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Chinese Black Vinegar is, as its name, suggests, a very, very dark vinegar. It is also quite commonly known as Chinkiang vinegar (Zhenjiang Vinegar), named after a town in the south of China, as you can see from the bottle above. That’s probably due to the fact that many folks outside Asia, until the days of online shopping, could only get the Chinking variety. There are, in fact, quite a few different brews of this black vinegar produced in China.
Chinese black vinegar is an aged product, in pinyin Mandarin, the word is laochencu. As far as flavour goes, it has a very deep character, is a touch smoky with hints of sweetness right at the back of it all. I love using it in Chinese stir fries and in Chinese dishes with soups, gravies and sauces. It gives a wonderful depth to Chinese clay pot dishes. It also makes a wonderful dip just on its own, and perhaps with some sliced chillies or onions thrown it for added flavour and spice.
Chinese black vinegar can be made from different grains: rice, barley, sorghum, can be used, depending on the type, the brand and the area.
Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar
I see balsamic vinegar given as a substitute for the Chinese Black Vinegar quite often. While I agree that they share characteristics, they are quite different in flavours. For one thing, balsamic vinegar is too sweet. Your best bet is to go half balsamic vinegar and half Chinese rice vinegar for whatever amount you need. If you don’t have either, just use regular old clear vinegar, with just a tiny pinch light brown soft sugar or white sugar, if you don’t have any brown.