3 Substitutes for Balsamic Vinegar

Pouring balsamic vinegar over a salad

Getty Images / jeffbergen

Peek into any well-stocked pantry and you’re likely to find balsamic vinegar. This popular ingredient is a staple in salad dressings, marinades, and glazes. Its acidic bite is often used to contrast with milder tastes, tenderize meat, or even compete with bitter flavors, lessening their impact on the palate.

In addition to its many functions in recipes, balsamic vinegar may offer some health benefits. Some research has shown its antioxidant properties could help lower triglycerides. Consuming vinegar in meals may also help keep blood sugar steady.

Since vinegar has been used since ancient times for a variety of health effects, it’s not surprising that the word “balsamic” stems from the same Latin root as “balm”—as in, a soothing, curative substance.

This versatile ingredient is an excellent one to keep on hand. Sometimes, though, even the best-provisioned kitchen may run out of balsamic vinegar. When that’s the case, several simple substitutions can stand in with comparable results.

Why Use a Balsamic Vinegar Substitute

Because balsamic is so widely used and commonly available, you probably won’t have a hard time finding it at your local grocery store or market. The most likely scenario for needing a substitute is simply running out of it.

Still, some people may need a balsamic vinegar alternative for other reasons. It’s possible (though rare) to be allergic to vinegar. Those with an allergy should be diligent about eliminating it from their diet. Other people may be sensitive to one or more of the compounds found in vinegar, including sulfites, histamines, salicylates, and acetic acid. If you know you have a problem with any of these “hidden” ingredients, you may prefer to opt for a similarly flavored substitute that doesn’t contain them.

Balsamic Vinegar Nutrition

In the amounts normally used in cooking, balsamic vinegar doesn’t supply many nutrients. The following nutrition information for 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of balsamic vinegar is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 14
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 4mg
  • Carbohydrates: 2.7g
  • Sugars: 2.4g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

Balsamic vinegar’s negligible amount of calories per serving is provided almost entirely by carbohydrates from naturally occurring sugars. Because it’s so low in calories, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium, it’s an excellent choice for flavoring foods without detracting from most nutrition goals. It also won’t usually interfere with special diets.

Best Substitutes for Balsamic Vinegar

If you’ve shaken the last drop of balsamic vinegar from the bottle (and don’t have the opportunity to replace it right away), you’re in luck. The following three alternatives work well as substitutes.

Soy Sauce

You likely associate balsamic vinegar with the Mediterranean region where it’s produced. So it may seem strange that soy sauce–a staple of Asian cuisine—is a viable alternative. But because of soy sauce’s similar color and acidic flavor, in small amounts, it can stand in with a one-to-one ratio to balsamic vinegar.

To make soy sauce a closer match to balsamic vinegar’s piquancy, you can try mixing it with other common ingredients. Some people swear by a mixture of soy sauce and grape jelly—or you may try tinkering with a blend of soy sauce, lemon juice, and molasses. Again, these substitutes can be used in the same amounts as balsamic vinegar in recipes. Just taste as you go to assess the flavor of your substitute.

Using soy sauce alone or in combination with other ingredients can mimic balsamic vinegar in a pinch, but will change a finished recipe somewhat in terms of taste and texture. If using soy sauce with molasses or grape jelly, be sure to whisk well to prevent excessive thickness that may gum up dressings or marinades.

As for nutritional differences, soy sauce is calorically comparable to balsamic vinegar at 11 calories per tablespoon. The most significant nutrient difference between the two is sodium content. Whereas balsamic vinegar contains 4 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, soy sauce packs 1,010 milligrams—so it’s not a good option for people on a low-sodium diet. Note, too, that soy sauce contains gluten. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity will need to use a different substitute.

Red Wine Vinegar and Maple Syrup

Perhaps you don’t have balsamic vinegar in the pantry, but you may have its relative, red wine vinegar. While red wine vinegar by itself doesn’t make the best substitute for balsamic, sweetening it with a bit of maple syrup can achieve a near-equivalent flavor. Just like soy sauce combinations may require some trial and error, this combo also hinges on your culinary creativity and personal palate. Start by mixing 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar with 2 teaspoons maple syrup. Test to see if this mixture meets your standards and adjust from there.

Switching to a mixture of red wine vinegar and maple syrup comes with one notable drawback: it won’t create the exact same dark brown color of balsamic vinegar. If color matters in your recipe, you may want to use a substitute that’s comes closer to balsamic’s chocolate brown hue.

Nutritionally, this mixture also comes with some significant differences from balsamic vinegar. Red wine vinegar is lower in calories than balsamic at a mere 3 calories per tablespoon, but adding maple syrup will boost calories and carbohydrates. Two teaspoons of maple syrup contain 35 calories and nearly 9 grams of carbs. Depending on the amount of balsamic vinegar a recipe calls for, this may be an important factor in your decision to use this substitute.

Worcestershire Sauce

Hard to spell, easy to use, Worcestershire sauce is another common ingredient you can use as a one-to-one replacement for balsamic vinegar in small amounts. Though it might not be your first choice (since its flavor is more savory and less tangy than that of vinegar), its color and texture work well in dressings, glazes, and marinades. As with soy sauce, you can always try adding a drizzle of lemon juice and sweetener to Worcestershire to help it replicate balsamic vinegar’s flavor more closely.

Subbing Worcestershire also won’t do much to change the nutrition profile of recipes. One tablespoon contains just one calorie less than a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and one additional gram of carbohydrate.

A Word from Verywell

When you’re all out of balsamic vinegar but still crave its signature bite, not all hope is lost! Try any of the three substitutes listed above. Though they may not imitate its tart, grape-y flavor to a tee, they’ll create a finished product that’s a very near match.

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7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. FoodData Central. Syrup, maple. April 1, 2019.

  7. FoodData Central. Sauce, worcestershire. April 2, 2019.