I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of balsamic vinegar substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Mixing apple cider vinegar with brown sugar is the easiest substitute for balsamic vinegar. You can also mix lemon juice, molasses, and soy sauce together. Pomegranate molasses or raspberry vinegar are decent ready-made alternatives. Or you can use a balsamic vinaigrette.
I made batches of classic balsamic vinaigrette to test different balsamic vinegar substitutes.
Balsamic vinegar is traditionally made with grape must, but lots of recipes have wine vinegar in the mix now. It boasts a rich, sweet-tangy flavor with prominent fruity caramel notes.
Balsamic isn’t as acidic as other kinds of vinegar, which makes it a popular base for salad dressings and dipping sauces.
Nothing can match balsamic vinegar’s unique flavor profile, but I found a few substitutes that did a decent job.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Apple cider/red wine vinegar + sweetener||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Balsamic glaze||Thin with vinegar, replace with 1/2 the amount||8/10|
|Rice vinegar + sugar||Mix 5 parts vinegar with 1 part sugar||7/10|
|Lemon juice + molasses + soy sauce||Mix in equal proportions||7/10|
|Raspberry vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||6/10|
|Grape jelly + red wine vinegar + soy sauce||1 tbsp vinegar, 1/2 tsp grape jelly, splash soy sauce||7/10|
|Pomegranate molasses||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Sweetened Worcestershire sauce.||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Common uses of balsamic vinegar
Here are some popular ways to use balsamic vinegar and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For salad dressings: Try using apple cider or red wine vinegar mixed with sugar, or lemon juice mixed with molasses and soy sauce. Pomegranate molasses is another excellent option.
- For marinades, glazes, and reductions: Worcestershire sauce or any soy sauce mix are good options here because they have lots of depth and the flavors wont get lost.
- For desserts: Try using pomegranate molasses – just mix it with a bit of lemon juice if you find it too sweet. Or balsamic glaze.
Apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar + sweetener
Apple cider vinegar combined with a sweetener makes a handy alternative for balsamic vinegar.
There are loads of different types of vinegar to choose from, but apple cider vinegar is the best option. Red wine vinegar is also decent.
Both these vinegars have fruity undertones similar to balsamic vinegar!
You can also use any sweetener, but I’ve found brown sugar gave me the best results.
The added molasses lends a caramel note similar to one you get with balsamic vinegar. Honey or maple syrup are also good options.
For apple cider vinegar mix one tablespoon of vinegar with 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar. You can also add a few drops of soy sauce for more depth, but this is optional.
For red wine vinegar, mix 3 parts vinegar to one part sugar. Up the sugar content if you want more of a sticky consistency.
How to substitute: replace 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1/2 a tsp sugar.
If you’ve got this in your pantry, you’re halfway there to a balsamic substitute.
Essentially, this is balsamic vinegar that’s been reduced to a thicker, sweeter form.
The catch is that the reduction process cooks away balsamic vinegar’s acidity, so you’ll need to mix it with another vinegar to bring it back.
White vinegar is extra sharp and tangy, perfectly balancing the balsamic glaze’s sweet notes.
Or you can experiment with other fruity vinegar like apple cider or raspberry (more on this below)!
Psst… if you’re just using the balsamic vinegar as a garnish, you can get away with using balsamic glaze as it is.
How to substitute: replace 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar with 1/2 tbsp balsamic glaze and a splash of white vinegar.
Cooked rice vinegar + sugar
Another uncomplicated substitute that hits the mark is rice vinegar sweetened with sugar.
Rice vinegar on its own is milder and less intense than balsamic vinegar. But mix it with sugar (5 parts vinegar to 1 part sugar), and you have a tasty balsamic replacement!
I used regular rice wine vinegar, so my vinaigrette came out with a lighter color.
If you have it, use Chinese black vinegar – it has the dark, glossy look of balsamic, as well as a richer flavor with hints of smokiness. However, it can be difficult to find.
Pro tip: you’ll need to heat the vinegar over a low heat for the sugar to dissolve.
How to substitute: replace balsamic vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with a blend of 5 parts rice vinegar and 1 part sugar.
Lemon juice + molasses + soy sauce
A combination of equal parts lemon juice, molasses, and soy sauce does a good job of mimicking the complex flavor profile of balsamic vinegar.
Lemon juice adds an acidic punch, which is then rounded off by the sweet, rich molasses. Soy sauce sounds strange, but it brings a nice complexity to the mix.
I was dubious of this substitute at first, mainly because of the soy sauce. but it tasted great in my vinaigrette, and I can see its robust flavor working well for marinating proteins like beef.
Psst… you need to use fresh lemon juice here, not the bottled stuff.
How to substitute: replace balsamic vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with a blend of lemon juice, molasses, and soy sauce.
If you’re not particularly keen on the grape-based taste of balsamic vinegar, raspberry vinegar is a great alternative.
This vinegar has a distinct sweet, berry-like flavor and a bright, tangy kick.
It’s also got a vibrant red color that makes for great presentation!
You can find a bottle of raspberry vinegar in most stores, although it will be a tad pricier than other kinds of vinegar.
And if you have access to fresh raspberries, why not make it from scratch? A Farm Girl’s Dabbles has an easy recipe you can try.
How to substitute: replace balsamic vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with raspberry vinegar.
Grape jelly + red wine vinegar + soy sauce
Here’s another brilliant trio you can use instead of balsamic vinegar.
Grape jelly alone would be a sugar rush, but adding red wine vinegar and soy sauce tempers its sweetness.
And I loved the extra fruity twist grape jelly brought to my salad.
I also tried different berry jams, like as strawberry and raspberry.
They turned out okay, but the grape jelly mixture tasted most like balsamic vinegar. I’m sure you could use lemon juice here instead of vinegar too.
How to substitute: replace 1.5 tbsps balsamic vinegar with 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon grape jelly and a few splashes of soy sauce.
Don’t confuse this with regular molasses!
Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate juice that’s been reduced with sugar and lemon.
It boasts a naturally tart flavor with a prominent fruitiness similar to balsamic vinegar. It’s naturally sweeter than balsamic vinegar, which I didn’t mind.
But you can easily offset this with a splash of lemon juice if you want to keep it tart.
It’s easy to make at home too (here’s a recipe). You can even swap the pomegranate juice for cranberry juice and make cranberry molasses.
How to substitute: replace balsamic vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with pomegranate molasses.
Sweetened Worcestershire sauce
This British condiment is vinegar-based and flavored with molasses, tamarind, and anchovies.
It’s savory, with a tangy and sweet kick – perfect for marinades.
But the flavor is super strong. So to mellow it out, I mixed in a teaspoon of honey per tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and a squeeze of lemon.
Taste as you go and add in more honey or lemon juice as you see fit.
How to substitute: replace balsamic vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with sweetened Worcestershire sauce.
Other substitutes to consider
The options above are my top balsamic vinegar substitutes. But here are other alternatives worth trying if you already have them on hand:
- Ready-to-use balsamic vinaigrette – if you have a vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar in, you can use this in a pinch. It will have a lighter sweet-tangy flavor than regular balsamic vinegar because it’s already mixed with olive oil and other seasonings.
- Sherry vinegar – this vinegar isn’t too acidic but it’s definitely less sweet than balsamic vinegar. It’s also missing the fruity notes, but you can mix it with a bit of sugar like the other varieties of vinegar to take it closer to balsamic’s flavor.
- Boiled cider – this is apple cider that’s been cooked down into a syrup. It’s sweeter than balsamic vinegar, but has a natural tartness, making it a decent alternative if it’s all you have.
Avoid this substitute
I saw other blogs suggesting you use soy sauce alone in place of Balsamic vinegar.
This is a really bad idea!
Soy sauce is very salty and savory, with no sweetness or acidity. It works in small amounts along with other ingredients to bring depth to our substitutes.
But on its own, it would completely overwhelm your food and taste way too salty.
Read Next: Tarragon Vinegar Substitutes
12 Best Balsamic Vinegar Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp apple cider/red wine vinegar + sweetener
- 1 tbsp balsamic glaze
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar + sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice + molasses + soy sauce
- 1 tbsp raspberry vinegar
- 1 tbsp grape jelly + red wine vinegar + soy sauce
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen balsamic vinegar substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.