Wasti tells TZR. “To me it's almost creamy with a hint of floralality that is just so beautiful.” Because of this, she loves using it in creamy desserts: “Toss some fruit in a few glugs of LUSH and spoon it onto a simple cake — stunning.” This makes sense, since Roszkowski says many common dessert ingredients that pair exceptionally well with strawberries (such as almonds, arugula, ricotta, honey, oats, and whole grains) also work great with strawberry vinegar.

Other ingredients and types of recipes it pairs well with? Sauces and spreads. Both chefs suggest using it in a vinaigrette (“combine strawberry vinegar with Dijon, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and maple syrup for your new favorite dressing,” says Roszkowski). The ICE chef-instructor also says strawberry vinegar can be a delicious addition to a homemade hot sauce, and can even be “an acceptable substitute for tamarind paste” in chutney.

As proof of its versatility, each chef also suggests using it with vegetables, though their recommendations vary. Roszkowski says you can use the vinegar to make a gazpacho — “marinate cut bell peppers, garlic, cucumbers, and jalapeños in strawberry vinegar before blending.” Wasti, on the other hand, says it works surprisingly well with roasted beets. “The combination of the earthiness and sweetness is truly unique.”

How *Not* To Use It

Overall, Wasti says that “LUSH is very soft and can find a place in many dishes.” However, Roszkowski does explain that if the batch of vinegar you’re using is strong, it can overpower more subtle flavors. Thus, she says to avoid including it “anywhere it will get lost or needs to compete to stand out. You won't really taste it when using strong flavors like truffle oil or curry powders so best to leave it out in those dishes.” And Wasti says she typically wouldn’t use it with meats, starchy dishes, or in soups and stews.

Taste aside, strawberry vinegar can also affect the look of certain foods in a way that may not be desirable. Because acid will oxidize anything vibrant green, explains Roszkowski, “adding it to delicate leafy greens, green beans, or pestos will dull the color.” In addition, she continues, “avoid adding it to dishes like cauliflower bisque, cream sauces, or mayos as it will change the color.”

Other tips they offer? “I wouldn't use it with anything going into the oven on a really high temperature as the delicate properties will just disintegrate,” says Wasti. Roszkowski echoes this. “Cooking dulls the flavor,” she says. “Strawberry vinegar will taste best in its raw, unheated form.”

Unexpected Ways To Use It

You know the go-to flavors and dishes to add it to — but what about some fun, unique ways to use it in your everyday cooking?

Both experts love it in beverages: Roszkowski says to “add to seltzer water and herbs to make a botanical beverage called a shrub,” and Wasti shares a similar tip. “I love a splash of LUSH in some sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh mint,” she explains.

According to the chefs, it’s also great for pickling. Wasti says she’s used LUSH in a pickling brine for quick-pickled shallots and the combination was “chef’s kiss”; Roszkowski thinks strawberry vinegar is perfect in pickled rhubarb to preserve the seasonal favorite.

Honestly though, the sky is the limit. Roszkowski’s ideas also include using it as the acid when baking, adding a splash to fruit sorbet recipes, incorporating it into sweeteners like maple syrup for a pancake drizzle, and even implementing it in a chia jam. “Defrost berries, then mix with strawberry vinegar, chia seeds, and liquid sweetener, and allow to bloom for 30 minutes,” she shares.

You’ve learned the essentials — now, start experimenting yourself with the strawberry vinegars, ahead.

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