White vs distilled vinegar

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Confused which vinegar is best used for what? Differencebetween.net explains the difference between the two. Reprinted with permission.

Try to look for vinegar in a local market and you would be surprised just how many kinds there are. There is a staggering 21 kinds of vinegar available commercially. That is excluding the countless home-made types. But out of the omnifarious range, distilled vinegar and white vinegar prove to be two of the most widely used. Sure, they’re both acidic, but how different really are they from one another?

white-vinegarMost people agree that the basic difference would be the level of purity. Simply put, distilled vinegar has been purified more than white vinegar. More than that, there are also dissimilarities when it comes to chemical structure, production and usage.

White vinegar is sometimes also called spirit vinegar. Contrary to its name, it’s actually clear. It is usually produced from sugar cane. It is made by allowing sugar cane extract to go through acid fermentation. In the process, the liquid is oxidised, causing the chemicals in it to change and become more acidic.

Another way of making white vinegar is by combining acetic acid with water. This variation is much sourer than the naturally fermented type. It has 5% to 20% acetic acid content and is regarded to be stronger than any other types.

Distilled vinegar, also known as virgin vinegar, is made from just about any type, for instance rice, malt, wine, fruit, balsamic, apple cider, kiwifruit, rice, coconut, palm, cane, raisin, date, beer, honey, kombucha and many others. As its name suggests, it is distilled from ethanol. ‘Distilled’ plainly means that the liquid component is separated from the base mixture. This produces a colorless solution with nearly 5% to 8% acetic acid in water, relatively weaker than white or spirit vinegar.

Both white and distilled vinegar are used not only for cooking, but as well as for cleaning, baking, meat preservation, pickling, and sometimes even for laboratory and medicinal purposes.

Since white or spirit vinegar contains a higher percentage of acidic content, it is more ideal as a household cleaning agent. It provides an eco-friendly solution for eliminating dirt and bad odour on a wide array of materials like fabric, metal, glass, fur, tiles and many others. It can also be used as a urine-cleaner for pets, as well as a natural herbicide or weed killer. White vinegar does not contain ammonia; it thoroughly cleanses without leaving a strong and harmful smell.

Distilled vinegar, being the milder variation, is more suitable for cooking, flavouring, food additives and food preservation. Additionally, it can be used as a household remedy. For instance, it is an effective way to cure or prevent athlete’s foot and warts. It is also very helpful in relieving sunburn and prevents the skin from peeling or blistering.

Both white and distilled vinegar are available in the market. Some households produce their own by fermenting fruit juices, slightly akin to production of wine.


  • White and distilled are types of vinegar. They differ fundamentally in their acetic acid content.
  • White, also known as spirit vinegar, has 5% to 20% acetic acid. This is generally higher as compared to distilled vinegar’s 5%-8%.
  • White is made by natural fermentation of sugar cane extract or by combining acetic acid with water. Distilled can be made from any time of vinegar, wherein more ethanol is separated from the base mixture.
  • Both distilled and white can be used in cooking, cleaning, food preservation, and for medical and laboratory purposes. However, since white is stronger than its counterpart, it is more suitable for cleaning and disinfecting. Distilled vinegar, on the other hand, is better for cooking, flavouring, food preservation and as a natural home remedy.

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  1. Very well explained

  2. I have a pickled onion recipe that uses both Balsamic and Distilled vinegar. Is Distilled available in New Zealand and if not what would you use in it’s place? Thanks

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