I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of malt vinegar substitutes to find the best one for every cooking or baking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured I’ve got you covered.
Apple cider or white wine vinegar are great gluten-free substitutes for malt vinegar you may already have in your cupboard. If you don’t mind a tarter, fresher alternative, you can also try lemon juice. Beer vinegar is a solid option if you prefer an added bitter note. White vinegar also works, but only as a last resort.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a basic vinaigrette to test out different malt vinegar substitutes.
Malt vinegar comes from malted barley grains. It has a deep brown color and boasts a more mellow flavor than regular vinegar, with a slight sweetness and nutty notes.
It’s popularly served with fish and chips but can also be used for other cooking applications.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Apple cider vinegar||Replace with 1/2 the amount||8/10|
|White wine vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Lemon juice||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Sherry vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Beer vinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Seasoned rice rinegar||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|White vinegar||Replace with ¼ the amount, adjust to taste||7/10|
Common uses of malt vinegar
Here are some popular ways to use malt vinegar and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For fish and chips: Try using apple cider or white wine vinegar. Beer vinegar is a good option if you want to switch things up. Non-brewed condiment also works if you can find a bottle.
- For dressings and marinades: Try using apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or beer vinegar. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is also a good option.
- For pickling: Try using apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or white vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is my go-to substitute for malt vinegar.
It’s made from fermented apple juice, so it’s gluten-free. And it has fruity notes that give it a subtle but slightly sweeter flavor.
But the acidity levels of apple cider vinegar are in line with malt vinegar, so my vinegarette had just the right amount of tang.
Pro-tip: If you want to balance the sweetness, try adding a small squeeze of lemon juice (another substitute we’ll discuss later) to round out the flavor.
Emphasis on the small!
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1/2 the amount of apple cider vinegar (it’s flavor is stronger).
White wine vinegar
White wine vinegar is another excellent gluten-free alternative to malt vinegar.
It shares a similar acidity profile to malt vinegar, but its flavor is less intense and more crisp.
It’s a great option for anyone who enjoys a light vinegar but aren’t a fan of malty notes.
And it’s super versatile. The milder flavor means it works well in pretty much any dish, from salads, to marinades, and even baking.
You’ll get through a bottle in no time!
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with white wine vinegar.
Lemon juice is an easy substitute for malt vinegar you might already have in your pantry.
The burst of citrus from lemon juice added a bright, clean flavor to my vinaigrette that I loved.
And I know how emptying it is to use bottled lemon juice – but don’t do it! Nothing beats the taste of freshly squeezed lemons.
Pro-tip: an easy trick to get the most out of your lemons is to give them a quick roll on your countertop before slicing them. You can also pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds!
These techniques soften the fruit, making them easier to juice.
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with lemon juice.
Sherry vinegar is malt vinegar’s Spanish cousin.
This gluten-free alternative sports a slightly sweet flavor with a hint of nuttiness, just like malt vinegar.
And the tang is pleasantly mild, another quality it shares with malt vinegar.
The only ‘downside’ with sherry vinegar is its color – it’s lighter and more maber than brown. But in reality this will never matter!
Brands of sherry vinegar are labelled based on how long they’ve been aged. For example, Gran Reserva means the vinegar has been aged for at least 10 years.
But even a variety that’s only been aged for a short time will still taste great.
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with sherry vinegar.
Beer vinegar comes from grains, just like malt vinegar.
But it packs an extra layer of flavor because of the hops, which introduces a distinct bitterness.
This bitter flavor goes perfectly with greasy dishes like fish and chips, a classic pairing for malt vinegar.
You can find beer vinegar in well-stocked stores, but you can also make it from scratch if you don’t mind waiting.
The process is mostly hands-off, but you’ll need to wait six weeks before you can enjoy your DIY vinegar!
Check out the youtube video for instructions.
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with beer vinegar.
Seasoned rice vinegar
Seasoned rice vinegar has a light sweetness but is generally less intense than malt vinegar.
It’s also clear and colorless, so it won’t impact the visual presentation of your dishes as malt vinegar would.
And despite its Asian roots, this vinegar also works superbly with Western dishes!
Quick tip: you can experiment and mix this with apple cider vinegar or white vinegar for more acidity.
And don’t confuse this with standard rice vinegar, which is a lot more acidic. If you do end up with plain rice vinegar, add a pinch of sugar and salt.
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with seasoned rice vinegar.
White vinegar isn’t a perfect substitute for malt vinegar, but it does the trick in a pinch!
It’s a lot more one-dimensional than malt vinegar – the flavor is mainly just sour with none of the background nutty notes you get with malt vinegar.
This means white vinegar is a lot sharper, and can easily overpower your dish.
So it’s better to start with less than your recipe calls for and adjust according to taste.
Or you can mix it with a bit of honey to mellow the tang. This will also add a brownish tint to mimic malt vinegar’s color.
How to substitute: replace malt vinegar with ¼ the amount of white vinegar, adjust to taste.
Other alternatives to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for malt vinegar substitutes, but they’re not the only options.
Here are some other alternatives you can try:
- Red wine vinegar – this has a richer, fruitier flavor than malt vinegar, but it’ll work superbly with meaty dishes.
- Champagne vinegar – this is a more delicate option than malt vinegar, but the downside is it’s pricier and can be challenging to find.
- Black vinegar – this has a sweeter taste than malt vinegar, but it’s not as sharp or tangy as regular vinegar. It’s also not super common.
- Cane vinegar – has a mellow flavor like malt vinegar, but it’s not as sweet. It’s a popular vinegar variety in the Philippines, so you’ll likely find a bottle in your neighborhood Asian store.
Substitutes to Avoid
The world of vinegar is vast, but not every variety can stand in for malt vinegar!
Balsamic and raspberry vinegar are far too fruity to use as a substitute.
They’ll taste great if you use them as a vinaigrette, but if malt vinegar’s mild flavor is what you’re after they don’t have it.
Soy sauce is another condiment I saw suggested, but I really didn’t like it! It’s mostly salty, with a slight hint of sweetness and not much acidity.
What to use on fish and chips instead of malt vinegar?
Malt vinegar is the traditional vinegar paired with fish and chips. But you can replace it with any mildly flavored vinegar. White wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice are all good options. And if you want to move away from plain vinegar, try Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce.
Psst…. did you know most chip shops don’t actually serve you malt vinegar? This blew my mind!
They actually serve what’s called a ‘non-brewed condiment’ that’s made from acetic acid, flavorings, and caramel food dye to make it look like the real deal.
According to Tom Scott, this condiment has been around for a long time and can’t be labeled or sold as vinegar.
10 Best Malt Vinegar Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 1 tbsp beer vinegar
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- ¼ tbsp white vinegar
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen malt vinegar substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.